This is a moment I believe I should share with the world;
– there is nothing else I can do about it, nothing [like retribution] seemed to happen as a consequence of it
– [except] it is a haunting memory after all these years….
In the circumstances every single person in my position would have gone through the same thing with no way of preventing it, no means there & then of making amends, ….and finally, to present day – while having the memory to contend with during moments of random flashback, residual trace memory, or potent reminder like I will detail in the following account – because it is simply something you would not forget…
I cannot remember my exact age at the time but the location is something of a giveaway as it no longer has the play equipment – there used to be a swing set and a slide at the foot of a field locally known as ‘The Beck,’ which was a marshy grass expanse that had the town’s brook running through it (I live close by on Brooklands Avenue) and it was a kind of secondary park to ‘The Rec’ which for some people was too far and across too many of the town’s main roads for comfort to just let their kids go play there – The Rec is also on the edge of town which is terminally bothersome with safety aside from just the play equipment in mind!
To paint the picture clearly, the beck runs the length of the field at one side and had a bridge over it around half way that was eventually put there to access some other play equipment installed at the same time which was more of a wooden adventure set – like a precursor to the adventure playground style popular these days with family pubs/restaurants. At the end of the field, a tarmac path and a more substantial bridge with tubular steel railings provided the main access from the bottom of Windsor Way to the bottom of Beck Lane.
In fact here’s a series of images to graphically represent the story unfolding;
This is the expanse of the entire field, more is added now from previously marsh wasteland with duckboards for access, it retains the marshiness, but can now be walked through without mess or obstruction, popular with dog walkers.
…If memory serves there were two pairs of swings, or three in total, of which one or two would have been for very young children with a lowered seat height and maybe even safety cradle. The other swings were regular height. It was in every way a ‘regulation swing set’, it was properly sunk into the ground and did not move under the duress of enthusiastic swinging. The slide was built up beneath with earth so a fall would be broken into at worst, a roll.
I cannot remember exactly who I was with, nor how old I was (probably younger than 10), safe to say though I was there to go on the swing and I was using the one on the beck-side, nearest the slide.
Some other kids turned up, they were playing around the swing set and I remember saying something about not getting in the way of me swinging, because I couldn’t just ‘stop’ mid-swing… I said this specifically because of how close they were to the path I was taking on the swing – and as the size of the field illustrates, is not just the least well advised place to be, but least of many other options available.
I was facing towards the path and had gotten up to a good height, level with or above the cross bar, & I’m not entirely sure if they were running through my path behind me as some kind of a dare, and I couldn’t do anything about it on the return swing when I realised from this brief backwards glance at what they were doing, that a girl of around say 5 or 6 years old had begun to run into my path….
I shouted something, “WATCH OUT!”, I think it was, but I couldn’t do a thing about it when I collided with her, making a sharp “crack!” sound and still somehow maintaining the rate/height at which I was swinging – I have put this down to not just going so fast/high in the first place, but because they were running from one leg of the frame to the other (i.e. the outer edges, not through the middle) and so I would have been past the lowest point, travelling upwards, and somewhere closer to head height upon impact so not a full body blow – it was not a straightforward collision like that though, I felt it on my left, it skewed me round and there must have been enough of her body above the point of impact to ‘fold around’ the edge of the swing because my left side, just above my waist, around the kidneys, came into contact too – and it is this that has disturbed me most, the perceived delicateness of a young girl is a softness without abrasion, their skin, voice and whatever apparel you associate (in this case a summer dress) are all just wisps of substance almost without texture, (like tone rather than pulse) – she was hardly more than a tiny mite, a follower in the group of friends [newbie] rather than an established figure… But this collision was like sandpaper or gravel, the crack was like two stout sticks banging together with a split second sense of grasping, pertaining, a sickly peeved cohesion of startled consciousness & [is this my] reality [?] – then the brief moment after was like I just killed someone dead in their tracks, & this while I was swinging about as high as a person can get, which is deemed to be the most fun you have doing that kind of thing…..
…Then, like I have heard again since, and connecting me irrevocably to it time and time again – from a cat caught and rolled under the wheels of a car breaking it’s bones as I watched…, from a puppy dog falling forwards into a somersault off a deep stone step landing disoriented upside down other way round on it’s back, came the long low wail of anguished untold pain and distress – the feeling of being knocked into the middle of next week, with everyone present looking different, everything looking strangely displaced like a motion blurred freeze frame, and everything that can respond to the sound being taken to the place reserved, a haunted place, an extreme of primal expression, of instinctive agonised howling… like a loud bluntened yet piercing siren catching everyone in the act as it bursts in on the scene.
It is for this reason I do not watch so much as recoil at those “falling on ice”, or “filming idiocy for cash rewards” programmes – I have this empathy and it is a lifetime’s worth.
I stopped myself swinging as quickly as possible, someone was shouting the odds already, like it was not only my fault but they would stand there and tell it that way until somebody came and acted upon their account, duly punishing me for it. I already felt punished, but I knew that she was conscious – had already left with someone, still screaming in pain, but at least able to have got out of there before I had come to a stop and dismounted.
What did I do next…? Can’t rightfully remember – I was somehow also dazed (& what with being shouted at as well), I know I mentioned it when I got home and I know I was given the adult, “If someone comes round here about it, then we’ll just have to see how that goes” perspective – which meant I would grow up that night and be a very different individual the next day for having it to think on & until more was known.
Which is true – I don’t want to cause any harm to any person or thing (never did), but to me now, even ‘accidental’ is preventable and to this day my level of empathy is such that I cannot put someone in a position where they may do themselves a mischief. The thought of it is like a hair trigger to an acutely electrified neural response causing me to leap away (sometimes beyond my known ability) – occasions where I have seemed picked up and dropped, or thrown, rather than jumped out of the way (a driver that braked suddenly realising he was crossing a footpath as I applied my equal evasive manouver that saw me ‘spring’ backwards out of the way like a grasshopper with a perfect four steps back postioned landing), or how I have managed to instinctively turn through 180° while falling backwards through the air, then casually run down the wall I fell off and ‘around the corner onto the floor’ are quite beyond my ability to reconcile with any actual skill or ability I have for such feats (which is a very short list of ‘none’).
Call it ‘tapping instinct’ and achievable only in the circumstances…., I’d call it ‘legacy of trauma event’ and cannot wish such an experience on anyone – but all the best to those who go try and ‘play for it’…
Is it guilt I feel? – Does anyone else feel a certain way from something they could not prevent but were fully involved in and the outcome was specifically due to their role…?
To this day I do not know who that girl was, I do not know how to find out without perhaps waking a painful memory and agitating a thing that has settled – but this account is what I experienced and so perhaps one day someone [she] will get back something that is their’s [her’s] & I will stop having supernatural agility episodes (otherwise I really should be dead by now)….
All the best to you if you’re who this is about – I cannot feel more sorry or more guilty than I do, but I take some kind of solace in the fact that as I wrote this Shannon Matthews was discovered during a police raid.
I do know what memories are always good for….