As I was driving away from a friend’s house recently, I saw in the distance a familiar looking playground and the school at which I attended Kindergarten through third grade. Something in me told me to stop and take a look around.
The nostalgia filled me the instant I pulled into the parking lot. All at once, I was nine again and could see the boys running in the field playing tag and football. I saw the little table topped with orange slices that we would have during field day. I remembered staring at my untied shoes under the covered picnic table the day I got a time out because someone was talking to me in the recess line. I heard the cheers coming from our made-up band on the grassy area behind the building.
It seemed so foreign, yet so familiar. The last time I was here, I was 16 and made it to the parking lot. I didn’t even get out. Maybe I was scared of what the memories could bring back, or maybe I just didn’t really care about the memory. But on this warm, summer night, with a watermelon-colada snow cone in hand and a golden sun setting in the distance, something felt right. Something felt magical.
The first thing I noticed was how small everything seemed. Back then, I swear the field was a mile long, and the playground was eight feet above my head. But yesterday, the field was merely a little square of grass, and I towered over the purple, above-ground tunnel in the playground. How innocent it all seemed.
The gravel crunched under my feet as I slowly made my way toward the monkey bars that sent me to hospital when I was seven. My teachers were so scared that I had a concussion because I hit the back of my head pretty hard against the wooden platform. (I didn’t have one.)
I placed my foot on the same unsteady step that I had traveled upon 18 years prior. I had to duck to go onto certain areas, and the wooden planks of the playground creaked under my worn sandals. I couldn’t help but be overtaken with pure gratitude as I sat down near the slide. I let the warm breeze brush against my skin, and I breathed in my surroundings.
When I attended school there, I had many dreams of my future. This was the age of Britney, Lisa Frank, and scrunchies. I made it a personal mission to become Britney-famous by 15. I received my first real journal at the age of seven and wrote in it daily. I’d write songs, rhymes, and my feelings. I loved a boy named Cliff and dreamed of being married to him forever. I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a singer, and a cheerleader with a football-playing boyfriend. I wanted a little apartment in Manhattan where I had my own fashion line and a little teacup Maltese named Bella. I wanted to be famous, appreciated, and loved. I wanted to feel special.
I didn’t think about the fact that I would probably never be able to accomplish all of those things. I never realized that Cliff one day would move away. I didn’t know that I’d stop having those dreams of being a teacher, vet, and lawyer. I didn’t foresee the distant future or understand that I would self-sabotage my chances of being a singer. My cheerleader dreams were over when I hurt my wrists doing a backflip at the age of 12, and no football-playing boyfriend materialized.
You see, as a young girl, I let the innocence of life overwhelm me. I let the innocence of childhood consume my existence. I wasn’t aware of addictions, or betrayals, or abandonment, or heartbreak. I didn’t know that dreams could end someday. All that mattered was getting through the morning to run around with my friends on the little, wooden playground after lunch.
But as I sat on that platform pondering these things, I was so grateful for the fact that nothing went according to my plan. As painful as some of my experiences have been, they have all defined me and molded me into exactly who I am today. Just like the playground, every place and experience has built me into this person. I let the tears stream down my face as I comprehended how magnificent that statement truly is. I could have sat on that platform mourning my old dreams, but rather, I was able to rejoice in the experiences that changed the course of my future.
I might not be able to restore that blissful, childlike innocence again. Those “dreams” of my past might never become my future, nor would I want them to today. My life experiences have changed the progression of my dreams for the better. I don’t think I was supposed to become any of those things. I think I was supposed to fall, time and time again, to find my way up and into exactly where I am today. And who knows. Tomorrow could be a completely different playground teaching me a completely different story. That’s okay. That’s life, and that’s the beauty of it.
(This piece was written by Erin Hinkle and originally published on HelloGiggles. It has been modified.)