I am five years old. I am rising and falling on the metal rhythm of the swing-set; beneath the giant screen of the Rockville Drive-in. Above me, distorted images of dancing popcorn boxes and hot-dogs, melt into the falling blue and orange of a late summer’s night. And George Harrison is crackling through hand grenades attached to Fury wagon windows, “Give me love; give me hope”.
My mother is just a few steps away. She is comforting my twin sister. They sit together on one end of a see-saw. No up or down; they are planted firmly in the dusty blue gravel of the playground of my dreams. And I rise and fall.
My sister cries because she cannot find peace amongst the headlights and the false humanity that looms above her. She is scared to be so close to the spotlight. She is afraid of just how big this life before her really is. My mother cradles her in her arms, and together they try to make it all go away. But it won’t. And I rise and fall.
“Help me cope with this heavy load.”
On the up-swing I keep my head back. I don’t want to see the station wagon that brought me here. I want to soar up into the screen and spend my days with H.R. Puffinstuff. I want to never touch the ground again. With my head back, on the down swing, I can feel my hair brushing against the gravel, against the earth that won’t let me go. Gravity, and a purpose, is pulling me back to the place I wish so desperately to fly away from. I let my hand go free from the chain that promises freedom, and allow it to graze the brittle, jagged surface of a life laid out before me. On the next down swing, I use my weight to plow my hand deep into the gravel. I take a handful with me back up into the light from above, and let it sift its way back home through my little-boy fingers. The blue-grey dust on my hand glows beneath the coming attractions. I release both hands and clap them together at the apex of my arc. And like a magician, who has somehow managed to make the dove disappear, there is a small cloud to distract the audience from the truth that this is all smoke and mirrors. And I rise and fall.
“Give me life, keep me free from birth.”
I never want to touch down. I want to just swing here forever. I want George Harrison to keep singing through the grenades. I want the headlights to keep turning on and off, in a Morse code that only I know and understand. I want the smell of gasoline and cigarettes to fill my lungs and lift me onto the screen. I want the chains that bind me, the chains that I hold tightly in my five-year old hands, the chains that through science and will, rise me above; I want these chains broken, and I want to fly. I want to be released. Yet I rise and I fall.
My mother lifts my sister onto her shoulders; and together, as one, they approach and watch me soar. They are grounded, to this place and each other; and I rise and fall before them. And I realize that I will never be one of them. I am alone and at flight. I may swoop down amongst them at the bottom of my journey, but there will always be the rise at both ends of my swing that will keep me from them. I am a body that has discovered motion, and I cannot rest.
“Won’t you please, oh won’t you?”
It is time. The music has stopped and the screen above me has gone dark; the main attraction is about to begin. It is time to make our way back to the Fury wagon that has brought us here. My sister rides above, on my mothers shoulders. I hold my mother’s hand as we find our way through the maze of sheet metal and rusty chrome. And I am on the down-swing. I am small and tethered once again. But in the distance I can see my father sitting on a plaid blanket, on the hood of his Fury. He smiles as we come closer. He has the look of a man who has accomplished something. My mother and my sister climb inside the wagon. They will fall softly asleep in each others arms before the feature begins.
My father looks down on me. He sets out his hand and pulls me up onto the vast, still warm hood. Together, we will watch Charlie inherit the chocolate factory; and I will fall asleep before John Wayne defeats the Viet Cong. Like a sailor, who is touching dry land after so many weeks at sea, I will rise and fall during my slumber.
It is only when I am being carried from the Fury, up the stairs into my home; that I will be bound to this earth once again. But I will dream this night of soaring.
I am forty-four now. And I am still rising and falling. The Fury has long since gone, and the drive-in has been closed for many years. But I still seek out swing-sets at dusk. My urge to rise above, my need to be un-tethered; has not been lost after the passing of such great time.