It is a beautiful late-summer Saturday, warm enough for sandals and T-shirts but not too hot. The sky is blue with fat clouds that look as if they were painted on a china plate. Jessica and I are running errands, and she is scheduled to go bowling with a parks-and-recreation group in forty minutes, but there is time now between stopping at the post office and driving to the community building, and Jessica says, “What shall we do?”
Usually this is an opportunity for me to cram one more errand in, or for me to say, “Let’s get something to drink so I can spend a few minutes working on my book.” There is always a book that needs work.
But we are driving by a park. Almost no one is there. I say, “Maybe we could just hang out at the park for half an hour.”
“We could swing on the swings!” Jessica exclaims, ecstatic.
I had sort of thought we could sit at a picnic table and have a conversation (her favorite thing to do), but she is so excited by the thought that I say, “Sure. Let’s swing.”
She is sixteen years old now, and I am middle aged. She walks with the limping step of a person whose brain has never quite recovered from the trauma of all the many surgeries it has suffered, but she is eager, and the limp doesn’t slow her down.
“You take that one,” she says, “and I will take this one.”
I sit on the swing, and I give a desultory push with my toe. I am here for her, not for me. It is as good a way as any to pass half an hour, I suppose. The breeze stirs my hair and I push it out of my face.
“I love to swing!” she says, and she is working her legs, going higher and higher, faster and faster.
I remember that when she was in elementary school, she loved to swing every day at recess. It was her favorite thing to do, and every afternoon she would report to me that she got to swing at recess. In the sixth grade, she began having seizures her medications couldn’t control, and her teachers and the school nurse were afraid she would fall off the swing, and so they suggested that they could install a special swing for her, not that flat rubber sling that swings have been made of for eighty years, but a plastic seat with a back support and a bar that comes across the middle to keep her from falling out if she had a seizure during recess.
She didn’t want to swing on that swing, but I didn’t want her to get hurt, and so I said she had to, and so she stopped swinging at recess and instead sat on the step and watched the other children play.
It took me a lot of afternoons to understand what had happened, and what I had done; in trying to keep her safe, I robbed her of the one thing that had given her joy every single day.
I don’t want to think about that now because I don’t know what I could have done differently. I have never known what I could have done differently about any of the decisions I have made for her, no matter how brutal and horrific those decisions have turned out to be.
But I don’t want to think about that on this clear blue summer Saturday, and so I kick off hard, and close my eyes, swinging as high and as fast as I can. The wind whips through my hair and across my face, and I laugh. For a moment, I am ten years old again and it is a summer, and summer might well last forever.
I look over at Jessica, and she has her eyes closed, a smile on her lips. I think she is ten years old again, too. This time, I let her swing. Higher and higher, as high as she can go, and I don’t worry about what might happen if.