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13. “Buried Alive”

I knew I had written this some time ago; just lost it. Now here it is in its proper place and time . . . back in the Hood long ago –

The Lost Journals

I remember when I was thirteen and we were almost buried alive.  Us and our friend, S.

Him and me had dug an underground fort, and this was was shaped like a grave.  It very nearly became one and I was 13, 13


14 or so.  (keep getting stuck on that; sorry folks; tried three times – erased deleted and done again…keep on going.. forcing this thing)


we were in the thing.

it was big – it was almost as big as I was; that is to say it was almost as tall as one.  And we couldn’t stand up in this thing, this friend and I.

We had built this thing deep; next to a shed – it was exactly about six foot long and three foot wide, and it didn’t have a top on it.  It was built into sandy soil; we knew the hazards of…

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English class – I was horrible. Not so much spelling, because I read a LOT, but grammatical definitions for types of words and word constructions confounded me.  I’d scraped by with reading and comprehension skills (college level by 7th grade) but when I hit High School that changed.  I passed my Senior year based on my writing.  I think any teacher or aspiring writer/young student would like this tale . . . it’s something to think about when you get one of “those” students . . .

At the start of each year in High School I found myself buying a 5-section spiral notebook for writing a novel.  Establishing myself (if at all possible) in the back row, hopefully by the windows, I would begin.  You would see me in the back, scribbling away, book open, looking at you occasionally, face somber, and an expression of intense concentration.

“My, what a studious student!”, you might think!  Some teachers, I think, felt flattered I should be taking such copious notes.  But I could do several things at once more or less, depending on how interesting class was.  I could take notes, pay general attention to the lecture while do a little artwork or doodling in my class notebooks (I had my own version of shorthand, and never had to read anything I wrote my than once.)  Or I could write a novel.

I could usually keep the teacher fooled for about three months.  They’d see me back there scribbling day after day . . . and after awhile they would begin to wonder.  You could usually identify the spot I sat by all the spitballs on the ceiling.  (Clay in the art room.)

“My!,” they must have been saying in the back of their minds.  “What an industrious individual!  What is he doing back there?”  And sooner or later they’d make that long leisurely walk around . . .

My algebra teacher (he was a Korean – heavy accent – took me 4 years just to pass ‘pre-algebra’ due to a mental block to the thing) – was horrified.  I got “F’s” constantly.

One English teacher – she was a trip! – in my Junior year, caught onto my game in the spring one year.  Coming around (she was a snappish colored woman, small and wiry with thin legs – Mz. Bolton) – she snatched my notebook up, began reading – opening her mouth to issue her usual sarcastic remarks and cutting phrases – when she stopped, mouth closing.  Still reading she silently walked to the front of the room, sat at her desk – flipped a few pages (I had been writing a ‘sex scene; albeit a strange one, involving Sci-Fi & aliens) – looked up, told the class to shut up, and gave us an assignment.  I just sat there: she had my notebook! – while she spent the rest of the period reading my story.  After the bell rang she gave it back without a word – and I got A’s from then on.  She never asked to see a thing from then on.

In my Senior year my English teacher found me doing the thing early on – in the autumn – and she was enthralled with my report on the symbolism in “Lord of the Flies”, a novel I’d read when I was 12, and it was my most favorite book of all!

The thing about this novel I was writing, well – it turned out that, like “The Boy“, it was a symbolic description of myself, what had happened, only it featured a teen in a post-apocolyptic world – and how he loses ALL his emotions, including love.  Of course at the end I gave it back – only to snatch it AWAY again at the last chapter, leaving him lonely, destitute, living in the woods . . . alone.  The way I ‘felt’ at the time.  SHE told me if I would 1) submit 1 short story every 2 weeks for the School Newspaper (1-1/2 pages, handwritten) to the Geometry Teacher, and 2) turn in  everything I had written at the end of the week every week, I wouldn’t have to do any homework or the regular class work.  Well! Dang!  You can bet that worked for me!  I was on the Newspaper staff as “Contributing Writer” – but I never attended a meeting.  To my surprise I won an award for a writing contest I wasn’t even eligible for, and one I never even entered.  Go figure.

I have ‘writings’ going back a long time – from first grade. Poems, mostly to begin with, the short stories.  I started using a typewriter when I was young – in 6th grade I took classes, and learned to be a “touch typist” (no reason for me to be looking at the keys) – and could hit 120 NWPM.  Pretty good.

