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116# The little girl on the swing

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

- Maria Elena, come. Come say hi


- Come on, don’t be rude


I was depressed at 18. It took an angel's intervention and a year of therapy to get back on my feet. Since then, I imagine mental wellbeing like a big house party. Loneliness is the first guest to show up uninvited. If you let it settle in, it opens the door to Sadness, Depression and other undesirable folks... They sneak in and chase the other guests away. These intruders get stronger with time, and conspire to ruin your life.

Aware of my past misery, I developed coping mechanisms or gatekeepers. Gatekeepers blow the whistle whenever the party gets too crowded. Some are addictive and some are expensive. But in their own way, they are all effective. My favorite gatekeeper was Laughter.

I was counting the days for Karleen's return. From the nooks of her cave, she ran her own party. Meditation, introspection and courage were her counsellors. In her case there were no gatekeepers. She welcomed everybody and sought to understand where they came from. She was alone for three weeks, in complete silence.

Chefi's cabanas had gotten awfully quiet since the rainy season started. My neighbors Ken and Darcy left for the US, Chefi went to the mountains, and Karleen still had a week in her retreat. The daily rain turned the entire town morose. Days were long, wet, and grey.

On a lonely night, I stumbled upon Frankenstein's lab, two guys reacting to comics on Youtube. Every time loneliness crept in, I watched comedy with Frankenstein’s lab. They laughed, I laughed, and together we saved the party, spraying unwelcomed guests with tears of joy.

Huge waves had flooded the beach in Zipolite and violent winds forced everyone inside. After a storm, families crawled out like snails in the rain. Food carts pitched their sheds in every corner of the park. The squeaky carousels and broken branches gave it an apocalyptical feel. Only children brightened the mood with their running and raucous. Among them was a peculiar girl who seemed invisible to the other kids. Like a ghost she kept apart, her feet dangling from the squeaky swing.

The food carts became my main source of dinner. An old couple had set up a taqueria in the corner facing the playground. At night, I dawdled at the park to eat and watched the kids play. They were funny but did not amuse the old couple. We chatted and joked about the perks of having, and not having kids. That one human interaction became my gatekeeper against loneliness. There are some benefits to eating five tacos a day.

Every night I watched the same scene. The children ran, played and quarreled while the little girl sat alone on the swing. The noise she made was steady and sad. I wondered why nobody seemed to notice her. Like a ghost she kept apart, her feet dangling from the squeaky swing.

One evening after the rain, I was eating tacos when a bunch of kids stormed the taqueria from behind the trees. They were playing cat and mouse around the tables before the old woman scolded them away. I caught sight of the little girl chasing after them. Finally! She ran after the other kids until she reached the swing, then turned and walked back to the taqueria.

Her name was Maria Elena. She was the old couple's daughter, a lovely girl no older than ten. Her mom called her to say hello to me. Maria Elena peeked from behind her skirt, mumbled something, then ran to her dad. She moved her lips, but no sounds came out. The little girl had a speech disability.

When she approached the other kids, they ran away. Every time she tried, they fled. She chased after them until the swing and stopped. The steady squeak gave the beat to her party. Everytime I saw her, I made faces to make her laugh. Sometimes she did, a cute silent giggle. And when the other kids went home after play, Maria Elena waited alone for her parents to finish working.

Like a ghost she kept apart, her feet dangling from the squeaky swing.


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