Sixteen was an age of responsibility, of expectations. She was supposed to help with the laundry, do the dishes, remember to get gas in her car before she drove to school. Sixteen was an age of freedom; she was licensed to go wherever she wanted whenever obligation called, but for some reason, with her wings spread and her life about to take off full speed ahead, she felt more weighted down than ever.
She had just put the clothes in the dryer and had to wait another ten minutes before she could resume her work of pulling them out and hanging the moist clothing up to dry. The dogs were barking at the back door. Sighing, she pulled open the double French doors to let them in. The cool spring air beckoned, so she stepped out.
It had been a long time since she had been out back farther than the two steps she always took off the patio, but for some reason, today was different. She stepped farther out, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it caressed her skin. A sudden thought jarred her brain and body into action. She sprinted over to the swing set and hopped up into its seat. Her legs were too long and dragged the ground, caking one of her snow-white shoes in mud. She sighed, once again giving her self to obligation and went inside once again to clean up the mess. Something called to her. Setting the shoe down she changed into her old, muddy running shoes. They were a bit to small and looked like nothing she owned today, but she figured she'd follow a whim.
People had often called the sixteen-year-old version of the girl an eccentric. She wore fish earrings. She played the English horn in the band. Her jeans were always hand decorated with drawings of lightning and hearts and lyrics and pins. She knitted her own hats and pocketbooks. She was the girl who did things that no one else did, and she liked that. She was just barely inside the realm of security, and though no one knew it, she was terrified to step out.
As she stepped out once again into the backyard, she ran back toward the swing set, up the tilt of the slide, and stood on top. Few people her age knew just how good it felt to let go, just to run and have no idea where you're going, but always having your cell phone on you in case you get lost. But for some strange reason, while the kid inside of her felt free, there was something too locked up, something that had been pushed to the back of her mind too many times. She knew exactly what it was. This little piece of here wanted to be held but was afraid to let go. She jumped down from the top of the slide, pretending once again that she could fly. Her leg got caught on the side of the ladder, and her hands flew out to break her fall. She wasn't strong enough for the impact, and landed on her face, mud staining her favorite jeans. She laughed as she pulled herself back to her feet, remembering the time she and her best friend, after watching Merry Poppins, decided to see if they could fly by jumping out of her tree house with umbrellas. It was a stupid idea. She shouldn't fall until she knew she could land.
The thing about backyards is that they change. The cement slab that used to support the light yellow plastic playhouse was completely submerged, choked by leaves of its dying autumn. She brushed away the crunchy foliage, feeling as if she was unearthing the past. Down at the corner she had written her name in slanted ball-and-stick kindergartener handwriting and right next to it, a heart. She laughed at the implications now, brushing the last leaf crispy leaf away from her heart.
The ten minutes had long since passed when she looked at her watch again, unwillingly cursing her neglect of obligations. It felt good to go back to her childhood, when things were so much more simplistic. It was so easy to say "I love you" back then. There was so much more falling, but it was a time when she should have learned how to land. Looking back out at the slide through the window in her laundry room, she figured she'd give it one more try.