On the corner of 96th Street and 5th Avenue, in Manhattan, there is a bus stop on the south side of the street. Behind the bus stop is the building I used to live in. Penthouse A. Across the street from that building, there is a playground. Right on the border of Central Park. When I lived there, I was a small child. We moved in when I was four and moved out (to Los Angeles) when I was eight. Since there is practically nothing on the planet more appealing to a young boy than a playground, I went there almost every day, whether with my parents, or my friends, or my friends and parents; basically, anyone who wanted to take me would be in that playground faster than you can say, “Shut up Ethan, that cliché is used way too much.”
I practically grew up in that playground. There was a big wooden structure that my friend Isaiah and I would climb and pretend that it was a pirate ship and we were sailing the seven seas searching for treasure and killing people (I don’t know how I got that idea in my head, I was never allowed to watch HBO). There was a jungle gym, complete with monkey bars and slidey poles that my friends and I would hide under, pretending we were fugitives, on the run from the law. But best of all, there were three tire swings, suspended from chains attached to metal beams. The ground underneath was covered with a soft asphalt substance, so that falling children wouldn’t hurt themselves too badly. I loved those tire swings. As soon as I would get past the gate to the playground, I would run directly to the right, and hop on the tire swing farthest from the gate. It didn’t even matter if there were other people on it, from that moment on, that was my tire swing.
I could sit there for hours. Usually, my dad would push me, and I would try and reach my legs down to the ground to put a bit of spin in my flight path. And eventually, as my legs became long enough, the swing started spinning. And with my legs growing longer, I could spin faster and faster. One day, when I was eight years old, I spun so fast that I flew off the tire swing and found myself in Los Angeles, California. For the next seven years.
Okay, that didn’t actually happen. My mom’s company, however, got bought, and she was relocated out to LA. And as a little boy, I had no say in the matter. I didn’t go on that tire swing for a long time. And eventually, I forgot about it.
Last week, I ended up on the Upper East Side again, with a few of my friends. We were kind of bored, and only a few blocks away, so I suggested we should go over to my playground. I wanted to see if and how it had changed since I left.
“Sure,” they said. “Whatever makes you happy.”
So we walked over to the corner, and just being across the street, I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded.
“This is so weird. This is super weird,” I kept repeating. I couldn’t get over the nostalgia, spreading through my body. It’s a really strange feeling, nostalgia. Sometimes it feels like a sudden shock, this time it felt like someone had cracked an egg over the top of my head. I could feel a very subtle tingling sensation spreading from my scalp, down the sides of my head, all the way down to my feet.
We walked across the street. My friend Sara looked over at me, and asked if I was okay. I hadn’t spoken much for the past minute, and was kind of pale. I said I thought I was, or at least I would be. We got up to the gate, and I unlocked it. I was finally tall enough. I took a step through, and was overwhelmed. I became a little kid again, for about 10 seconds. I raced to my old tire swing, empty, sat down, and started swinging away. I had to tuck my legs up into the other side of the swing because they were so long. How things change.
Eventually I stopped swinging. I couldn’t say anything; I just sat in that swing for a good ten minutes, smiling. It was kind of late, so most of the kids were gone, but there was one mother with her two kids on the jungle gym, and a grandmother watching a little girl play in the fountain. There was one dad watching his son riding a bike with the training wheels on. And that was when it fully hit me. That was me. I learned how to ride my bike in that exact same spot. I sat speechless for a few seconds.
I walked around for a while, and showed my friends where everything happened. “I was a pirate here, and here. And here was where we were ninjas, and here was where my friend Ivan fell off the water fountain.”
We left the park after my tour. We got on the bus to go back across town, and I sat still all the way back. Eventually, I regained myself, and snapped out of my nostalgia with a realization: we all grow up, but sometimes it’s okay to be a child for a while.