It’s amazing how such small, insignificant things can be the exact opposite.
In my parents’ backyard, my old childhood trampoline sits there in the overgrown grass, its glory days long behind it. Rust has claimed most of it now, the sun has bleached it and the woven threads have frayed and come unwound, creating sagging holes.
I stand there, looking at it.
My parents have decided to get rid of it. No-one uses it anymore, and it’s beyond repair. I tried once to fix it, maybe pass it down to my future kids, or the grandchildren of the family. But I’m not a very good handyman (or handywoman).
For some indescribable reason, the thought of it going to the tip, of no longer sitting in my parents’ backyard, saddens me. I feel like some of the most important and best memories of my childhood revolved around that thing.
I remember when we first got it, a present for my tenth birthday, for reaching double digits. I was the eldest out of my three siblings, though we were each only a year apart. They were positively green with envy at such a grand gift.
In its prime, the trampoline was a huge, rectangular, yellow-coloured shape with a red cross in the middle. An Olympic trampoline, they said, better quality than those black mesh ones that you can easily fall through. Its long springs and long frame were a shiny silver, and it almost seemed to stand there proudly.
Ten year old me was ecstatic.
I remembered my siblings and I all bouncing on it, learning intimately about the laws of gravity, using the double bounce method to launch ourselves into the air, so we came level with the roof of the house, then crashing uncontrollably downwards with screams and whoops. Mother put an end to that game after my youngest brother Oliver was launched into the air and instead of landing on the trampoline, hurtled over onto the grass, landed on his wrist and sprained it. He howled so loudly though you’d think that he’d broken it.
After that, mother supervised our times on the trampoline, or enforced a one at a time rule.
Then there were the water fights we had in that backyard, running around the trampoline, trying in vain to use it as a shield. My two brothers, my sister and I would have so much fun; squirting water guns, throwing water balloons (my brothers delighted in hurtling them at us girls) and putting the garden hose to good use. It was the most perfect thing we could think of doing on a hot summer’s day.
Then, of course, my sister and I used our superior 11 and 13 year old brains respectively, to devise a fort from said trampoline with a “No Boys” rule firmly in place, a rule my brothers liked exploiting until we drove them off with nerf guns and well-aimed insults.
At least once a week during the in-between seasons when it wasn’t too hot and wasn’t too cold, my sister and I would put a gigantic pile of picnic blankets over the top and down the sides of the trampoline, then place another underneath to sit on. Thus, we made a blanket fort out of our trampoline.
We’d smuggle chips and lollies out and we’d eat them while giggling over some magazines or books, or playing some board games or card games by the light of two torches. During one of our fort blanket nights, she teased me incessantly about a boy I liked – Damon Whittler. He was my first ever crush, with floppy blonde hair and brown eyes. He had turned out to be a twerp and my sister had spent months trying to cheer me up, and my eldest brother Jared always eyed him off in the school playground.
Eventually, as we grew older, my sister and I accepted the boys into our fort and we played games, played truth or dare and told each other secrets under a blanket, under a trampoline, under the stars.
At 16 years old I remembered my first date with my first boyfriend, James. We had gone to see a movie together, then got some ice cream and my mum picked us both up and drove us to mine. He was allowed to stay over for the night, but mum gave him a stern talking to and my father simply stood there looking tall and threatening. I remembered hiding a grin at his stammered reassurances and then dragged him away from my parents. We ended up lying on that very same trampoline, looking up at the stars.
It had been a cool, summer’s night and as it was late, there was not much artificial lighting around to block out all the stars. We had lain there, talking about all sorts of things into the early hours of dawn, for once undisturbed by my parents or my siblings (although I feel fairly certain that my parents were peeking through the windows at us). We talked of our families, school, our futures, although back then they seemed like vague dreams at 16.
I remembered him telling me about his troubles at home, the fights, how he had to care for his younger brother more than his parents did. I remembered that was one of the things that drew me to him, his love for his somewhat broken family and his sense of responsibility. I in turn told him of my life, which, in retrospect, was quite a good life back then. I bemoaned all of my very annoying siblings, shared my secret concern for my eldest brother, Jared, who had just turned 15. I was afraid that he was starting to get into some bad stuff and my parents weren’t even aware of it. I was also concerned about Oliver, who often followed in Jared’s footsteps. I told him of the closeness of my sister Claire and I, only two years younger, and how I hoped that a boy wouldn’t break her heart, for she was so good and kind that her heart could easily be broken.
