I remember it to be impossibly tall, metal, and of course red, white, and blue. The metal bars were painted blue but the glint of the metal always showed though where weather and children had taken their toll on the paint’s luster. The rocket ship slide at the local park was a thing of beauty and glory, and climbing into the ship and ascending the levels was scary, exhilarating, and suffocating. While basically open air, the top was still cramped and hot, and if two people were on the top plateau then your bodies were wedged together and contorted like child performers in Cirque du Soleil. I remember the sensation of running my fingers over the grooves of carved initials, JT + KB 4-ever, Kiss, ZZ-Top, and hearts etched into the metal, a permanent reminder of summer hood adolescence.
At the park you developed flash friendships: a girl of approximately the same age, dressed in brightly colored shorts and a pair of pink jellies that you coveted. As you climbed one behind each other up the endless staircase to the top of the rocket you swore that you would be friends forever and you told each other secrets, some true and some lies, to impress one another.
“What is your phone number?”
“555-6789,” repeated over and over so you wouldn’t forget.
“We’ll call each other every night.”
Of course within moments of your new best friend leaving the phone number would leave, as did her name and the memory of her face.
The top of the rocket smelled of sweat, grass, and summer. It wasn’t at all comfortable to be there, but the top landing was much desired, and no amount of begging from the other children would make you give up your spot. There was a hierarchy to who was allowed up, and when you were on top you were queen of the playground. From your vantage point you could see the swings, monkey bars, and the water pipe that ran through the park. In the distance you could hear the carrousel music and the occasional screams from someone on the tilt-a-whirl. That part of the park cost money and was for more special occasions. At the rocket ship playground we played for free, and hours could be spent pretending to be a tightrope walker on the water pipe.
If or when the decision was made to leave your post at the top of the slide, there was two ways down. You could back out and climb down the stairs, retracing your steps and taking that last little leap to solid dirt. Or you could take the slide, silver and the same temperature as the sun. Choosing to slide was an act of bravery. As you went down the steep slide you had to remember to keep your thighs up as to not burn and scrape off layers of skin. With your hands on the side of the slide you would descend and, depending on your rate of speed, your hands would burn from the friction. You jelly shoes would hit the dirt with an audible thunk and a small dust storm would appear. Your feet were left with dirty hash marks and grit caked in between your toes.
It was summer, youth, simple, and beautiful. I miss that slide and the memories it held.