Since then . . . well, I’ve used writing as a tool, and I’m a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve taken technical writing and creative classes. I’ve done my fair share of both. Once I wrote a memo so ‘good’ the bosses posted it as an example of an “effective communication”. In another I wrote a thesis that became a standard at a nearby tech school. Go figure.  It’s ‘saved my life’ sometimes, and certainly comes in handy. I’ve figure more out in my life by writing than any shrink’s psycho-analysis. Writing can be fun. And it can be hard work. Or it can be stressful. Or an answer to a stressful situation . . .

You choose.

Right about it . . . or not.


I’ve seen the movie “Hunger Games”, me and my wife.  I wasn’t impressed.

I guess it’s hard to gain an impression of that lifestyle when you’ve lived one as a kid, courtesy of the United States Army and a few other folks.

I grew up in a wartime culture, as lot of my peers did: steeped in the consequences of Vietnam, our father’s fresh from the horror of Korea (and the PTSD symptoms that followed – at the time unrecognized, but visited upon their kids and immediate family sometimes).

I well remember the hunger games.  The real ones.  The ones that WE played – for real.

Kids, gathered or ganged, platooned or assigned, guardian and guerrilla – we came in all kinds, and all kinds of us had our own specialties.  We’d gather in squads or platoons in the woods under the guidance of some counselors, be they military men or civilian, it really didn’t matter.  I even had a Scout Master – Colonel R., from the time I was 14 or so until I grew up and went into the military myself.

We were all a bunch of Army kids – always ‘fighting’, often playing war.  Our Scouts skills consisted of learning a bunch of survival; our overseas training, even more.*

Often the ‘award’ from such a fight was a can of C-Rats – C-Rations, to you civilian folks.  The favorite was fruit cocktail, pound cake (in a can) fell behind as a distant second.

A stack of “Silver Bullets” co-offered by some counselor (gathered from us, of course!) – would be enough for a reward.

To the spoils goes the victor.

They would set the “goody” somewhere (perhaps), divide us into battle groups (divisions, platoons – squads).  Generally the ‘armies’ were divided evenly, but not always.  Sometimes the ‘smart’ kids would be given the little kids to fight with – and the other team would be a lot of big boys.

Very big boys indeed.

I remember laying curled face down in a ravine, knees against my chest as dozens of kids, charging, dove across the ravine, their heels hammering along my spine and ribs.  I served as kind of a footbridge for a lot of them, or so it seemed.  Not that I was there for that, mind you!  I was a spy, and these were my enemies.  They had come up the hill (stealthily, you know), but I had ‘a-spyed’ them, lurking through the bushes, taking little ‘rushes’ from cover to cover, and had sent my young ‘aid’ a runner, about an eight year old kid (I was 14) to go and fetch help, give warning, do something.  Assemble the troops or whatnot.  Set off the alarm.  For I wasn’t the commander – just an infiltrator into enemy territory seeking a few goals.

Often the rules were uneasy.  You were allowed to hurt other kids – but not too badly.  Nothing that needed first aid (and we’re talking here in the serious days, where a small burn or scratch would get you a look of contempt were you to bring it to their attention, much less whine about it.  Kids today are so ‘tender’ . . . but there again, I had such a high pain tolerance (gee, wonder where that came from?  LOL!)

We “played” hard for that little treat, that can of syrupy sweetness, all swathed in green . . . O.D. green, that is, the color of war and canvas.  (How I like the smell of fresh tinted canvas – that military ‘stuff’, thick, green, and sturdy . . . there’s something about it that says . . . something.  Like ‘welcome home’, somewhat . . .)

I remember (and now this was in my older days, when I was 16 and had learned a lot about survival – and torturing folks) – we caught a kid.

He was from the other team, and he knew where in these deep woods (bounded by a highway and stream on one side, a tremendous lake on the other, bordered by woods and mud, and cut-through with ravines like an old man’s face . . .)

So I had him – or rather my helpers – tie him up.

At the first they were amazed when I took his shoe laces and wrapped them tight around his thumbs.  I tied a noose-knot, one that wouldn’t come unbowed, and would tighten whenever he drew it.

And then I showed them how . . .

to tie him up (to a stump) – and then to torture him . . .

without ever leaving a mark.

(That’s kinda funny, seeing as his name INDEED was Mark; Mark T. is all I’ll say for his own protection here . . .)

He had been boggle eyed and incredulous when I had tied him by his thumbs, sneering and saying:  “I’ll get out in no time!”  He was sure of himself, and that he could break those shoe laces.

While he was struggling with his bounds, I turned to my ‘men’ and began telling them – rather, teaching them what to do.

“We’re gonna tickle him,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  He was sweating now, and his thumbs were hurting – I could seem them turning blue.

