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“Happy Birthday!”

“I’m sixty.”

“I know.”

“I’m old.”

“I know.”

“Hey! You aren’t supposed to agree with me!”

“I’m just teasing. You look great.”

“I look great? That’s something you say to an old person. Like wow, you’re ninety, you look fantastic. That just means you look fantastic considering the massive wrinkles and age spots.”

“Stop. You look great for real. You don’t look sixty.”

“Ouch. There’s that number again. Could we agree to stop saying that number?”

“Whatever.”

“Thanks for coming by to wish me a happy birthday.”

“I knew you would be here on the swings just like back in the day.”

“Yeah.”

I sat quietly looking around the old playground. It changed but not that much. What’s that old expression? The more things change, the more they stay the same. My English teacher told me that in Junior High. He had put me in Honors English, I guess he saw something in me. I remember the day he made me recite all the pronouns before dismissing the class for some unknown reason. I, you, he, she, it, we, they. I still knew them like I knew my name. But the pronouns changed, didn’t they? Or the usage of them did. 

“Things are confusing these days," I said to my old friend Meredith sitting on the swing next to me.

“They were always confusing. Don’t kid yourself, we went through a lot.”

“Yeah.” 

I sighed and grabbed hold of the metal chains and kicked off to start the gentle swinging. Meredith did the same. We looked at each other grinning. She still had that shit-eating grin of hers when I knew she was up to no good, about to do something impulsive and crazy. I felt the weight of the world start to lift, felt lighter as the laughter bubbled up and out. I missed my best friend.

I leaned back holding those cold grimy chains as I pumped my legs, up and back, up and back. With my legs extended in front of me I looked at my shoes.

“I’m wearing sensible shoes.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“I’m sixty. I wear sensible shoes to work. There’s really no point in dressing up.”

“Unless you want to feel good about yourself.”

“Are you judging me?”

“Clearly I’m in no position to judge. Just reminding you that you did love a good pair of shoes once.”

I thought back to those teenage years. I did love a good pair of heels, some dangling earrings, and my black leather jacket. I also loved a good pint of Jack Daniels. 

“Those were some crazy times, weren’t they?”

“The best.”

“No. Not the best. The worst. The absolute worst. I’m still not over it.”

“I’m sorry.”

I glanced quickly at Meredith, surprised. She’s sorry? I wasn’t expecting an apology, didn’t know how to respond.  What does one say? Oh, that’s ok? I forgive you? 

Pumping my legs furiously I put my frustration into the swing, going higher and higher fighting the dizziness, the nausea. Was seeing Meredith again making me queasy or was motion sickness creeping in? 

“My life turned out pretty great despite what you did to me,” I lashed out, surprising myself with the anger.

“I know. I kept tabs on you. You have a great family, first grandchild on the way, a little girl.”

I planted my feet into the ground, skidding out, the swing jerking about haphazardly. I stared at her.

“A girl?” 

“A girl.”

Our eyes locked as the memories flooded back. Best friends forever, we had promised sitting on those same swings. Exchanging little drops of blood, then hiding the cuts under our macrame bracelets as we made our pact. How long is forever exactly? More than a few months, which is what she gave me.

“I’m really fucking mad at you.”

I looked down at the ground, letting go of the chains, looking past my sensible shoes. How was I still so angry after all these years? Because she left me. After all the drama, all the tears, all the secrets told under the stars, she fucking left me.

“I couldn’t do it anymore. I tried. I really did.” She looked distraught, worse than I had ever seen her. Gone was the impish shit-eating grin. Gone was the spark in her eye, the look of defiance, the contagious fuck you attitude that had kept me going through my own depression. 

“I couldn’t do it anymore either. But I did.”

“You were stronger than me. I told you that a million times.”

“No. You were the strong one.”

“No. I was made of toothpicks.”

I sighed. It was true. She had told me that a million times, that I was the strong one. I only felt strong with her by my side. Strong enough to handle the abuse at home because she too suffered at the hand of an alcoholic parent. She chose to hide in her dark bedroom while I escaped into the world of reading and writing in the corner of the library. Those little girls weren’t equipped to handle the trauma, forced to suffer in silence before therapy became acceptable.

“Did it hurt?” I whispered, still looking down.

“No.”

“Were you scared?”

“Yeah. I was.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I know. Now I know. I didn’t then.”

“You left me.”

“Forgive me.”

I looked up at the stars in the darkened sky, the view unchanged after all the years gone by. I thought of my husband at home worrying about me being out so late, my kids with their spouses by their side waiting to cut into the cake after I blew out the candles. All those impossible candles. 

Why did I leave the celebration so abruptly? I hadn’t been to that playground in years, avoiding it at all costs, taking the long way to and from work. What made me leave the house like a sleepwalker and show up as if under a spell? Did I know she would be there?  Did she call out to me somehow? Did she need my forgiveness, or did I need to forgive her? I wasn’t sure I could.

I needed to be home, far away from the pain, the still raw after all those years pain. Abruptly getting off the swing, setting it in spinning motion I ran, hearing Meredith behind me. 

At the edge of the park, I looked back over my shoulder. I was surprised, but not surprised, to see only one swing gently swaying in the dark.

April 17, 2024 17:19

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13 comments

09:13 Apr 25, 2024

Interesting story. Really loved the "The more things change, the more they stay the same" line. My only critique was that the context was not much in depth for me to relate with the pain and sometimes I didn't know who spoke which dialogue. Apart from the these two, the story was engaging and beautiful.

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Hannah Lynn
12:21 Apr 25, 2024

Thanks for reading, Sudarshan! That quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” really was said by my English teacher in Junior High. I didn’t really “get it” then but have thought back to it many times over the years. Thanks for pointing out how to improve the story as I always do look for feedback.

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Hazel Ide
20:25 Apr 20, 2024

Really beautiful story. I suspected where it was going but that didn’t detract from the emotion at all, it was powerful and sad and lovely. Great read.

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Hannah Lynn
23:26 Apr 20, 2024

Thanks Hazel! I do gravitate towards those sad stories. Thanks for reading!

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Alexis Araneta
16:24 Apr 18, 2024

Oh, Hannah ! Such a poignant, beautiful tale. I love how you depicted having to face past hurts in such a lovely manner. Good flow to this. The twist at the end ! Wonderful work.

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Jim LaFleur
12:44 Apr 18, 2024

Hannah, you have beautifully captured the emotional rollercoaster of reconciling with past hurts and facing the realities of aging. Great job!

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Hannah Lynn
14:04 Apr 18, 2024

Ah thank you so much, Jim!!

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Mary Bendickson
02:09 Apr 18, 2024

Don't know when but I picked up on the truth somewhere in the middle. Can't escape those haunting feelings.

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Hannah Lynn
14:03 Apr 18, 2024

Yeah those haunting feelings! You never know what’s out there …. Thanks for reading, Mary!!

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Mary Bendickson
17:31 Apr 18, 2024

Always love your stories.

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Hannah Lynn
18:00 Apr 18, 2024

Always love yours as well! 🥰

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Trudy Jas
00:04 Apr 18, 2024

Taking with ghosts again, are you? I hope the MC can forgive and clean that closet before she turns sixty-one. It would be nice if you'd stop writing these really, really good stories and give the rest of us a chance. :D))))

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Hannah Lynn
14:01 Apr 18, 2024

I do enjoy a ghost story! Thanks for the praise, it means a lot to me! 😊

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