Riiiiiiiiiiiippp. The sudden violence of the sound startled me and I froze in place, one leg braced against the brown earth and the other raised at an unbearably high angle such that my foot was scrambling on top of the lowest branch of the tree I was about to climb. My left hand leapt to the back of my pants to assess the damage as my eyes darted all around, looking around for witnesses without me having to tell them to. My hand found the hole without any trouble, and I was horrified to find there was actually a good-sized hole in the seat. In the middle of Centennial Park, with no way of covering it up, and a fifteen-minute walk ahead of me back to my dorm. This was public humiliation at its cruelest.
The embarrassment I felt at having to walk through the crowded park was absolutely nothing compared to what other people have undergone in public, though. When Elbert Bryant Perkins was murdered in the middle of the street on January 12, 1995, it was witnessed by two adults and two fourteen year-old kids (Tennessee). The murder was a terrible and violent event that the witnesses are unlikely to ever forget. Elbert Bryant Perkins is one of the names engraved in the paving stones of the Victims of Violence Children’s Memorial Garden.
I found the garden when I decided to explore a part of Centennial I had never explored before: the area around the playground. A local elementary school had bussed in a bunch of kids who were now playing a very intense relay game close by the playground, and the playground was swarming with small children and their mothers. The screams of delight, the chanting of the relay teams, and the laughter all seemed in stark contrast to the quiet garden I found nearby with the stone (somewhat reminiscent of a tombstone) proclaiming that this garden was in memory of children who have been victims of violence.
I walked around the peaceful garden and was struck by the solemn yet calm air within the memorial. The many names on the walkway and the small statue in the middle of the garden made it so I could not forget what the garden was there for, but the beauty of the flowers and trees left me with a feeling of tranquility. The sounds of laughter that had seemed so jarring to me a moment before seemed to fit now in this place of memory.
I have no idea who any of the children on the walkway were, and I found it difficult finding information on most of them. But in this garden, they are remembered in a way that is somehow both personal and impersonal. It is impersonal because the average visitor to Centennial Park doesn’t know anything about the individual names. The garden is simply a tribute to the souls of all children who have died because of violence. But the proximity of the playground makes the whole experience personal and real: all of the living, breathing children enjoying the beautiful day just a few yards away give voice to the children whose names fill the stones of the garden, and allow me to remember the children they once were. Knowing the names of the children in the memorial without knowing what they looked like, and not knowing the names of the joyously alive children on the playground but able to see them playing in all of their wonder, makes me equate the two in my head. The memory of each of the children memorialized in this garden lives on in the luckier children who come to play at Centennial Park.
As I left the garden, I looked at the vines creeping on the entry archway. The vines were twisting together, as if in prayer, or as if in an embrace. This garden can’t alleviate the terrible personal pain that the families of these young victims have gone through, but as a public memorial to the children it is very effective.
Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville. November 1998 Session. Ed. Cecil W. Crowson. N.p.: n.p., n.d. TNcourts.gov. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OPINIONS/tcca/PDF/991/jacksone.pdf>.