He, overhearing that, stopped struggling (whilst I went over and loosen his thumb braces a bit there) – and laughed again.

“Tickle me?!!”  He barked a laugh again.  “That’ll never work!  You can’t hurt me, you know!  Not really.”  And he smiled with a show of self-satisfaction, and leaned back, confident.

I smiled grimly.

He knew little of what was coming.

Turning to my three or four young charges, I looked over my team and said:

“Like this.”

And we began.  We all took turns in tickling him – him bound against the rough bark of an old (and somewhat soggy) tree stump, and those kids taking turns tickling his ribs, and up under his chin – using every trick in the book, even leaves and soft branches.  We had his shoes off, so his foot soles were bared.  At first he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then he couldn’t stop crying.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from peeing himself.

While we all stood around laughing at him he gave us the information we need . . .

Such is the fate, and the victor’s spoils.

He was only a little younger than me, by a year or two.   After ‘extracting’ our information (and me having two swift young runners go back bearing the news, by different ways should one of them get caught) – we found their camp and made havoc on them, taking care not to snap any of their tent poles, but otherwise ‘destroying’ their tents, and pity he who left a bit of food laying out . . . we would take it, every last drop and crumb . . .

Hunger games.


I’ve played them.



*We were being ‘trained’ to be infiltrators and ‘helpful little hands’ (in some terms guerrillas) for NBC war.  Those skills included, but were not limited to, learning to fire the minigun from a Cobra’s co-pilot seat using a HUD.  Just in case too many Army pilots got wounded . . . during a nuclear war.

Oh Say Can You See

Oh Say Can You See

I suppose most people find out they need glasses when they go to the eye doctor, but as an overseas Army brat, I didn’t see the doctors a whole lot.   The military medical establishment is set up to treat soldiers.  Dependents come second.  As a result, we didn’t go to the dentist or optometrist on a regular basis – only when and if needed.

Senses are funny things. There is no way to know for sure that you see things the same as I do – that what you call “red” is “red” to me. As a color-blind (or red cone weak) person, I’ve had a lot of reason to think about things like that – the differences in how we each perceive the world around us. For instance, what you “see” as blue I may “see” as yellow – but we’ve both learned to label that particular part of the visual spectrum “green”. I know it’s a hard thing for some folks to wrap their heads around – but after learning that certain colors are “brown” – though I may see them as green (part of that colorblind thing) – I’ve come to hold most people’s perceptions as somewhat suspect. And I suspect that how we see things differs to some degree for each of us.

Which brings me to my point. Vision is perhaps the trickiest sense of all – in part, perhaps, because we rely so heavily on it. We often assume that everyone sees things the way we see them (and not just physically, but metaphorically as well). But I was to get my first taste of just how untrue this was when I was eleven.

My dad had always wore glasses, and sometimes my mom wore them, too. As a kid I found glasses desirable – an adult apparatus, much like cigarettes, coffee, and beer. So, as a kid, I found myself wishing I had glasses, thinking they would make me that much more ‘grown up’ looking. Never mind that other kids wore glasses and it didn’t change my perception of them – I figured that having glasses of my own would “mature” me in some way. How little I knew!

I was sitting in the bedroom of our military apartment getting ready for school – the bedroom I shared with my brother – when I noticed I couldn’t read the words on a card taped on the opposite wall. A thought started tickling the back of my mind, and I asked my brother to read the card.

“Happy Birthday,” he said. I looked at the words. They were a fuzzy blob. I glanced towards the kitchen where my mom was getting our lunches ready.

“Mom!” I yelled out, already knowing what the problem was. “I think I need glasses!”

She stopped what she was doing, came in, and with a puzzled look asked why. I pointed to the card.

“He can read it,” I said, pointing at my brother. “But I can’t.”

She quickly had me look at a few other things in the room, asking me to identify them. Some I could, some I couldn’t. She frowned. I was happy. I was about to get my wish!. (Silly child!) Little did I know what my wish entailed, not truly.

A few weeks later I was tested, and it was determined that yes, I needed corrective lenses. I could have told them that. They said if I wore them consistently, perhaps in a few years I wouldn’t need glasses anymore. I was thrilled with the prospect of wearing some. But the Army wouldn’t provide glasses. That was up to my mom, so we ended up going to a German optometrist and getting my prescription filled.

I’ll never forget getting that day.

It was winter, damp and snowy outside, and the inside of the small shop was warm and humid. It felt good after walking the cobblestone streets outside where the wind blew drifting snow down the narrow roads (more like alleys). Tackling the language barrier, the optometrist and my parents fitted me with a nice pair of brown turtle shell brown glasses with lightweight plastic lenses. After checking the fit over and over, they had me get up.

