I am at a playground in Brookline and I am perched atop the slide, as I often am. It is hot. The vinyl seats of my dad’s green Duster made my legs feel like they were melting, in a bad way. We remembered to leave my Charlie the Tuna towel draped over my seat so I don’t cry like I did on the way over. I have been on the slide for about ten minutes, or an hour, I don’t know. I look around, and I see the rose garden. I see the swings – the bucket ones are for babies, so I don’t go on them anymore. I’m not a baby. I am almost three.
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I liked going down this slide the last time we were here but now I feel like I am miles away from the ground, like anything can happen. I am taller than my parents. I feel like I do when I put on their glasses – this is the view for grownups. This is how far it is to the ground. From here I can see everything, but I am also dizzy. And a little afraid. No – petrified. There is an unspoken rule that you cannot go down the ladder once you have reached the top. The only way down is to slide, which is fun, for that one moment that you barely have a chance to enjoy before you run up the ladder and go again.
On another day, in another playground, my parents would take turns riding down the big fat yellow twisty slide with me, like a family train. When I went with them, the yellow slide didn’t shock me with its static. When I went alone I was afraid I would be electrocuted and die, maybe in the tunnel part, and no one would know how to find me.
On the silver slide, though, I am always alone. It is narrow, and on hot days like this I stick to it, melting onto the hot metal.
And now I sit, immobile. My parents have been calling to me from the ground, at first the words were contagiously gleeful, then progressed to encouraging, then questioning. Now they beg for me to just come down already, but I am distracted by a fly that has landed on the small bumper next to my knee. It is green and shiny, with red eyes. It is mesmerizing. It is TERRIFYING and I scramble to my feet.
I am taller than I was, and I kick at the fly as I hold the railings, looking around at the small people forever away, kicking at the sand. Did they see that? It could have eaten me. Flies. Not as bad spiders, but scary enough for me.
I hear a clanking behind me, and turn to find my neighbor climbing up the ladder. The little grown-ups call to me that I have to share, that I have let go and slide so that other kids can, too. And I know they’re right. And my face crumples a little before I make a determined face where my eyebrows and mouth and chin all squinch together to meet my nose in the middle and I show that slide who’s boss. I whiz down with reckless abandon and my face opens, I am laughing, gulping in air and lifting my arms from the bumpers they’d clung to so desperately before, and I land with a thud, in dirt, copper ringlets turning to a nest around my head and I say, “Again!” And I run around just in time and clang my way back up the ladder before I can forget how wonderful it is to let go and slide.
My name is Jess Mullen, and writing is what I love to do more than anything in the world. And maybe this is a heavy-handed metaphor for my writing life at the moment. And in my own writing practice I can putter around and get scared of a blank page, but when I am writing it can be as exhilarating as flight. And yes, sometimes it doesn’t always go as I want, but it’s all part of the experience.
I’m hoping that this year I can take more risks in my writing, commit to doing what I love more, and stop being afraid of whatever lies at the bottom of the slide. And okay, I think the responsibility of working on this exciting collaborative project with other artists I respect will give me the kick in the pants that I need, even at the eleventh hour.