Swing me higher! Quick, before recess is over. I just love seeing my new red sneakers nearly touching the magnificent blue sky. Johnny Little is for sure the cutest boy in kindergarten, and I think he likes me. Why does the bell have to ring while I’m experiencing something so wonderful that I’ve never felt before?
It’s been six days now since Johnny has even said hi. I bet that rotten kid, Zachary, made fun of him just for giving me one push on the silver swing. I haven’t gone near the playground since then because I don’t want to mess up the memory of the best day of my life.
Next year I’ll be going to a middle school miles from where all my friends will be. Thanks a lot Mom & Dad!! Tonight is probably the last time I’ll see all the kids who mean the most to me. Going to the bonfire and staying out until midnight is the only thing I was able to negotiate with my overly strict parents. Of course, I agree when they say “Anastasia, be safe.”
Huge logs make for a crackling fire in a deep pit that burns the night away. Slowly my classmates say goodnight and head home. I don’t want this night to end, so I continue to stare into the sparkling delight. As I look up, I see Johnny is the only one left sitting on the opposite side of the fire. “There’s one log left” I hear him shout. “Should I toss it in?” Feeling brave, I say “why not.” I can barely see Johnny through the smoky blast. “Anastasia, are you still there” he whispers. After my soft “yes” I spot him moving closer to me.
I never really learned how to carry on a conversation with a boy, so in my silence I let my thoughts return to kindergarten and the time Johnny pushed me toward heaven on the swing. And now here he is sitting right next to me. Is this what romance feels like?
Those quiet moments lasted for only a minute before we hear music in the distance. “That’s my favorite song” slips out of my mouth before I know I said it. “Mine too” says Johnny as I see him get up, and just like in a movie, I hear him say “Wanna dance?” Around the campfire we go, slowly at first and then when the tempo picks up, we are rocking! My eyes are closed in hopes that this memory will never fade. That is until I feel my body burning and see my hair in total flames. Johnny’s burnt arm is begging me to grab hold as he tries to lift me out of that monstrous fire pit. Eventually, he succeeds.
I don’t remember the ambulance ride or anything my parents said during the several weeks in the hospital except somehow they blamed Johnny for all that happened. I begged Mom to let me talk to him, but she was unrelenting, and Dad said he wanted to kill him. All because he saved my life!
Took many years of therapy and countless surgeries to get me to look and feel even half-way normal. I detested having to spend the rest of my life living with my parents and seeing people look away when I passed them on my rare outings. If only I could go back to kindergarten and do it all again. But life doesn’t work that way. So eventually I became the caretaker until my parents passed away, and that left only me. Some days I think of selling this worn-out house and moving into a tiny apartment to pretend to start a new life. Instead I let the years slip by.
Who could be calling me when it’s nearly midnight? Most people consider me a shut-in with no relatives or friends. The young man who delivers my groceries and the Amazon delivery person are my only contacts to the outside world. “You probably don’t remember me, and it’s ok if you want to hang up, but this is Johnny Little, and I really would like to talk to you.” I’m so unprepared for this call, I can’t think of anything to say except “Hello, Johnny.” He continues to repeat that he has something he wants to say and asks if he can visit me. Still half-asleep, and without time to debate my answer, I quietly say ok.
How I ever fell asleep after that call, I’ll never know. Now I wonder if it was a mistake to agree to see Johnny after all these years. And what could he possibly have to say? He can’t want to apologize for saving my life. So I take a deep breath as I hear a loud knock on my door. I figure shaking hands would be most appropriate, until I notice there’s an empty sleeve where his arm should be. Of all people, I know that unwelcome stares don’t make a person comfortable.
How do you even begin a conversation with someone you haven’t seen for more than 60 years? I decide to let him take the lead. I’m shocked that his first question is if I remember the old silver swing from when we were in kindergarten. How could I forget! I didn’t tell him I still considered that the best day of my life. Took a few agonizing minutes of talking about the weather before he brought up the fire. I wanted to ask if his missing arm was related to that wonderful/horrible night, but decided to let him say whatever it was he came to say.
I went a bit ballistic when he told me that our kindergarten bully, Zachary, had paid him to stay at the firepit with me and would double his earnings if he tripped me while dancing. But somehow through his mountain of tears, I realized he paid the price for that night in many ways. He shared stories of his life of misery as an alcoholic, drug dealer, and eventually as a prisoner. I couldn’t help but feel like I had a part in his loss of a good life as well as my own. Several hours later, it seemed more like I was with my new/old best friend. Was so liberating to finally admit all those pent up thoughts and feelings.
Morning turned into afternoon when from my tiny radio came “our song.” Johnny looked at me like he was seeing a ghost when he realized what tune he was hearing. That’s when he sprang to his feet and said “wanna dance?”
Before we make it once around my living room is when I suddenly remember the cinnamon rolls I put in the oven after brushing my teeth this morning. Breaking away from his glorious hold, I race down the hall into the kitchen where I see a fire dancing.