Even when we were cool teenagers, who would not want to be seen playing like children, we would still meet in the park to play games every summer. For years and years it was the central point of our world, gathering the children of all ages from both sides of our street.
There was Pete who was the oldest and would only rarely come to play with us and certainly never when Chris wasn’t around. He was a year younger than Pete. Shorter, scrawnier, only his sidekick for a long time. He would only ever shine when Pete wasn’t around. When he was Chris was too self-conscious, too eager to impress.
There was Rosa. Chris’s younger sister, my best friend. For many years I would phone her every day: ‘What are you doing?’, ‘Nothing’, ‘Meet you in the park in a sec.’ She had the deepest brown eyes, full of laughter and secrets she would only share with me, if anyone.
Suzi and Maria were the other two ‘older girls’. We didn’t like them much, they were best friends, always giggling too much, and seemed to only have one opinion about everything between two of them. They were boring, but we needed them to make up the teams for games.
There were my cousins Katy and Tom. Four years younger than me they desperately wanted to hang out with us, the older kids. Always keen to seem older and to be treated equal. Of course we would forever try to wind them up by making them do favours for us, and then ignore them. Kids can be cruel.
And there were more. Young children, sometimes around, sometimes not. But the core group was unchangeable for many summers.
On winters we wouldn’t hang out together. Everyone went back to their school friends and activities leaving the park deserted, sleeping under the thick blankets of snow. But on those few summers before all of us would little by little take our first steps toward the magic world of adulthood, the park would be waken to life with our running feet, tanned skin and uninhibited laughter and screams.
One of those summers was the one when things changed between Chris and me. Pete was already gone, the first to leave the group. He was going to senior-high after all, so he wouldn’t play with us kids anymore. Chris had matured from his sidekick into a fifteen year old boy and I was fourteen, That summer we would spend every night in the park, playing park games late into the night when our parents finally made us come home. We played football, baseball, every version of hide and seek, anything.
Although we had known each other half our lives the chemistry between Chris and I was something totally new. To test it and each other we would play with such enthusiasm and fight and tease each other continuously that everyone else found it funny. The teasing and flirting went on for a month turning even the air we breathed flammable and everyone else on their toes. But we were too shy to finally say those words. We just waited and waited for the other to make the first move.
One warm summer night, late in the starry dark we finally got up the courage. Suddenly everything was clear. He gave me his class-ring to wear and I gave him mine, which was the customary thing to do on those occasions. We were girlfriend and boyfriend now, but still too shy and scared for too much physical affection.
It took us weeks to get to hugging and then some more time before we would dare to think of first kisses. I had been waiting for it to happen for some time when on one night we were sitting in the little playhouse, just the two of us, talking for hours, like we always did. ‘Can I kiss you,’ he asked nervously. ‘Yeah,’ I replied, blushing. It was a bit on the sloppy side. ‘Strawberry lipbalm,’ he commented and I smiled. The next one was better and the next one even better still.
For the rest of the summer we did little anything else than kissed. We got good at it, learning each other’s rhythm and movement perfectly. We had no interest to go further. Kissing was enough for us.
When the autumn got nearer, I got a bit restless. I would lay there in his arms, him caressing my hair. It was the safest, warmest place in the world to be, but suddenly we had nothing to talk about anymore. I wanted to get back to my winter world, and didn’t want to share it with him. One day I was really irritable. I shrugged off all his touches, not meeting his eye. ‘What’s wrong,’ he asked. ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘It is not really working out, you and me,’ I then blurted out. His eyes were hurt. ‘Fine,’ was all he said. We exchanged back the rings and I ran away leaving him to sit alone in a swing in the park.
The next summer we wouldn’t play anymore. The swings were left deserted, only taken up by me and Rosa on our long nightly conversations about everything.
When the years passed all of us moved away one by one. Some to other cities, some to other side of the town. One autumn Rosa died. In her funeral I would hug Chris, wrapping him tight, wanting to ease his pain for losing his kid sister, wanting to show him all our times together were remembered. Soon after that I too moved away and we haven’t seen each other since.
That park is empty now, even if it is filled with new children playing new games, because we are not there anymore. The park we knew in a magical place, full of dreams and love, friendship and secrets, existing only in our minds, stories and pictures.
Emma (Helsinki, Finland)