milkshakes at the top of the world

There is this park in our city that offers a long, winding path up a random hill that brushes up against the side of neighboring houses and then takes you high up to the sky line, to the tops of the trees and the roofs of homes and buildings. The random hill is a man made one, said to have been made from landfill back in the day in order to create canals and neighborhood lakes. It was given it's name as a memorial to three young friends who tragically died in a plane crash in the early '90's but when I was a teenager, it was rumored to have been named after three friends who committed suicide by jumping off this hill and plummeting to their deaths. This was always the rumor that I wanted to believe was true. I'm almost certain -- and was even then, too -- that this is completely impossible as I've rolled and run down those grassy hillsides plenty of times over the years but there was something romantically tragic about believing this story and the prospect that when the sky grew dark, you were joined by spirits of these teenagers who were once just like you. Or something. In actuality, you huff and haw your way up a meandering cement path, careful not to step on ant hills that seem to have spread from the grass to the asphalt, reaching the top to take in the gorgeous view of a city you've only seen at ground level before realizing you're just surrounded by a couple of old benches and a rusted trash can. It was always the very rustic feeling of this park, this landfill-turned-teenage-meeting-spot that captivated me as a teenager, lending itself beautifully for the chosen locations of all my high school photography assignments. Something about love and loss and insignificance when peering out into what feels like the infinite abyss, only isn't. Not even close. And, yet, I had not been to this park since I graduated high school, trading in presumably false ghost stories for real life, begrudgingly, forgetfully. This afternoon, with mists of rain dotting the windshield of my car on the ride over, Ethan and I picked up my sister and a couple of milkshakes and set out for that two minute walk up to the "top of the world."

Something about seeing rooftops and recognizing the tops of buildings far out in the distance that you'd been to once before or had driven past feels like something magical when you live in a climate where elevation is non-existent and if you want to see rooftops, you sit at a restaurant with a second-story balcony and hope you can spot one. My sister who is just three short months from turning seventeen, dancing upon her last days of the school year, is often laden with the typical teenage apathy these days but yet something about this park, this view of a city that has always seemed so familiar until we spotted it from above, was enough to bring out the sparkle in her eyes. Ethan danced around the graffiti-ed asphalt, babbling something about "round and round" and "top world!" The rain sprinkled down ever so finely, almost impossible to be felt. And I wondered, really, how in the world it was possible for my mere human heart to love two little people so very much?

I still envision my sister as a curly-haired toddler with a penchant for all things Lizzie McGuire, who wanted to grow up and be an actress or performer or somehow the center of attention with her wit and humor and femininity and all other things I found so unfamiliar and foreign. My kitchen table is packed with boxes of all things Curious George, of all things that scream "Ethan is almost two!" and the nervous breakdowns that accompany this realization and then here, too, is this young woman with turquoise hair and a nose ring who is close to seventeen years old. Somehow time has passed and fallen into this great abyss that we stared off into today, sipping milkshakes and ignoring the droplets of rain. Of summertime disguised in thunderstorms. Of memories that were once had, ready to be had again through the eyes of my child. Of my sister carrying on the agonizing ritual of poorly explaining things to young children out of enjoyment for the way they parrot what they've learned, like the fact that this hole at the "top of the world" is a "hole to China."

But then I imagine it's likely not as bad or annoying or mortifying as the time I coached my sister at age five to audition for a talent show with a Blink 182 song, my mom pretending she didn't know either of us as the sweet blonde little girl crooned "work sucks, I know" into the microphone and sealed the fact she wasn't going to receive a callback. (She didn't.) This is life in all it's sweetness and magic (and retaliation) and goodness and I am ready to take it all in, ready to drive back from the park and recount a story from one of my visits there, so many years ago. "I know," my sister says, and finishes the story that there's no possible way she could have truly remembered, but she always does. She always listened.

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