Playland by Jacqueline Regan

*Featured Artwork: by Phoebe Mol

[su_note]TRIGGER WARNING: This essay contains references to childhood sexual abuse.[/su_note]

Fred held my face in his hands, pulled me toward him, and kissed me. His tall body bent awkwardly over mine, swallowing me until I vanished.

We had been on our way home from the amusement park when he had pulled into an apartment complex near the Tappan Zee Bridge. He parked in the lot and then took me by the hand across the complex’s grassy lawn that reached into the Hudson River. We were standing on the corner of the lawn, looking at the Tappan Zee Bridge and the moon high above it. “It’s so pretty,” I said. But really, I thought the bridge looked large and frightening from underneath. He smiled, and that’s when he kissed me.

I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was coming. I kept my eyes shut tight, and I imagined in each window of the apartment building there was a face, or maybe two, staring at us, shocked for a moment, but then looking away. I felt the heat rise in my face as my body flooded with shame. I tried to focus on the sound of the Hudson River as it gently lapped the shoreline, whispering shush, shush, shush.

Then, I left this place and returned to how my day had started.

“Hey, let’s give Mary Ellen a new hairdo,” my younger sister Carolyn waved her doll at me, Mary Ellen’s long brown hair fanning out on the sides of her head. She had received Mary Ellen and John-Boy Walton dolls for her birthday. They were scary looking versions of the characters from the television series The Waltons. It was one of the few shows we were allowed to watch. It was about a family in the mountains somewhere, and they were poor, but it didn’t matter because they had rich lives full of love. At least, that’s what our mother told us, but we thought it was boring.

“This doll is so ugly, but I have a great idea for her hair,” Carolyn left our bedroom and came back a few moments later with our older sister’s handheld blow dryer. Holding it like a gun, she turned it on and stuck Mary Ellen’s head into the heating unit. Soon, Mary Ellen’s long dark hair disappeared and left short burnt ends, which made her hair look like a tight, curly perm.

“Now, she needs to update that plaid farm dress,” I said and grabbed an evening gown from the Barbie box. It was a bit big on the doll, but with her new perm, Mary Ellen was starting to look good. John-Boy was hopeless in his overalls. We didn’t have any other male dolls, so we needed to get rid of his brother status to make him any fun.

“Let’s make him the farm boy who is in love with the rich girl,” I suggested.

The smell of Mary Ellen’s burnt hair hung in the air. “Phew. It stinks in here. Come on, let’s go outside and play.” Carolyn ran to the two-sided ladder that my father had left open in the yard. We each climbed up a side and decided that Mary-Ellen and John-Boy’s relationship would occur on the platform between us.

“My lady, you look very beautiful today,” I said in my deepest voice.

“Go away, you farm boy. I don’t have time for you, plus you look like my brother,” Carolyn said, beginning to giggle.

I caught her giggle and couldn’t stop laughing. Eventually, the two found each other and began a new relationship with a kiss.

We began to brainstorm a new storyline, when my mother approached us. Usually, she just called us from the porch. We exchanged a worried look.

“Guess what Jackie,” she was bursting with excitement, “Fred just called, and he wants to take you to Rye Playland.” Fred was the parish nickname for Father Edwards.

Carolyn caught my eye. She knew I didn’t want to go. Normally, I would have killed to go to Rye Playland, but not with him.

“I think I will stay home. I am having fun with Carolyn.” It was a bold statement, bordering on stupidity, but I had Carolyn with me for support. I knew it probably wouldn’t matter to my mother, but I needed to say it.

“What, are you kidding me?” my mother snarled. Then, she changed approach and softened, “He came back from his vacation to take you, now go get ready. I laid out your clothes. We are meeting him in the Howard Johnson’s parking lot.”

In my room, my mother had placed shorts and a top that I thought were babyish, dark blue shorts and a flowered top with elastic at the neck and on the sleeves, which left indents in my skin. I hope I don’t see anyone I know wearing this, I thought. She pulled my dark hair into a ponytail and then commented on the deep color of my summer tan and said in a mean way, “You are too dark.” I was ten years old, but she dressed me like a first-grader.

Playland was fun, at first. He let me go on any rides I wanted to go on and allowed me to play the squirt the water gun game, something my parents never did because it cost too much. Normally, I had to sit out the Dragon Coaster while my older sister and brothers got to go on it, but today, my head finally brushed the top of the height line.

“Can we please go on the Dragon Coaster?” I asked. I would beg, but I had been taught that it was an “unappealing trait” in a girl. I didn’t have to beg. He agreed right away. I grabbed his hand and we got in line for the ride. The ride was wonderful. It was so fast. I could feel the wind whipping through my hair, and I loved the way my stomach dropped as we went down the hills.

“Wow, Jackie. This was a lot faster than I expected. You must be quite a daredevil.”

I was smiling so hard my cheeks hurt. I couldn’t wait to brag about this to my brothers and sisters.

“Now, is it okay if I pick a ride for us? I think I need it to be a bit calmer.” He brought me over to the Tunnel of Love.

“This is a nice, slow boat ride.”

In the tunnel, it was dark and cool, and we were in our own boat. He pulled me close to him and placed his hands on my cheeks. He pushed my lips open with his tongue until I thought I might gag. He held me so tight I couldn’t move as the boat slowly rocked its way toward the daylight exit and where he would have to stop.

On the way home, he took me here, to this place under the Tappan Zee Bridge, on the shore of the Hudson, on the front lawn of an apartment complex where neither one of us lived, to finish what he started in the tunnel of love.

Shush, shush, shush

When he was done, he took me home.



Maybe you have a suspicion that a child is being abused based on something you’ve witnessed, or a child has told you that abuse is happening.

Either way, it’s your responsibility to report it to the authorities.

You do not need to have proof that abuse is occurring to make a report, only reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion means that you have witnessed physical or behavioral signs of maltreatment, either in the child or parent/caregiver, or both. Or, you have received a disclosure from a child about abuse, neglect, or boundary violations towards them. To find out what you can do to stop the abuse go to: Darkness to Light: Reporting Childhood Sexual Abuse [/su_note]


Jacqueline Regan spends her days teaching writing to students at a public university in New Jersey, hoping they will use their words to empower themselves and others. Her memoir writing focuses on surviving sexual assault and her experiences growing up with a mentally ill parent. She lives in Cedar Grove, NJ with her amazing husband of 25 years and three wonderful children.

Phoebe Mol is an illustrator living in the Twin Cities. Find her at

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