I remember Dragon Park as a kid, back when I was 8 and considered a "problem
child." I've told some people about those days... but mostly I just keep
quiet about them and do my best to forget them- they weren't happy days for
me nor the rest of my family. Point in fact, I was a problem child. Not
the worst, mind you, but definitely not the sociable type.
At that time in my youth I wasn't staying at home with my family. I had been
"incarcerated" in a "youth correctional facility." In
short, I was stuck in juvie. I gotta tell you, being in a jail, of any sort,
at eight years old is just plain fucked up. I hated it. I was living with kids
my own age, yes, but not a one of them were any better off than me. Hell, most
of them were people that I'd try to avoid even on my worst days. Scrappers,
thieves, liars, firestarters... you name it, it was represented... even
drug addicts. Pre-teen junkies? In '81? You gotta be kidding, right? Nope.
I am dead serious. Cops work around the refuse of society... I lived, literally,
amongst it for a year and a half.
Dragon Park was our treat, our get-away time. Each Thursday our Unit Counselor
(the place I was at, Cumberland House, was a federally-run institution) would
gather the kids in our age-group into a van and shuttle us over to Dragon Park.
Not all of us would get to go, mind you; only some of us, dependent upon
good behavior (I didn't always get to go... and lemme tell you something,
staring at four grey walls for three hours is a pitiful existence, especially
when you're 8). We would go to that park and play for hours. It was honestly the
only time we could actually feel like "normal" kids. Any other
time on the "campus" was like being in college, only we were shorter
and the word "party" was a forgotten concept- we weren't kids there,
we were young people trying to correct our personality flaws. At Dragon Park,
though... oh, boy! Freedom!
I actually remember one time when we went there, one of the kids tried to escape.
We had been playing there for about an hour. At the top of every hour we had to
report for roll-call ("Seals?" "Here, sir!" "You're
dirty, Seals." "Yes, sir. And I plan to get dirtier, sir."). When
we all got into the line, names started to be called out and about the fifth person
down the line all we heard was silence. Us kids thought it was great- we all
smiled at the silence. It meant that the counselors had been outsmarted by
one of us and we knew exactly who it was. The counselors knew, too, and
they were not happy. Not one bit. One of them barked at us to stop smiling
and begin searching for him. To this one of the other counselors snapped, "Are
you out ofyour mind? What if one of them skips out, too? No. Everybody
back to the van. NOW! Pronto!"
Of course we obeyed... well, mostly... we didn't stop smiling, they might as
well have asked the sun to stop shining. We sat in the van, locked in for a good
half hour, before the counselors came back with very ugly frowns. They were not
pleased, which meant that they hadn't found him. They quietly got into the van
one by one and when one of us asked if they'd found him or anything, they told
us in no uncertain terms, to shut up and not say another word until we got back
to the campus. Yep. Andy got away, all right.
When we got back we were informed that visiting the park was not a privelege
we would enjoy for quite a few weeks. Certainly this dismayed us, but we still
held out a good deal of amusement that one of our number had slipped the leash,
as it were. We felt like Cumberland House might as well have been Alcatraz,
it was so inescapable. No one had managed to skip out before then, so we were
glad to know that it could be done. Partly we wanted him to stay gone if
for no other reason than to infuriate the counselors even more, but we also
wanted him to get caught again. Why? Well, so that we could drill him about how
he had done it, of course!
Indeed, Dragon Park inspired freedom of all kinds to us.
The last time I was at Dragon Park was when I was on a date- God, what a beautiful
night that was! After dinner we'd decided to take a walk and ended up there.
I dunno if it was by design or chance that we ended up in that park,
but when we got there the feelings of child-like giddiness were exacerbated
a hundred-fold. For the precious forty-five minutes we were there I felt like
I could do anything again, like anything was possible. All my troubles and worries?
All my confinements of society and life? Mere memories in light of the fondness
I felt for that place, and the woman I was with at my side.... she definitely
helped to make me feel pretty young, too.
So... all in all, Dragon Park holds some pretty good memories for me... different,
but good. It's easily one of the few things, to me, that makes Nashville seem...