"She's the yellow rose of Texas!" The song rolled off my lips like metal off sandpaper. The high note came as I flew upward in the rubber sling serving as a seat in the swing set beside the fence. The A-frame metal poles supported a horizontal bar. Six swings were attached and six kids were pumping for all they were worth to reach the sky. The six of us swung back and forth like six out of sync pendulums. From a little push I had worked the swing until it slowed to a stop practically parallel to the ground. The sinking feeling in my stomach as I whipped back was wonderous. It was as close to flying as a kid could get and the exuberance bubbled over in loud squawking lyrics from the most popular song of the day.
"Jump, Rickey!" Came the cries behind me. Jump? I didn't want to jump. It was too high to jump.
"Come on! Jump!" My friend's eagerness for me to jump was overwhelming. Against all good judgement I released my hold on the chains straining at the upward swing. I left the seat. For a split second I floated several feet above the sandy soil of the school yard. I looked around in that second. In front of me stood the huge red brick building we called Rotten Tomato Soup from the initials RTS in yellow stitched on the maroon curtains of the stage in the lunchroom/auditorium. The RTS actually stood for Riverland Terrace School. It was our home away from home eight hours a day from our sixth birthday to our twelfth. This side of the sidewalk was our playground of tan sandy soil. Oak trees lined the street in front along the fence enclosing the school yard. To the left of my lofty position stood the monkey bars alive with movement and jabber as kids climbed, swung and jumped to and fro in the box of metal bars. Just to the right of this jungle jim were the see-saws and as I began my downward arc I saw one of the kids jump from one side of the see-saw from his squatting position to watch his partner come crashing down on the opposite side. It was the last thing I saw as gravity sealed our fates.
I smacked the earth with a woomp. Sand settled around me as I struggled for breath. With a gasp air returned to my lungs. I looked over toward the see-saw as I wiped a tear from my eye. The boy's partner lay on the ground still straddling the board. A loud wail came from her direction. I saw one of the teachers running to her side. The boy who had jumped from the other side stood nearby, a smile on his face. It was soon wiped away by the teacher's scolding tone. One teacher stayed with the girl as the other dragged the boy toward the principal's office.
Seated in the dirt I turned to see my friend had taken the swing I had vacated. He was working hard to equal my heights of swinging. Determination rested on his face as he leaned into the swing. My dalliance placed me in the path of his trajectory when time came for his release so I scrambled away on hands and knees. My timing was right. I flipped over to watch him arc into the sky screaming, "Geronimo!" followed by a loud woomp and "Oof!"
"Joo see that?" he yelled. "I was flying!"
"Yeah. Now it's my turn again!" I yelled as I jumped up to grab the swing. I was too late, though. One of the girls was sitting in it swinging ever so lightly back and forth.
"Aren't you going to see how high you can go?" I asked her.
"I just want to swing. I don't want to jump," she said.
"Ah, man! You girls are such sissies!" I yelled back at her.
"Come on, Rickey. The see-saw is open."
"Yeah, let's see-saw," I said thinking about the last two kids using it.
There were three boards teetering on a metal bar. Each end had a t-bar for the occupant's hands. We grabbed the one the teacher had led the crying girl from. Leveling it off we both hopped on. Up and down, foot hit the ground, on bended knee, push me free. We both pushed hard when our feet made contact. The board would only go so fast. Up, down. We were laughing with each teeter. Then I saw the gleam in his eye. I knew he had seen what I had seen. He was going to jump. I knew he was going to jump. I had to jump first I decided. It was jump or dump. He saw that decision as his feet hit the ground. With that, he rolled off the board. Once again gravity took hold of me. Blam! My butt hit the ground. The solidity of the board rattled my spine. I slowly fell back against the earth. A puff of fine sand clouded over me. It mingled with the tear brimming over my eyelid forming a trail down my cheek. A soft moan drifted past my lips.
I moved my head from side to side looking for a teacher to come to my aid. Someone who would offer sympathy and a helping hand to the nurse's office. Someone to drag my buddy to the Principal's office. No shadow fell over me with sympathy. Only my buddy who laughed and laughed.
"Boy was that good. You shoulda seen your face," he kept saying over and over.
I kept looking for the teachers who would haul him off for a bite of the board that sat in the Principal's office. No one. I was left on my own.
"Oh, come on, ya sissy. You were gonna jump. I saw ya."
He was right. He was first. That was my mistake. And it would have been funny to see him go crashing to the ground. Next time, I thought to myself. Next time. As I made my decision screams came from the dreaded Principal's office. Muffled whacks followed by high pitched screams escaped through the open windows.
That should be you, I thought. Yeah, but it could have been me except for that slit second of decision.