For any psychology students out there, here’s a good one for you to analyze. In late August I went home to see my family and start preparing for the fall semester. Upon my arrival my parents put me to work around the house and in the yard. One of the jobs I was tasked with was dismantling the swingset that stood dejected in the corner of our yard. However, before we get into the act of destruction, here’s a little history.
My family is currently living in our third house, all of which have been in the same town and never more than 5 minutes away from each other. In fact, our current house is no more than a few hundred yards from the house I lived in until I was 10. It was in the backyard of that first house that this same swing set first showed up, towering above my tiny 4-year-old self. It had a shiny yellow slide and matching yellow swings. It had a tower with a telescope and a steering wheel, not to mention a rope ladder and monkey bars. There was even a sandbox underneath the tower. For my sister Chloe and I, it was where we spent a lot our time throughout elementary school.
I sailed that swingset across pirate-infested oceans. Chloe and I mastered the yellow swings and would try to launch ourselves as far as possible, resulting in a few injuries now and again. One time my aunt showed up at our house to find my mother asleep while my sister hung from the monkey bars unable to get down (apparently I was looking on from the ground smirking, but that’s not how I remember it). When it was hot I would hang out in the shady sandbox underneath and make earthworm cities. One year there was a cicada outburst (one of those 13 or 17-year cycles) and their empty skins covered the swingset for weeks before Chloe would go back on the monkey bars.
When we moved to our second home I entered middle school but would still play on it from time to time. At that point I had two more little sisters who also got much use out of the now fading yellow swings. Upon moving to our current house, our childhood relic began to break down. One too many of my friends sat on the wooden horse swing and broke it. My sisters and I got older and a swingset was no place for a high school student. Soon the swingset was just part of the scenery; by the time I left for college I barely even noticed it.
Fast-forward to the hot August day when I approached my childhood swingset for the last time. The yellow slide was bleached almost white, the swings close behind. There was no longer any sand underneath the tower, and the ropes were all fraying badly. I tried standing on the first rung of the ladder and the wood promptly snapped underfoot. A second try broke the next rung the same way. My dad and I tried to loosen a a couple of screw and bolts but quickly realized they were frozen, rusted shut in the wood. Any conventional disassembly was out of the question now. So my dad handed me the old wooden hatchet from our garage, the one he received from his dad many years before the swingset or I existed.
What followed was a surreal experience that was both physically and mentally tiring. At first I didn’t really think about what I was doing because the physical act of destruction can be therapeutic and enjoyable, especially when you’re handed a hatchet and told to go wild. The only rule was that the pieces had to be small enough to fit in the back of our truck. With great enthusiasm I started chopping at the right side post and it quickly gave in to the metal of my hatchet. Now I turned my attention to the left side where the tower was and attempted to detach the other side of the monkey bars. It wasn’t quite so easy. I attacked the crossbeam on either side of the monkey bars and after about 15 minutes the bars came free. I had climbed into the tower to gain a better angle and I suddenly realized how comically large I was compared to the rotting infrastructure around me.
I continued my mission, becoming more and more aware of the symbolic nature of my act. Memories of the swingset came flooding back as I raised my hatchet high above my head over and over. Every resounding “thwack” reminded me that my childhood was something I’d never get back. Taking apart the tower itself was more difficult, and my hands were beginning to blister from gripping the old wooden handle. When I wasn’t trying to take down the tower I would return to the pile of debris and hack it into ever smaller pieces. My shoulders began to ache. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes. My childhood was refusing to go down without a fight.
By the end all that remained were the splintered ends of a once proud structure. The only thing that was left intact was the plastic slide, which lay on it’s side like a beached whale. We packed it all into the car and drove it to the dump. And then it was gone. I went home and carried on with my day. What else could I do?
I took some pictures of this event, which I realize now was a performance in which I was the actor. I wish I documented it better. I only have a few frames from about mid-way in the performance. At first I was angry with myself for being so complacent in what was certainly the metaphorical death of my childhood. But now I can’t help but think that I’ll never forget this event and therefore all the memories attached to it. The past will always be important for us to learn from and look back on, but we are not meant to dwell on what has been. My childhood swingset lasted almost 15 years, and it would’ve kept standing around if I didn’t take it down myself. But perhaps this symbolic act was necessary. I like to believe that my swingset had to die so that one day I’ll be able to build a brand new one for my own children.