Sand kicked backwards while ecstasy gripped my toes and flung me forward with each step–leaving my pursuer to eat my dust. It was The Game, also known as Tag. My ten-year-old self was awkward, with extra long limbs and ill-fitting clothes. But being faster than the IT kid didn’t require cute outfits, just longer, stronger legs and a cunning mind from years of experience. And I was poised to out-smart and out-run any of the kids in that church playground with literally flying colors.
Except for maybe that boy with the blond curly hair. He was a grade behind me, which put him at a disadvantage, but he was tall for his age and determined looking–definitely a competitor. He let one of the smaller kids tag him, we locked eyes, and then it was on!
Any normal kid would have given up on me after 10 or so unsuccessful seconds, but not him. I listened to his labored breathing, just two maddening steps behind, while he chased me all over that playground. But I was just out of reach.
Right in the middle of the chase, I experienced an unfamiliar feeling–the longing to be caught by him. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t, under any circumstance, just slow down. That would compromise the validity of The Game. And I was a deep respecter of The Game. So I ran faster and hoped that he would find within himself some burst of speed.
Which he didn’t, and then after a while the rest of the kids began to clamor for him to tag someone else, even purposefully running into him, and eventually he caved. But I perceived his reluctance to admit defeat. If it had been just the two of us in that playground, he would have chased me right into the next grade.
His name was Peter.
That playground game was the first of many, many run-ins over the next decade or so. We grew up homeschooled in the same church from the end of elementary into high school, and I have more memories of Peter than anybody else in my life.
Wearing a blue turtleneck to match my eyes and meeting him and his family at the zoo. Going to the library and coming out with piles of books–Peter carrying my pile and his with alacrity. Swinging higher than him and jumping off the swing to land farther than him. Outrunning him in countless games at church, and then being outrun by him as the years favored his height and averaged mine. Shooting hoops, just the two of us. Sitting next to each other in the church van and picking up on our conversation from two weeks ago. Communicating a single thought with a facial expression across a busy, crowded room. Bossing around the smaller kids. We became king and queen of the playground: Peter and me, me and Peter.
And then, I grew up. I went away to college, left town, left that church, dated other people, experienced my first and second manic episode, made student loan payments, bought a car, and landed a job in real estate.
Somehow, he stayed behind. I tried staying in touch, but he just grew more and more distant as time went on. There were rumors flying around that he still liked me, but he never admitted to it. I got away from him after all.
I’m sorry, Peter Pan, but I couldn’t stay in Neverland. I left that window open for years, but you stopped coming as I got older. And there was only so much pixie dust to carry me back to you. I kept hoping that you would show up at my door a man, ready to go on a grown-up adventure together to take on the world.
Now, I’m closing the window and latching it tight. Nobody can take from me the sweetness and innocence of a childhood spent in Neverland, but I’m too old now for games with lost boys.
I will always love you, Peter Pan, even though all the pixie dust is gone and all that’s left are stories.
Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl, and they loved each other very much, as only two children can, in the playground known as Neverland.