The Junk Park
“Write about someone who returns as an adult to a place they last visited as a child.”
Dylan’s therapist had suggested that he take time off from his highly demanding and stressful schedule. He was told to take time to relax and take in some of the things that brought him joy, whether it was something he enjoyed doing in the present or the memory of something that brought him joy in the past. For some reason, the first thought that came into his mind was a trip back home – taking time to go visit some of his old stomping grounds in the process. The first place on his mental list was a certain park that was never far from the forefront of his mind.
It had been more than 30 years since Dylan had set foot in Shelby Park. Almost every weekend during his childhood, he begged, pleaded and cajoled his parents into taking him there on Saturday – especially in the summertime. And, because Dylan’s father was so fond of his one and only son, he almost always gave in to his son’s wants. So many Saturday afternoons were spent at the playground at the heart of the park. While there was much, much more to Shelby Park than just the playground, that playground was Dylan’s domain as far as he was concerned. Many hours flew by as he would climb, swing and slide on the playground equipment provided by the state. Some of the greatest times in his young life were spent at that playground – both by himself and with his family. Whether it was some unconscious desire to recapture a slice of his childhood, or just some random twist of fate, Dylan found himself sitting at a stone table near the playground.
As Dylan sat and ate his lunch at the circular table, he could not help but shake his head slightly at what he saw. The playground looked much like any other playground found throughout parks all over the country. There were the large, plastic, tubular crawling tunnels strewn along the ground with a plastic safety staircase leading up into what resembled a sizeable, cube-like, plastic treehouse-looking structure. Additional crawl tunnels branched at three points from the hub, leading to two plastic spiral slides and an enclosed, angled, tunnel-like slide – all of which emptied into brightly colored, cement textured foam padding that covered the ground around the playground area. All of the playground pieces, save for the faux wood joining, were of ultra-bright, attention grabbing colors, such as orange, yellow, red and green – all designed for the enjoyment and, most importantly, safety of all children who played. Dylan shook his head, not so much at the spectacle of the playground before him, but at the comparison of what he remembered being in the exact same area when he was a child.
As a child, Dylan’s playground was known to him as the “junk park.” It was so named by him due to the fact that the playground equipment of the time resembled an eclectic mash-up of apparent junk, painted in primary colors that had been chipped, muted and faded as a result of time and extensive use. Where the modern day crawl tubes that littered the ground were now, Dylan remembered a set of monkey bars made from welded metal that looked like the welding seams were done a little too liberally. He could remember so many times trying to master the coordination of grabbing the next bar while not letting go of the one he held – often times leading to a painful reminder of how not to do so as he fell to the dirt ground not two feet below. He could not recall exactly just how many skinned knees he had sustained as result.
Where the plastic staircase lead modern day users safely into the treehouse above, Dylan recalled an actual metal ladder stretching up almost to the trees, from his perspective, into a makeshift sailing ship setup, complete with a helmsman’s wheel that had been turned so much that it almost fell off the bolt it was mounted on. How many ships did I sink from that pirate ship? Dylan wondered, as he let his mind wander back to simpler times.
And, where the tunnel slide was now made of plastic, Dylan could remember a time when it was made of solid, dark grey, industrial grade sheet metal, and made for a somewhat eerie and uncertain feeling of where he would end up as he slid rapidly down the darkened tube to the light at the end. Often times, he would recall a scene from one of his favorite science fiction movies where the hero slid through a series of tunnels such as that one after escaping the villain’s clutches. Thankfully, the only thing that awaited Dylan’s perilous slide was possibly too much momentum at the end of the slide, leading to a somewhat jarring landing on his hind quarters.
Even the stone table where he sat brought back a memory, albeit a painful one. He recalled when he walked to that table from the nearby water fountain how he had tripped on a barely noticeable piece of tree root protruding from the ground mere inches from the stone, semicircular bench. He feel forward and hit the edge of the bench with his face, creating a crimson red laceration from the tip of his nose the bridge. He could still recall the wail of pain that followed mere seconds later, followed by a veritable waterfall of tears caused by both the pain and the embarrassment of the trip and fall. The table and benches had, surprisingly, remained the same after all the years. The only difference was the layers of paint that had been applied to them, as was evidenced by the scattered chipping of the paint. From what Dylan could see, the table and bench had been painted over at least seven times. The root that had aided in creating that particular childhood trauma had grown longer, more pronounced and with considerable more girth.
As Dylan looked back on his memories of the “junk park,” he thought about how dangerous playing on the playground must have seemed compared to the safety measures included in the making of the modern construct before him. And, while Dylan did agree that child safety was of paramount importance, he looked back on his experiences and thought of the falls, scrapes and bruises that he endured as part of the character-building experience that was childhood. More importantly, he remembered the smiles on his mother’s and father’s faces as they watched him play, knowing that their son was enjoying himself. As was hoped, these memories brought a warm, contented smile to Dylan’s face. He had briefly entertained the idea of taking a turn on the playground, even if it was just swinging on the nearby swings for a moment. He decided against it in the end, and allowed himself to be content in the recalling of his childhood memories.
Dylan finished the rest of his lunch and disposed of the refuse in the nearby waste basket as he walked back to his car parked in the small allocation of parking spaces nearby. He deactivated the alarm and proceeded to open the door and sit down in the driver’s seat of his blue, mid-sized sedan. He paused to look back at the playground one last time – superimposing the image of the “junk park” over the modern playground in his mind. He let his gaze linger for several minutes as he smiled quaveringly – light tears forming in his eyes. He then quickly wiped at his eyes and sniffled, composing himself before turning the key in the ignition. A moment later, Dylan found himself driving slowly away from the “junk park” and out to the main street, ready for the next stop on his trip down memory lane.