from FRUITSALAD by Ellen Azorin

The Playground

The entrance to the playground was almost hidden between the full, floppy trees that stood on either side. It was a small playground, run by a private association of residents in the quiet neighborhood where I spent my early childhood—a pocket of peace in the borough of Queens in New York City.
There were tennis and handball courts for the adults, and lining the walk as you entered was a garden tended by those more interested in exercising their green thumbs than their athletic abilities. The gardeners proudly displayed their marigold beds in the Fall. The tennis players had their tournament.
We children had our playground apparatus among the trees, installed upon dirt and grass— not asphalt or concrete, or the spongy synthetic surfaces that would line the playgrounds of later years.
My favorites were the jungle gym, a construction of wooden beams leading to a top perch, up to which I climbed fearlessly—and the “monkey bars,” which resembled a metal ladder that had been mounted horizontally on top of posts. Here I could simply hoist myself up and swing back and forth, or attempt to navigate my way across the ladder hand-over-hand, a feat that eluded me at first but which I gradually mastered to proud shouts of “Mommy, Daddy, look at me!”
But my friendly little playground was not without its bugaboo. Behind the jungle gym and the monkey bars—tucked away behind the swings, the see-saw, and the sliding pond, past the squeals of children as they explored the line between fright and delight—was a sandy area that held my secret terror.
It was a small merry-go-round, about 15’ in diameter, that instead of a floor and horses, had a circle of wooden seats. To make it go round, the neighborhood kids—mostly boys—would grab the metal bars that separated the seats, and while holding on, they’d run around the apparatus as fast as they could, pushing it harder and faster until it was whirling at what seemed like great speed. Then they’d rotate their bodies and jump onto the seats, screaming in triumph as they spun past my dazzled gaze.
How I wanted to be sitting on that wheel watching the world go spinning around! But the constant stream of kids kept it moving, moving, all day long, never letting it come to a stop so I could safely climb onto a seat. And the thought of trying to grab on while it whizzed by made my heart whiz, too, while my mind did battle between my fear and my desire.
One day, as I stood close to the rim with the usual look of yearning on my face, an arm reached out to pull me up as the wheel rotated towards me. Without thinking, I grabbed the arm, ran alongside, and pulled myself up and onto a seat.
Round and round I whirled in joyful victory.
All it took was a helping hand.

©Ellen Azorin