I soared forward, the wind beating against my face, pushing my legs out and leaning back so that I could watch the sky rush to greet me. I was nearly flying, weightless as my journey reached its zenith, holding tightly to the chains that I so wanted to cast away. I wanted to let go of all of the troubles below and leap into the sky, to swim forever into the endless blue.
But that glimpse of heaven always drifted away as the chains went slack, and I felt my heart rise into my throat as the swing carried me safely back to the ground, to reality. And then, I was in the air once more, this time soaring backwards and watching the dusty playground fall away as I rushed up into the sky. I was above them all, those Neopets who contented themselves with activities on the ground. I was free.
It didn’t really matter what they thought of me, of course. Their opinions, though often expressed pointedly to me in the hallways, meant nothing to someone who was proud to call herself a unique individual. I was happy to be myself, and nothing they said could change that. I enjoyed being me, and being me meant being Swinging Sam.
Of course, a red Xweetok who spent all of her lunch break on the swings had little time for petty friendships. If they weren’t going to accept me for who I was, I didn’t need their approval anyway. I was always told that it’s best to just be yourself, and even though I didn’t know a single Neopet at school who followed that philosophy, I was at least able to say that I did my best.
So, I had to settle for just riding the swings every day, back and forth through the air, enjoying my freedom from the bonds of popularity and conformity. But some days, as I strained the rusty chains to their limit, breathing in the sweet air of the open sky, I wished that I could be one of them, those Neopets down on the ground. I often wondered what it would be like to be popular, or smart, or artistic, or funny. Those Neopets seemed to enjoy themselves so much, and even though I told myself that I enjoyed swinging alone each day, sometimes I had to admit that I was lonely.
As I leaned back, with the entire playground laid out in front of me, I spotted Beth Shelby, the most popular cheerleader in school, rehearsing a routine with her friends. The brown Uni was so pretty, and she seemed so confident as she and her friends jumped around on the field. There were days when I wanted to be Beth Shelby, surrounded by admirers, performing during the sports games, and never having to eat lunch alone. But then, I saw one of the cheerleaders lean over to another and whisper something in her ear. They both giggled at Beth as she stumbled through a difficult part in the routine, unaware that her best friends were laughing at her. I didn’t want to have friends that laughed behind my back. In fact, I didn’t need friends to be myself. And being me meant being Swinging Sam.
Flying through the air, I closed my eyes for a moment and let my hands go slack on the chains of the swing. For a moment, at the very highest point, I was weightless. I was a free being, part of the sky, like the sun.
Then, I flew back down to Neopia once more, and, opening my eyes, caught a glimpse of Orville Hodge leaning over a book at one of the tables. The green Shoyru was the smartest Neopet in school, and even at recess he spent every spare minute studying. There were days when I wanted to be Orville Hodge, adored by the teachers, winner of all the academic awards, and unimaginably intelligent. But then, I saw a group of pets walk over and grab the book from him. They threw it down and kicked it, laughing as Orville tried to scoop up his study materials. I didn’t want to be attacked for doing what I enjoyed. I wanted to be left alone, so I could be myself. And being me meant being Swinging Sam.
Then, as the swing carried me back and forth, I saw Andrea Joiner drawing with chalk on the brick walls of the school. The yellow Zafara was intently rubbing different colors of chalk together, blending them into the shades of her unfinished mural. There were days when I wanted to be Andrea Joiner, blessed with creativity beyond compare, free to express myself through any form of art I chose, and admired by all who were willing to appreciate my work. But then, one of the playground supervisors saw what she was doing and walked over. After a quick conversation, Andrea was forced to trudge inside the school and come back out with a soapy bucket. The supervisor stood by as she washed her work off of the wall, melting the colors together and wiping away the vision that she had not had the chance to complete. I didn’t want to have to wash away the one thing that made me unique. I just wanted to be myself. And being me meant being Swinging Sam.
Time seemed to stop on that swing set. Elsewhere, important things were being done, choices were being made, lives were being changed, but on the swings there was only me, and that was why I loved them. When I was on the swings, there were no expectations, no rules, nothing to hold me back. I soared through the air, relishing my freedom, and knowing that this was the way it was meant to be.
But then, I caught a glimpse of Danny Hilborne, the funniest guy in school. As usual, the blue Lupe was surrounded by a group of friends, and they were all watching him closely, waiting with bated breath for the next words that would come out of his mouth. There were days when I wanted to be Danny Hilborne, confident and self-assured, always ready with a quick reply, and able to make the most out of any situation. As I watched from above, I wondered what it would be like if I could leave the swings and become Danny, as he leaned back against the brick wall, casual and relaxed. But then, I saw Danny’s eyes flit toward a younger Neopet who had dropped some of his Neopoints on the ground. With a grin, Danny walked over and picked up a few of them. He said something, and although I couldn’t hear him, I saw his friends start to laugh uproariously. He took the handful of coins and tossed them over the fence, chuckling as he turned his back on the young Neopet, who pressed his face sadly against the wire. I didn’t want to hurt others just to make myself feel good. I didn’t need to be mean to be myself. And being me meant being Swinging Sam.
But as I swung there, I realized that no matter how high I soared, the swing always came back down again. I could pump my legs as hard as possible, lean with all my weight, but I could only swing so far. I flew back, rising into the air, and I could see the whole playground laid out in front of me, like a map of the world, but the ground would always rush back to greet me. I could throw my weight forward and swing so that my toes seemed to brush the clouds and I could taste the sweet honey of the golden sun, but that brief moment of freedom never lasted. I always felt the chains of the swing go slack, and I would always rush back down once more.
So, swinging there, alone, unique, I decided that perhaps simply being who I was just wasn’t enough. Maybe I could be something more. Maybe I could make “me,” Swinging Sam, into something I could really be proud of. Maybe I could make “me” into something that I really, truly wanted to be. Maybe I could make “me” into me.
The swings, which I had clung to, made my image, been the one thing that set me apart, turned out to be the one thing that was holding me back, preventing me from becoming someone new, someone who I really wanted to be.
You don’t have to become someone else to be happy.
But you can still change yourself. That’s what I did. I didn’t settle for just being different. I learned that it’s important to change and improve and grow, as long as I’m still being me.
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