Everyone has their Neverland, that one tiny unassuming place where they had their first moment and formed a memory so vivid; it stays with them their whole life. I remember my first lucid thought, the first incident that was indelibly etched into my consciousness. I was four and there was a pair of swings in the expansive compound of the evangelical church I was born and baptized into. I remember them, not really them but the graying sky above them as I swung as high as I could. I remembered seeing the contrast of my tiny feet in shiny black cortinas, disproportionately massive against the grandness of the sky, like I was standing on a white grainy canvas stained grey with centuries of dust. I swung higher and higher, closing my eyes through each descent back to the dullness of the earth and thrusting myself out, feet spread straight and body pulled back, powering each ascent with the whole of my will, my tiny fingers gripped tightly on the brightly colored chains that tethered the seat to the bar above. Soundless screams of delight escaped my chest in the moments when I reached the peak of my flight and stayed suspended in the air with my feet touching the sky. Those seconds teased, I felt what it was like to be frozen in time and truly weightless. If only I could stay a little longer, if only I could let go of the chains that grounded me. I squeezed into myself as I felt the drag of descent and pushed as far as I could, and waited. I pushed with all that I was as I reached as far back as I could go and I leaned out ahead of the swings as I could with my hands still gripped on the chains, feeling the wind caress my face and make my eyes water. And when the moment came, I just knew, my hands left the chains and spread out in embrace and I left the comfort of the swing seat behind. I remember those seconds clearly, my eyes tightly shut, my hands and feet spread out and my flouncy Sunday dress stretched against my tiny frame, the extra fabric trailing behind me like a comet’s tail. Shrieking startled me and my eyes flew open. The next few seconds dragged forever, the terror on my mother’s face as she watched me catapulted through the air, realizing that the safety of the chain and the swing seat was gone, hurtling down as gravity maliciously pulled at me. The world burst into white light as I hit the ground and I felt all the boundless energy my four year old self used to have dissipate as the very air was knocked out of my chest. I lay there, my ears whining and my juvenile mind trying to make sense of why I couldn’t just stand up and dust the dirt off my dress, why my limbs refused to obey me. Those moments before I fell were Neverland, and the minutes after were hell.
As I sit here, twenty two years later, sitting opposite this grey haired man who was one of the first people to cradle me in the crook of his arm, listening to him give me and you wisdom shaped from decades of experience; my mind can’t help but wander towards Neverland. The frame that held the swings are still there, the vivid green and yellow patina it used to have is gone now, replaced by the reddish brown rust that has eaten holes into the once smooth cylinders. The memories are as still as vivid as ever even though reality has fallen into disrepair. I feel you thread your fingers through mine and grip them firmly. We’ve known each other forever, this place means as much to you as it does me. The darkened scar on the inside of your arm from the time you were trying too hard to be a knight and fell, the thin black line just below your lip from the time I got carried away and bit you the first time you kissed me. But the most vivid of all was your face over mine all those years ago, asking if I was alright and helping me up to my feet. My mother had asked you to keep an eye out for me and you had, sitting by the steps in front of the auditorium, looking on as I swung higher and higher. You told me it never crossed his mind I would jump, girls never took risks like that, and in my dress and black patent leather shoes I looked more girly than most. I’d looked so at peace, my tiny body hurtling through the air with such acceptance that how I would complete my flight seemed so trivial. You’d had a Neverland moment too. You always remembered me as the one who flew.
The elder smiles as he notices that I am not entirely there and turns to see what has held my attention. He asks that we walk to the swings, if I want to. I do. I touch the little patches of gloss paint that has endured with a childlike wonder while you hold my other hand. There are hints of letters, names scratched into the iron with bent nails and dried up ballpoint pens. Some I recognize, some I don’t. I don’t look for mine, I never went near the swings after that day, was too afraid I’d get tempted to try again. I find your name, nesting between others, older and slightly faded. The light catches my engagement ring, the platinum band that holds the jewel shiny in contrast to the swing’s frame and I admire it, my heart swelling in my chest. This is the last step, the last chance to turn away, let the swing slow to a stop, get off and walk away before the temptation becomes too great and I shoot into the uncertainty of forever with you. I cannot bear to look up at you; childhood parables malinger at the back of my mind and warn of false securities and the uncertainty of promises that will resist the pull of reality. I tread the mire of doubts and tighten my grip on your hand.
“I won’t leave you. I promise,” is all you whisper in my ear, and it is more than enough.