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The Playground

(Listen Here)

What fascinated me the most about my first day of school at Cumberland Heights was laying eyes on the playground. All I could do was stand there and soak it all in and try to figure out how things worked. I could already tell my most significant hurdle would be the slide. Standing at the base of the contraption, I stared straight up into the sky, attempting to see the top of the ladder. The last step is hidden somewhere above the clouds as far as I can tell, and I'm sure it's difficult to breathe at that altitude. Deciding to leave the beast for another time, I explored more.

The biggest obstacle in Mrs. Brown's kindergarten class is figuring out the whole nap time scenario. Never in my life have I slept in the middle of the day. We all have to go to the back of the room, grab one of those spongy mats, and sleep on the floor for about twenty years. It's not easy finding one without a few dried buggers or snot on it. The teacher drops a piece of hard candy beside any of us who can successfully catch some Z's. That slide keeps popping up in my head, so there is no way I'm getting any candy because all I can think about is how I want to conquer it. How is a man supposed to get any shuteye with such momentous visions?

The swing set doesn't look too intimidating. I've spent hours on grapevines, ropes, and tire swings. "This should be a cinch," I thought to myself. As soon as I decided to give it a go, I witnessed a sixth-grader launch into the solar system. He disregarded gravity somehow by hanging on until just before the swing made a complete circle like a Ferris wheel. Two other kids were using it to play a mad game of bumper cars, and it looked excruciatingly painful.

What the heck is nap time supposed to teach us aside from how to fake a snooze? Neil is the only legit kid because his eyes are puffy, and his back is sweaty when he wakes. I close my eyelids when I see Mrs. Brown get up with her bag of sweets, and just before she gets to me, I hold my breath, and my cheeks puff out. For some reason, I never score a treat. Thankfully Twila gave me some solid advice and let me know that we do, in fact, continue to breathe while hibernating.

The bright orange wooden seesaws looked safe enough until I saw that one kid jump off, forcing her playmate to fall like a sack of potatoes to the ground. She hit the dirt so hard that her body vibrated before tumbling over in agony. I'm pretty sure she lived because I saw her throwing grapes in the cafeteria later. Naptime is absolutely insufferable. If we don't get up soon, I will lose my marbles.

Ouch, Sabrina made a giant mistake. She asked to go to the bathroom. So much for her snagging a treat today. Why the heck do girls go to the john so much anyway? On top of that, I can't even imagine not being able to pee outside. The slide haunts me as I lay motionless on the oversized slobber-soaked sponge riddled with disease. Today must be my moment to overcome my most eminent fear. I will not leave these grounds without a piece of hard candy in my pocket and a feeling of victory after slaying the mighty monster that mocks my very soul.

Oh, for crying out loud! Now I have to pee. When with this madness stop? Just give us sugar and send us to recess already, please! I knew the merry-go-round was for advanced players only when I saw it in action. One big kid would lock his hand around the metal bar and run in circles as fast as he could before slinging himself halfway across the playground. In the meantime, smaller kids, probably unaware of what they'd walked into, held on for dear life. One by one, each child would get dizzy before flinging off and landing on the worn ground plastered with jagged rocks. It reminded me of my sister blowing a dandelion to watch the tiny parachutes land wherever fate led them.

Something has to give soon, and I hope it's Mrs. Brown and not my bladder. Wait, she's up! She is walking around with the bag in her hand. All I have to do is remember Twila's advice, keep my eyes shut, and play it cool. Neil got his reward, of course. Oh man, she skipped right over Barney, and he even had me fooled. It looks like Patricia scored. She's close, so it's time to close my eyes. I can feel it in my bones this time. There is no doubt I'll be heading to recess with my well-earned bounty. After hearing the candy drop, I waited a bit longer to ensure the coast was clear before opening my eyes. A tiny peek revealed butterscotch. Really? I despise butterscotch.

As we march outside, I remind myself of the day's primary goal to dominate the deadly mountain once and for all. Each step closer to the anomaly forces my stomach into my throat, making it hard to swallow. The line moves quickly, and I fight any impulse to bail on my mission of glory. While observing the kid's buttcrack in front of me climb its way toward the heavens, others insist I hurry. The metal from the handrail scorches my fingers with each advancement, but I do not give in to the discomfort. Glimpsing down could very well be my demise, so I fix my eyes on the skin-covered crevice peeking from the top of plaid pants ahead and move on.

Everything feels minuscule atop Mount Everest while looking out over the active playground. I would have sat there for hours if not for the white-hot heat piercing my corduroys and impatient risk-takers following my lead. Lunging myself forward over the lustrous metallic ramp, I slid downward. My face enjoyed a cool breeze drying the sweat from my forehead before coming to an abrupt stop at the bottom. A sense of relief led to a radiant smile to signal my time as a champion was now. It was like breaking through the tape after winning an Olympic race, at least before the sharp pain of sneakers in my back from the next kid on the slide. "Yep, pretty soon I'll master every device this playground can throw my way," I paused to think before my next climb into space.

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