I felt like I was walking on eggshells as I walked across the carpet towards the door. The world suddenly looked much different – stranger, smaller, and sharper than before. Apparently I had needed glasses for some time, and I felt dizzy as we approached the door. I was happy as a clam, proud of myself (like the little fool I was). I had finally got what I wanted after so many years.

It wasn’t until we stepped outside that I began to realize what a horrible thing this could be.

Those warm plastic lenses, hitting that cold clammy air, immediately fogged over. I couldn’t see a thing. Complaining, I turned to my mom.

“You’d better get used to it,” she warned, taking them off and showing me how to wipe them. Then she warned me in that sharp voice how to take care of them. Turns out plastic scratches quite easily. “And you’d better take care of them. You’re gonna need them for a few years.”

What a lie. I ended up ‘needing’ them for another fifteen years, up until I got “The Gift of a Lifetime”. And I hated wearing glasses. When you work sweat falls on them; in the rain everything turns to a blur. They needed constant cleaning and wiping, and if you weren’t careful, they’d get so scratched up that eventually they’d need replaced. There were a few times when they saved my eyes – keeping foreign objects away, absorbing liquids and blows – but for the most part they were just a huge pain in the ass. And now I’m needing them again – mostly for reading, though I can tell bifocals aren’t far off.

Just goes to show: be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

There’s blessings in curses, and curses in blessings, too.
And you don’t always need glasses to find how they apply to you.

It was night, not that that meant much. Night came early during those days in Germany, especially in the fall and winter. Dry leaves rustled, stirred by a nipping wind. I could see their dark forms scattering before me like mice, rustling around my ankles and darting away into the darkness.  I stood, eying my target.

It was the Canteen. A low dome rose in the woods.  Cut into the outer edge was a dark ledge of steps going down and coming back up the other side – a line bisecting the dome. It was overgrown with grass; you couldn’t see it was concrete and alive ‘down there’. But I could make out the steam rising from the vents, smell the cooking. Occasionally a man would stagger out, ascending the stairs from the slits which cut into the dome’s great big blister, calling back to someone inside. You would see the yellow light briefly gleam on his face – usually thickset with heavy German features. I stood and watched from my position behind a tree, wondering if I should go in.

It was more of a ‘dare’ than anything, this thing I was about to do. No one had done it yet – no one had been allowed to. It was forbidden to go into the dome, the “German Canteen”. This was an installation on a military post, and only Germans were allowed in there. They were all German contractors, these men – some thick, some thin, and all with that thick guttural German accent when they spoke to us. Some were rather mean, but most were kind and friendly – however, they would be directing you elsewhere, always. With a firm command and a stern face if you hesitated or disobeyed. Their punishments weren’t harsh – they’d just turn you over to your parents. Usually that was all it took. However, in some cases – such as this one . . .

Darting forward through the scattered shadows in the darkness, I could see the bright lights and pinpricks of barracks and military installations all around. In the distance there were some streetlights. While this was ‘in the woods’, technically it was almost like a park – just a few acres around – with the German bunker in the center.  The ring of woods were clean of woods debris, for the Germans kept them painstakingly clean. They also kept their own woods – their own forests – ‘clean’, meaning you as you went strolling through their woodlands and parks you would see cords of wood stacked up, usually between some trees. The woods themselves were bare of scrub and undergrowth, rotting wood or fallen logs. All that would have been ‘cleaned up’ by the Germans – scouring the woods for firewood and stacking what they found. I was amazed by the thing. And it was the same on base. Everything was kept nice, clean, and orderly. Just like the Germans were.

As I darted forward, I became aware of a thumping – soft and persistent.  It it resembled an “omp-pah” band. The German kind. As I grew closer to the underground building the thumping grew louder, resolving itself into music – a lively German band.   The sounds were distorted by the thick steel doors resting loosely against their jambs – and the concrete slots they lay in – but I could hear the music faintly rising from the building underground.

It was an old World War II bunker. Like the base we were on, occupying our former enemy’s installations. Living in their barracks, working in their rooms, and in some cases using their old leftovers and equipment when ‘we’  or the US Army could. Bombs could still be found sometimes when they were doing excavations – they’d find that kind of thing – and explosive device, sometimes in a five hundred pound bomb – just waiting for something to set it ticking with a bump or a thump of some kind. Occasionally stashes weapons were found. like a case of hand grenades.  You never knew – or knew who might find them.  All us children had been trained – both in how to use them and avoid them.  That was part of our job.  It was a well known fact – you didn’t go around sticking a shovel in the dirt until you knew what lay underneath – especially in some places, where the Allied bombing had been good.  Or bad, depending upon your way of looking at it.