James rolled over to look at me and stroked the side of my face gently.
“I promise not to break your heart,” he said softly. And then he kissed me.
My first kiss.
He had, of course, ended up breaking my heart, as I broke his, but our paths diverged, as they often do when one is young, headstrong and foolish.
Around the same time, Jared had ended up getting into the shady business of drug dealing and drug taking too. I spotted the signs first. I smelled the tell-tale sweet scent of pot when I got home early one day while everyone else except him was still out. I found him spaced out in his room and, at 17, I shouted him down like a Karen in a supermarket. He’d simply giggled, then tried to assume a look of soberness.
“It’s just a little, sis. And just once. Helps me to think,” he slurred.
I was disgusted and stormed out of the room, only to return to help him clean himself up a little and air the smell from his room before our parents got back. Perhaps I should have ratted him out then, but I figured that it’d be better to keep him under our watchful eyes than get him kicked out and going somewhere where we couldn’t watch him. It would be my secret, and I would help him somehow. No need for my family to be torn apart by it.
Looking back, that might have been the better thing to do, to dob him in then and there.
I remembered, not long after I had graduated and not long before I turned 18, everything had blown up.
My mother had caught Jared stealing money from her wallet and had questioned him. He didn’t answer her, just kept trying to grab the money saying it was supplies for school. She, being a mother, knew something was wrong. She had stormed into his room and rummaged through it, fending him off as he tried to stop her. Eventually she found it, a large stash that was obviously used to deal out. She’d rounded on him in a truly fantastic style and he lost it and hit her.
Then, my father and I came home.
My father flew into a rage when he saw my mother on the floor, the pot bag near her and the state of my brother who was obviously high.
My heart sank.
I quickly grabbed mother and hurried her out of the room while my father and brother had a massive fight upstairs. I got her an icepack and a drink to try to calm her shaking.
Then, Claire and Oliver came home.
It was one of the longest nights I had ever endured.
They argued, for hours it seemed, my mother, father and Jared. Oliver, lucky him, had a study group to go to, and then he mumbled to us that he would probably stay there the night.
Claire and I could’ve run away from it too and waited until everyone had cooled off. But I felt partially responsible for the mess, as I had known before anyone. And my sister would always stay by my side in times of trouble. We were the closest two people could get.
Eventually, the fighting died down when Jared stormed out of the house, our father railing at him the whole time, mother a blubbering mess behind them. My sister went to try to calm down our father as she always had a way with him like that, and I went to console mother.
Eventually, once our house had quieted down and mother was tucked up in bed and father had retreated to the solace of his office, my sister and I once again lay on the trampoline, looking up at the stars.
“I can’t believe Jared is into drugs!” she exclaimed. “And I can’t believe he did it around Oliver who usually follows everything he does!”
“Oliver is not as blind as you think. He knows what’s good about Jared and what’s not,” I said.
My sister looked at me and her eyes narrowed slightly.
“You don’t seem surprised or shocked about any of this,” she said.
I took a deep breath. My sister sat up and looked down at me.
“You aren’t shocked or surprised,” she said matter-of-factly.
“I already knew,” I whispered to her.
Her eyes widened with surprise then narrowed into anger.
“You didn’t tell me! Or anyone else!” she exclaimed.
“I thought I could handle it myself. I’ve been working on him for the past few months and he did seem to be getting better, or at least didn’t seem to be dealing anymore,” I said, defending my guilty conscience.
“You’ve known for months!?” she exclaimed again.
There was a long silence after that and I could sense my sister grappling with her emotions.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” she asked calmly, but I could sense that she really meant why had I not told her. We told each other everything. It was our pact – no secrets.
“Because I knew it would blow up, kind of like it did tonight. I knew that father would disown him and mother would have a hard time dealing with it. And I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry,” I replied.
“Worry! My brother was doing drugs in the room right next to me! I should’ve known! You should’ve told me!”
