In the distance, the desert became blurry. The sky was big and gray and heavy with its own weight and beauty.
I was four. The slide was tall. But I climbed. The steps had sharp teeth. The hand rails were warm from the sun. I was climbing to the top of the slide. No one was there to help me or warn me or taunt me. I knew I could get to the top on my own. When I got to the top, the little perch of metal with hand holds at the right height, I didn’t sit down and slide. I stood and watched clouds hurry across the sky.
The clouds were coming to greet me. I stood there at the top of the slide. To show how brave I was, I lifted my arms, my palms facing up. I stood there, the way Superman did just before he leapt off the building.
I lifted my arms. The storm came.
It wasn’t just rain; little pellets of ice mixed in with the rain. It made its way across the desert in slow motion, plinking up the steel of the slide, the rat-a-tat of tap shoes. When the sound got to me, it stung, prickles on the tender undersides of my arms, surprising but not quite painful.
I stood there, letting the rain poke at my arms. I was enveloped by the clouds in the sky, by the rain that fell from it, by the aloneness, the feeling that I was the only one here and now. There was nothing else, not my dead cat or my absent father. Not my distant mother or the mean kids in the honeycomb apartments adjacent to mine. There was only me and the great big world made for wonder. The pricks on my arms should have hurt, but I didn’t feel any pain. I felt ease, I felt comfort, I felt surrounded by a loving universe made for my joy.
If my mother had looked in my mouth that afternoon, searching for stolen butter, she would have found the universe.
Then the world crashed in. I worried that other kids would see, that my brother would tell, that my mother would be mad at me for getting wet. I worried I would catch a cold. I worried a thousand other little worries.
I grabbed the bars. They were cold in my hands. The little specks of ice that had felt gentle when I stood at the top of the slide, felt brutal as I slid down.