By Daniel Waters
I was 3-years-old the first time Mother put me on a swing. I know most people can’t remember that far back, but I’ve never had any trouble with it. Mother didn’t waste time with the training swing that fastens you in all nice and safe until you’re big enough for the real thing. Mother sent me straight to the big kid swing.
From the moment I was hers until the moment I wasn’t, Mother used me to offset her moods. During the times she was especially morose, it became essential to Mother’s psyche, essential to her survival, that she exhilarated me by any means possible. For example, I was four when Grandma Ruth died. After the phone call, Mother drove me two whole hours to the Clackamas River so she could teach me how to swim. Once we got there she stripped me naked, pushed me off a fishing dock and screamed, “KICK, KICK, KICK!!!” Only when it became clear that I was going to drown did Mother jump in, drag me back to the dock, and hug me close before preparing me for another try.
Then there were Mother’s big crazy entrances. No matter what time it was or what I was doing, Mother would need to find me, pick me up and rock me gently to sleep. This happened on my first day of kindergarten. Ms. Nelson was teaching us a good morning song when Mother barged into the classroom wearing her bright yellow sunshine pajamas with a hole in the right shoulder. Mother had that wild look in her eyes. She ran up to me, lifted me up and cradled me in her arms right there in front of the whole class. “Shhhhh, there there. Go to sleep, child.” Mother whispered through pained, hurried breaths. I never once thought she was crazy; I just knew she needed me in a different way than most mothers needed their children.
That day, the swing day, Mother was real bad. She just lay there in bed. Flat on her back. Sobbing. Every now and again Mother would stop crying for a few minutes and just stare at the ceiling; but eventually she’d start shaking her head, her face tightening. Mother would then press her lips together so tightly they’d turn the same pale color as her skin. A last-ditch effort to barricade the oncoming monsoon. But the pressure was too great. After a few hours of this, Mother summoned the energy to sit up. She looked at me, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Her eyes opened, renewed. “You know what you would just love baby?” She asked in that high-pitched, saccharine baby-voice that Mother sometimes used. “I won’t tell you, but just you wait. We’re going to the park. I’ll grab your Molly.” Mother didn’t believe in strollers you see, she found them to be inhumane. So she fastened our dead dog’s bed to a skateboard, tied a rope to it, and pulled me along. Mother’s dog’s name had been Molly, which is where it got its name. She died just before I was born.
Once we got to the park, Mother stomped out her cigarette and tied Molly to a fire hydrant before excitedly setting me on the swing. She started by caressing me very lightly back and forth; teasing and tantalizing herself by dangling the exhilaration I was about to feel right in front of her eyes, in the power of her fingertips. I was thinking that this whole swing thing was extremely lame. Molly was more exciting than this. Then mother started swinging me higher. And higher. And higher. And fuck if it wasn’t thrilling. My mouth opened real wide and I started giggling, laughing and waving my arms in front of me before quickly rediscovering the grips at my sides. Upon seeing my elation, Mother did that thing where she’d cry and laugh at the same time. She added an occasional ‘weeeeee‘ between guttural emissions. As I flew up and down through the air, Mother’s eyes followed mine so intently, so resolutely, her body contorting to my every reaction, her expressions mimicking mine. I’ll never forget my first swing. Nothing in my life has been as singularly intoxicating as the comfort I felt when, just at the moment I was sure I was going to fall to the ground, I didn’t.
About the Author: Daniel Waters is now 23 and lives in Portland, Oregon. He has a degree in Sociology from Bates College. When he’s not bartending or coaching youth baseball, he writes. His work has been published in Temenos Literary Journal, Defenestration Magazine, The NW Examiner and right here in Brain, Child.
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