Rants & Essays
My Midnight Swing
By Michael Welzenbach
From the perch of my apartments high
balcony I had noticed them these young aspiring pilots, high-jumpers and
daredevils. Id envied their grace and enthusiasm as they soared high over
the heads of their companions. I often wished I, too, could hurtle through the
air with such dizzying delight.
Summer progressed, the evenings balmy and electric with the
promise of fun. And the temptation was great. Yet every time I felt the urge to
race to the playground, I reasoned the impulse away. What on earth are you
thinking? I reprimanded myself. A grown man down there on the swings? What
would everyone think?
No, the idea was ridiculous. I had bills to pay, chores to
attend to. Leisure time should be spent in adult pursuits a hike in the
country or a trip to the mall.
I stopped watching them. I put a low chair on the balcony,
so all I could see were the roofs of other apartment buildings and the fitful
But I could still hear those giggling voices floating up
from below. And then late one Saturday night after a grueling week, as I sat
feeling positively ancient, there came to me again, like a faint echo, the
sound of children playing.
I flicked off the lights in the living room and opened the
sliding doors to the balcony. But for the yellow pools cast by the parking lot
lamps, all was dark and peaceful.
Stepping out into the moist night air, I looked down to the
playground. There was no one there. Well, of course not, I chided
myself. Its nearly midnight. Youre hearing things. What you need
is a good nights sleep.
Yet something told me differently, and this time I
didnt reason it away. With sudden determination, I went inside, pulled on
a sweater and walked out the door.
The dew-moistened grass tickled my sandaled feet on the way
to the playground. Here and there above me a window glowed with the flickering
light of a television. I was completely alone.
The monkey bars loomed against the starry sky. A tall slide
described a shine, graceful S to the ground. The seesaws sat at angles.
And there, dangling silently on their chains, hung three
swings. For a long moment I looked at them, feeling suddenly timid and as
though dozens of neighbors were watching from their windows. But it was too
late to turn back, and the swings beckoned as strongly as they had when I was a
I walked to the middle swing and sat in its wide rubber
sling. Grabbing the chains, I gave a sharp pull. Yes, theyd hold me all
With a mighty heave I kicked up and backward with my feet.
In an instant I was rocketing forward, my toes pointed to the stars.
It was exhilarating. Even wistful imagination hadnt
prepared me for the sheer, tummy-turning thrill of dangling for a long second
at the end of the sweeping arc and the sudden plummet backward. I had forgotten
how streamlined I felt; how the cool rush of air made my eyes water.
Then I remembered the playground of my youth. In the long
summer evenings, when I was six or seven, my brothers and I would race down the
hill to the swings. We would dare each other to jump off at the highest point.
In those distant days, there seemed nothing on earth that dreaming
couldnt make so.
Later there were the swings in the park behind my school. It
was a gathering place for young teen-agers, where boys met and chatted, sitting
idly on the swings. At the appearance of a group of girls, all conversation
hushed and any actual swinging stopped. We were glad to see the girls, but
Now, as I pumped the air with my feet and pulled on the
chains to propel myself higher, it was hard to believe I had let this much
simple fun slip away.
As a boy, I had dreamed of traveling the world, and I had
done that. I had dreamed of playing the guitar and the violin, and had
struggled along at both with some success. I had dreamed of finding a fossil
worthy of a museum, and after 20 years of searching I had done that too.
Mostly, of course, I had dreamed of being a grownup and of
doing what I wanted, when I wanted. But as I grew older, I became free like
every other adult free to make decisions, free to clutter my life with
all sorts of possessions. But how free had I really become?
Not very, it seemed. For wasnt freedom the
self-confidence to stop on impulse and do a somersault on the lawn? To make a
snow angel and not be concerned what anyone might think?
Lulled by the rhythmic creaking of the chains on the
nighttime swing, I found myself growing unaccountably happy. So my taxes were
due. So the car inspection sticker had nearly expired. So that badly needed
check hadnt yet turned up in the mailbox. So what? My toes were touching
stars and my heart was chuckling.
The next morning when I left my apartment, I ran into my
computer-specialist neighbor in the parking lot. Was that you I saw on
the swing last night? he asked, smirking.
Indeed it was, I said. And maybe again