This haven is the breeding ground of emotions. My magical sanctuary, where I always leave renewed and revitalized.

Here, the tranquillity of the misty breeze coaxes me into a hypnotic state of reassurance. As always. The leafy green undisturbed canopy hangs over me, an umbrella, sheltering me from all the banshee-like worries aching my mind. My comfort-blanket. I sit down on the slightly torn rubber swing seat, overlooking the empty playground. The chirpy-scarlet, frisky-yellow poles stand idly by watching me. My perpetual guardians. This is where I come, when I’m down and confused. When I want to remember the warm-and-fuzzy I dearly miss. Today, I’m here to re-center and remember.

I push off, close my eyes and immediately feel the familiar ‘lift’ in my spirits as I surge towards the sky. A wispy memory of my ringing laughter still crisp on my tongue. A toothless girl pushing herself to and fro, flying higher and higher. My wispy high-pitched laughter still crisp on my tongue. A faded memory of my preschool days of joyful innocence, still frozen in time fractals, rippling off these grounds. Clear visions of everything pass before me, a gaussian blur of the person I once was – good and bad, happy and sad. I swing back, in time and forth, to the present – here in my playground.

A butterfly floats by. A painted Jezebel, beautiful. Its gauzy tri-coloured paper wings smash silently against each other as it dances around me, emulating the swirling emotions within me. I reach out my hand absently, remembering I used to call butterflies ‘flower fairies’ – believing they were little petal-winged guardians of nature. Then one afternoon, I noticed a lime-butterfly resting on a leaf for a long time. To my horror, as I approached it with my mum to say goodbye on our way home, it flopped over, trembled for a moment, its wings flapping just once more, then stilled.

“Its time is up, Jelly Bean,” my mother had told me quietly.

I was inconsolable, my young mind unable to grapple with life’s harsh reality. More so when she told me how short their little lives were.

“Then why do they always look so happy?” I had choked out.

“Happy…and busy,” she had said. “When your time is short, all the more you want to live that time to the fullest right? To be happy…and productive,” she emphasized to me. I became a fierce warrior for butterflies after that day, reprimanding butterfly-catchers young and old, like a parkranger. A 5-year-old ranger no less.

I watch the colourful butterfly flutter away. I’m still protective over them, but now, I think because, over time, I’ve come to see parallels between the happy but fragile creature and my fading innocence. When is the expiry date on my happy, albeit simple perspective as I leave my childhood behind? Is there more to give up when I transition from a teenager to an adult? Or is there a way to defy nature and save some under lock-and-key, safe in an abysmal cabinet in my mind?

A young neighbour arrives, his small hands protectively clasped around his younger sister’s. Their tittering laughter and playful antics make me chuckle. They move from swing to monkey bars to slide in abandoned glee. Their affection for each other is undeniable. The little girl stumbles on the slope. The boy picks her up, carefully brushes her bruised knees, devotion unwavering. They leave. My heart warms as I recall the countless days of pure fun I spent with my younger brother here. I kept him safe by having him sit on my lap while swinging and kept him happy by singing to him. Or we would scream “To Infinity and Beyond!” in unison, his stubby finger grabbing me tight, on each upswing. He was an adorable 3-year trouper. We were inseparable.

I miss those simple, happy-go-lucky times. Endless days of discovery, enjoyment, bonding. Just being ourselves. Unfortunately as a teenager now, I realise that life isn’t so simple.

My mother, Lisa Ang shared with me, “To me, being a child is about being completely myself, enjoying every moment with no care in the world or fear of consequence. I spoke my mind and acted freely. Just pure honesty.” Words that seem alien to me now.

Truth is, reality is uncomfortable with ‘pure honesty’ and can be layered with arbitrary invisible lines. I’ve learnt to negotiate this treacherous road of personal judgement, sometimes missing the nasty curb by a hair, sometimes ending up in a head-on-collision.

Am I still, a messy finger-painting, made by my preschool-self? Without boundaries, wild imagination and creativity being my only tools? Or, must I aspire to be that perfect picturesque oil painting hung up in life’s gallery for the public’s nod? Sometimes, my insecurities manifest in my dreams – dark plots of falling into black holes and abandonment.

How did I see the world when I was younger? Similar to this playground, two swings, a binary choice? This one slightly torn but comfortable, the other, pristine but painful. Both fly just as high. Only that I feel more at ease in this imperfect ‘seat’ and for that very imperfection, it empowers me to fly even higher. Then again, how long would this cosy but fragile swing last? It may be more resilient than the butterfly, but perhaps its expiry date is not far along too?

“Sure, I miss being a child, being totally irresponsible and carefree,” my mother mused, “But part of growing up is to face challenges with knowledge, even though we may not like it sometimes. Carefree without responsibilities makes us a burden to others and life meaningless. Anyhow, life doesn’t need to be black and white. We don’t need to choose one or the other. We can balance both…with responsibility,” she emphasized.

I look over at the perfect swing, hanging still beside me. Oh what the heck. I get up and sit on it. Definitely stiff and uncomfortable. I push off. Forwards, back, forwards, back. Ok, not so bad. Higher, higher. Balance both with responsibility. I take off.

Silk pillow clouds encase me in a safe blanket, back down to earth and up again. No, reality doesn’t need to be a prison, but what I make it out to be. The colourful butterfly returns and dances around me on my next swing down. I let out a shrill laugh – at seeing my happy flower-fairy, at the thrilling sensation on my new ‘rocket’, at my renewed fortitude to grab life by the horns.

Swing forwards towards fantasy, or backwards towards nightmare or… slow towards a reasonable in-between. I can control my outcome.

“So, yeah, it’s not easy, but I’ll take being responsible for those I love, like you and Elliot, any day,” I remember my mother’s words.

Swinging through my past and present, as always, helps me remember and re-center.