“You need to keep quiet!” I hissed at her. “I think there’s been enough shouting around here tonight.”
She glared daggers at me.
“You should’ve told me,” she repeated, but in a softer voice. “I could’ve helped. We could’ve handled it together.”
“I didn’t want to drag anyone into it. I thought I could handle it,” I repeated.
My sister stood up and towered over me.
“Yeah, you did a great job handling it,” she said, simmering anger in her words.
I felt my own anger flare, as well as a deep upset that my sister was so angry at me.
“Better than you would’ve handled it. You’re not very good at handling people, especially boys,” I shot back, instantly regretting the word as they came out of my mouth.
I’d made a solemn promise never to mention her already large amount of failed relationships, to rub salt in the wound, and now I just had.
Her mouth folded into a thin line and she left without another word, and I was left on the trampoline, looking up at the stars with the feeling that the happiness of my family was slipping away.
I shook my head out of my reverie as I stared at the broken trampoline. Such a stupid thing to stir up such memories.
But they were my memories, and I couldn’t always bury them.
My family had slowly fallen apart after that. My sister refused to speak with me, my mother oscillated between stressed and neurotic to depressed, my father was angry all the time and poor Oliver stayed in his room or at his friends’ houses most of the time. Jared had been kicked out, and his room felt like an empty, gaping wound in the family. It was a long time before we’d heard from him again. We’d almost thought that perhaps he was dead in some alley from an overdose, but then we got a phone call from him asking for more money as he was staying with a distant relative of ours.
Those phone conversations always ended the same.
We had only seen him a few times in the ensuing years.
As soon as I got accepted into University after my 18th birthday, I moved out and never looked back.
I still stayed in touch with my parents, and even occasionally Oliver who, 5 years down the track, was now 20 and in University too, studying to be an engineer. I was proud of him.
My sister had also finished University and had a long-term boyfriend who I had never met, just watched on social media. She seemed happy and successful and I was proud of her too.
Looking at that stupid trampoline, I opened up my phone and dialled a number I hadn’t dialled for a while.
“Hello,” came a voice after a few rings.
I had to admit, hearing her voice felt equally like my heart was breaking and then subsequently putting itself back together.
“Claire, it’s Kelly,” I said, my voice breaking.
“Kelly? I haven’t heard from you in a while,” Claire said, her voice sounding steady and neutral.
“Yeah, sorry, I, um…” my voice trembled, years of loneliness, bitterness, regret, love, hate trying to break through. “Um, I know it may seem really stupid, but uh mum and dad are getting rid of the trampoline and, well, we had so many good times with it, I know it’s stupid but…maybe, for old time’s sake…” I blabbered on, not sure what to say.
“You want me to come and see mum and dad throw away a trampoline?” she said, a hint of incredulousness.
“Yeah,” I said lamely. “I mean, I just, I was getting all nostalgic and I remembered all the times we had, we were, um, close and stuff and I… I don’t know. It’s stupid. It’s just I miss… well, er, I miss, um, I’m just gonna go.”
I went to disconnect my call but my sister’s voice rang out before I could.
“We did have some good times didn’t we. I had my first kiss on that trampoline,” she said wistfully.
“You did?” I said incredulously. “I thought that was just me?”
“No, I did too.”
“With who?” I asked.
“Do you remember Barry?” she said.
“Barry? With the braces and the dog that kept humping your leg?”
“Yep. That’s the one,” she chuckled.
“Ugh. Not my idea of a first kiss,” I said.
“Decidedly not,” she replied.
Awkward silence hung in the air.
“So…uh well, I’m here now, if you wanna come. I don’t know how far you are. But I can wait,” I said, feeling as nervous as I had on my first date.
“I can be there in about 15 minutes,” she said.
My heart beat faster.
“Oh, well, okay then. I’ll just be waiting here, with mum and dad.”
“I’ll see you soon then,” she said to me.
There was another pause and I almost hung up again.
“Kelly?” she said, and I could almost feel her small smile through the phone. “I’ve missed you too.”
The call disconnected and I felt a smile creep across my face.
I went inside as I waited for my sister to come so we could farewell the ratty, old trampoline that had been a part of our golden childhood.