The swing pushed me skyward until my tennis shoes pointed to the tops of the pines. The chain squeaked over my head, and the two swing set legs behind me lifted from the ground. A pause, then I started downward, pulling myself into a tight ball. A blur of Georgia red clay passed below my curled-up feet, the wind whirred past my ears, and the two swing set legs dropped into place again with a loud thud. Up again and back, stretch out, pull in.
I suddenly dipped out of rhythm, and the loudest sound I ever heard hit me: a stunning, paralyzing, metallic CLANGclang!! Long seconds it rang, in my ears and down my spine. It faded gradually . . . then total silence. No squeak, no thud, no whir, no wind, no bird. . . . Even the pines seemed stunned into silence.
I gradually came to know that I was standing on the ground instead of sitting on the swing, and had no idea how I came to be that way. I looked for the swing and found it in place behind me, but I seemed to be holding it up instead of it holding me up.
It was heavy in my hands. I looked at my right hand. From the top of my hand the chain didn’t stretch upward as swing set chains do, as they have to do– it hung down, limp. The chain in my left hand was hanging down too. I really was holding up the swing.
I looked around. Several long, rusty metal pies lay scattered about on the ground around me. I looked at them for a few moments. They hadn’t been there before. But they looked familiar. They looked like the legs and overhead bar of my swing set. I looked up to the overhead bar– and saw just sky. It took several awful moments for me to figure out that the swing set had fallen down.
I wanted Mama, real bad, so I neded to put the swing down. But everything was still awfully silent, and I was afraid to make a sound. I bent over slowly, trying to lower the swing and the chains to the ground so gently they wouldn’t make a noise. Then I straightened, turned, and ran as fast as I could from that place. The wind whirred reassurance in my ears, the earth thumped softly under my feet, and the sliding glass door rolled open with its usual grinding. But still disturbed, I didn’t shout for Mama; I kept running and found her in the living room.
My voice came out kind of whispery. “The swing set fell down,” I said.
Mama didn’t look up from her sewing. “That’s okay. It was old,” she said, making another stitch.
“But I was on it!” I said a little louder in frustration. I needed her to understand so she could make everything normal again, but I had no words to explain the terrible feeling I was experiencing.
That feeling became a troubling memory. Years later I learned the word “disoriented” and finally understood the feeling, but the memory still haunted me. After three decades of adult life, I have come to believe that disorientation is one of the worst states the human mind can experience, and experience it we shall. It’s what happens to the mind when a returning evacuee stands on the driveway that no longer leads to a house, when a policeman comes to the door to say there’s been an incident at the school, when the test is positive– when the impossible happens, true things are false, and the world stops making sense.
Even if I’d known how to explain my disorientation to Mama, she couldn’t have fixed it. All she could have done would have been to take me into her arms. Sometimes, that’s all there is to do.
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