The summer of 1990 was an exciting time for me; that March my parents had purchased a swing set for me. I had never had anything quite like it and I was forced to spend many months pining for the moment I could enjoy it thanks to the chilly weather. By the time the heat of late June had arrived, I was determined to revel in the glory of my swing set.
My brother had no interest in this prized possession of mine. Even at that young age, my brother and I had very different approaches to life. Adam was officially in his toddler stage, having finally gotten his legs about him. No longer just a blob on the carpet, he had become a blonde streak of lightning in our lives. His favorite activity was to race back and forth across any open space available to him. Swinging in the breeze would have been too peaceful an activity for him. I, on the other hand, was a very calm and introverted child. Entertainment often came courtesy of word and pattern games in my head; I could spend hours silently telling myself a story. My new favorite place to do so was on the glider of my swing set.
Depending on the memory I recall of it, my swing set was either a giant, shiny blue and metallic wonder that glittered in the sunlight like the costume of a cheesy super hero; or it was a rusted piece of junk so short you had to duck running under it lest you risk a concussion. In 1990 it was the former; a fresh 4th birthday present, glittering in all its’ glory.
My father had his own glittering toy: a brand new BBQ grill. With this came an obsession, and with this obsession came many opportunities to daydream on my glider. On this particular day, my father was grilling hot dogs and bologna, and charring hamburger patties to hockey pucks. I know this because my father did this every time he grilled until he had his heart attack when I was in the 5th grade; at that point he traded bologna for turkey breast. My mother was working on her garden, a sporadic habit that emerges some summers only to end in her cursing her lack of green thumb as she watches her plants die.
I, of course, was in my glider: swinging big, breeze in my hair, the smell of dirt and burning meat in my nostrils. It was the perfect conditions for slipping into a good daydream. I tilted my head back, stared at the canopy of green leaves above me, and lost myself in little kid thoughts.
It was my father’s deep bellow, breaking into my thoughts.
My head snapped forward with urgency at the sound of my name. I began to look to my father but I could see what the concern was; to the front and just to the right of me was Blonde Lightning. Motoring as fast as his little legs could take him, Adam was heading straight for the path of my glider.
“Adam!” my father tried again once more, but it was in vain. My brother simply waved to where he stood, outside of our fenced yard.
It was a command, but I could not obey. I was unable to reach the stability bars; my legs were too short to drag the ground. The straps of the seat were fastened tightly around me, keeping me captive to the massacre that lay ahead of me. I pulled back on the seat bars in a futile fight against inertia as I felt myself falling into the fatal swing. In what seemed to be slow-motion, the front of my glider met squarely with the side of Adam’s head.
I remained fastened to my glider, horrified, as I repeatedly swung over my brother’s shaking body, his cherub face growing redder, his tears flowing into the dirt. Suddenly, my glider stopped and my mother scooped Adam up into her arms and carried him away.
I whirled around. It was my father and I had never seen him so angry. I did not move. I said nothing.
“Get inside and go to your room!”
I was four years old and dumbfounded.
It was an accident. Clearly an accident. I couldn’t stop the glider. I didn’t want to hurt my brother. How could he think it was my fault? How could he think I would do that on purpose?
I was four years old, feeling hurt and betrayed.
Not one to be defiant, I struggled to unfasten myself and then went to my room as told; it was not, however, without plenty of tears. Being a very “in my head” child, my thoughts began to get away with me. I became convinced that it was the end of the world as I had known it; I was now a bad child; I would never be loved again; I would have to go out and find a new dad; Adam was probably dead, so I would have to replace him too—clearly he was the one that mattered.
After being left alone in my room with my stuffed animals and my thoughts for five years, eight months, three weeks, and a day . . . my door opened; my father came into my room. He did not yell. He did not lecture. He did not scold in any way.
Why, I had never had an adult apologize to me before!
I was still dumbfounded, but for a new reason. However, I was no longer hurt or betrayed. It was no longer the end of the world; I was not a bad child; I was still loved; I did not have to find a new dad. Only one thought held back my happiness.
“Is Adam dead?”