When I was in first grade, my dad’s birthday happened to fall on Super Bowl Sunday. To celebrate, he had a few of his friends and their families over to watch the game. He and his friends were all really into the game, but the kids wanted nothing to do with it.
Eventually, the plan was hatched. My mom, along with a few other adults who didn’t really want to watch the game, would take the little bundles of hyperactivity that were myself and the four or five other kids to the local playground.
Ordinarily, this would have made my whole life. When I was six, I lived for the playground. It was one of my favorite places to go before I got too old and lazy to enjoy it as much. I could spend hours running around in the sand and on the play structures, with or without accompaniment.
But that day was different. That day, I was feeling ambitious.
The neighborhood I lived in had several community “recreation centers”, playgrounds and pools dispersed throughout and used by nearby residents. In school, I had heard from a friend that the other ones were all vastly superior to the one near my house. I hadn’t done much with this information yet; my family only had access to the one near my house, so I knew simply convincing them would be a futile effort.
However, one of the friends my dad had invited lived in another area of the neighborhood. Seizing this opportunity, I took my chance to strike.
“Mom! Manfred (not my friend’s actual name) lives over by the pool with the diving board! Can we go to that playground instead?”
“Why? That one’s a longer walk than ours, Drew.”
While I hadn’t thought that we’d be walking (although the fact that there were more than a dozen of us should have been a clue), I didn’t let this phase me.
“No, we should go to Manfred’s playground! It’s way better than ours.”
I feel that it should be pointed out that I had never actually seen this playground before in my life. While we did have to drive past it to get to Manfred’s house, it was kind of tucked away behind the pool and attached multipurpose building. I was basing all of this on hearsay.
Anyway, we argued back and forth for a minute or two, her bringing up the logical points that it was further, our playground was fine, and that it was just generally more inconvenient. I fired back that 1) I’d heard a rumor that this Manfred’s playground was a gajillion times better, and 2) see point one.
Eventually, I won. This wasn’t because of my superior arguing skills. Instead, it was a victory earned through my superior ability to ignore how uncomfortable our arguing was making the guests. Not wanting to continue making a scene, and not wanting to have to deal with a crying and/or vengeful six-year-old, she acquiesced.
Soon after, we were underway. As I’ve discussed previously, I had and continue to have an attention span that’s so short that this sentence took five minutes and as many random youtube videos to complete. That’s with 20 years of learning to control myself, too.
So, as the rest of the group walked on the sidewalk, talking amongst themselves, I was running all over the place, checking out everything there was to be checked out and, I’m sure, trespassing on countless people’s property without my mother noticing.
A short while later, I hit upon a hilarious prank idea. Around a block from the playground we were going to, there was a big hill covered in ivy. At the top of this hill, bushes concealed everything from view. I ran ahead, cutting through a stranger’s yard to reach the top of the hill without the group seeing me.
I lay in wait like a tiger, ready to feast on their terror and fear. When they got closer, I leapt into action, sprinting down the hill toward them. They all reacted exactly as expected, shouting and jumping. Everything was going according to plan.
Suddenly, my world inverted itself sickeningly. It seemed that, somewhere in my incredibly thorough calculations (a phrase which here means “poorly thought out idea that even a six-year-old version of myself realized was pretty dumb), I had somehow missed a large root. My leg, however, did not.
I hit the ground hard, getting the wind knocked out of me. My leg was hurting, but it didn’t seem like anything too serious, so once I could breathe again, I tried to stand up. It was at this point that the pain in my leg moved from “okay, that’s definitely not pleasant” to “AOUHGDFIUFGISKKJDHKGHKHJFHJHGHOLYFUCKBALLSTHATHURTS” and I moved from semi-standing to sprawled out on the ground.
The trip to the playground, that magical odyssey for which I had argued so passionately, was brought to an unceremonious end with the goal in sight. After getting carried home and taken to the hospital, it was revealed that I had completely torn through one of the muscles in my calf, thus ending my dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater before it even had a chance to exist.
Me being both six and (I can’t stress this enough) kind of dumb, I briefly thought I would never walk again, or at the very least be confined to a wheelchair for a long time. Instead of being in any way saddened by this, I was excited. In my head, I was already pondering how my parents would get to park in one of the parking spaces right next to the playground, so I could get from the car to the jungle gym as quickly as possible.
At no point during this did it cross my mind that not being able to walk translated into not really being able to do much on a jungle gym. Again, I was kind of dumb.
When the doctors came in, I was nervous to hear what they’d have to say. I’d finally gotten to the point in my cognitive processing where I realized that not being able to walk would be kind of awful. I was awkwardly sitting in a chair next to my parents, waiting to hear what lay in store for me.
The doctor more or less handed me a pair of crutches, told me to use them for the next few weeks, and showed me the door. I had wasted hours of people’s time, ruined my dad’s birthday, and set a precedent for my brother or myself getting badly injured whenever a family birthday rolled around. And the kicker?
I went to the playground a few weeks later. It was nowhere near as nice as the one closer to my house.