But this base – this was the one with seven underground levels (or so we were told). It was a ‘secret’ base for some time, then bombed to hell by the Allies. However, the Germans (it was said) had been prepared for that and had moved their planes underground. And they’re still there (it was said), deep under water – for the Germans had a pipe to a river somewhere, and they used it to flood the field, concealing it from the Allies by pretending it was a pond (it was said) – and then drain it off the shallow lake chase the bombers with their planes from underground – bringing them up on elevators and launching them from the hanger domes.

However, this had nothing to do with the mission I was on. I had been ‘sent’ on this mission by some of my friends – a small group of them, bored boys looking for something to do, myself included. I had a couple marks in my pocket (German money) which I had earned hauling trash for a ‘living’. I narrowed my eyes, looking at the dark opening and coming to my final decision – when to move.

I darted down the stair like a hawk, feet pounding. I didn’t want to miss a step. One wrong move and I might get caught. That would cause problems for my father – who (along with his wife) would cause some pretty bad problems for me.   But I was fairly confident.  I could duck and weave.  We’d already analyzed this, how this mission was going to go. I had visualized it in my head.

Legs pounding, knees high, I came to the steel door. It pulled outwards, its heavy handle a long slashof steel. I pulled on the door as hard as I could. To my surprise, it swung easily open. It wasn’t like the steel doors I’d trained on – the same kind as this – but they had felt much heavier, maybe because they weren’t used as much as these.  I desperately wrenched at it to keep it from clanging against the concrete shaft’s side, but once started, it was too heavy to stop.  It clanged anyway.  I darted in.

The building was moist and warm from all the German cooking, and the smell of sauerkraut and bratwurst hung in the air. The air was thick from smoke and cooking, and there stood about a dozen tables or so – rough thick legged things was my impression, covered by checkered clothes, glasses and food.   The light was dim and yellow.  A jukebox stood along the wall I was on, and already I could see the men turning to see who had come in.  Behind a long bar I could see a heavy waitress – a thick German woman, wide and broad. She was turning from the glasses on the back wall as I paused, looking for my goal.  Spotting it, I sped along the wall like a little rat, dressed in a thick green G.I. jacket and jeans.

I sped to the machine, passing the thumping wailing jukebox with its warm light and chrome. The men were turning back around again, though quite a few were keeping their eyes on me. I could see the German woman looking up in my direction. Quicker than I could say “breathe!” she started to move, coming around the counter with a surprising swiftness for a woman her size . . .

I looked away, and taking two marks in my hand (I had come prepared, shoving the marks from my pocket to my fist as I ran) – I slammed them in the machine – ‘clink!’ ‘clink!’. A moment later after I heard the coins hit some distant mysterious bottom, I grabbed a worn silver knob on the machine and pulled, looking over my shoulder at the woman and measuring her pace as she came on.

She was rounding the end of the bar in the corner of the room and proceeding rapidly my way, her mouth open and her thick arms coming up . . . I could hear her yelling . . .

I turn, looked, saw my choice had arrived – grabbed my purchase and ran, darting towards the equally thick door on the other side. Crashing it open with a big bang, I took those steps flying, two and three at a time, feet pumping, heart pounding, my ‘precious’ purchase gripped in my hand. Distantly I could hear shouting and laughter as the door behind closed, then it popped open briefly again – but I think seeing my shagging behind, the woman turned and went back to her business . . .

I ran through the woods to the edge where my friends stood, and I stopped, bent over and gasping, winded, and looked down at my hand. There it was.  In the palm of my hand. I had done something forbidden – not just once, but four times over. Once in going to get them – two in where they lay – three in having bought them – four in where they lay now: in my possession.  They were forbidden, extremely so . . . they were for me! – for me and my friends . . .

And we divvied it up with my friends the next day.

(This is part 1 of 2.  I shake my head, wondering how I came to that decision and kind of knowing why – and wishing I didn’t – any of it. It affected my life in so many ways – meaning core values, things I do every day – it became a ‘part’ of me.

You’ll see in Part Two.)

Tongues Will Tell

Tongues Will Tell

I am terrible at math. Odd, isn’t it? A person who designed factories for people to work in, machines for them to run, laid out complex and detailed blueprints, repaired and built machines; calculated areas and densities, square footages and more – can’t even tell you what eleven times twelve is without using a calculator or working it out by hand. And don’t EVEN get me started on algebra – I’ll just look at you in confusion, and all the numbers go blank in my head. It took me four years to get through pre-algebra (though oddly enough, geometry was much easier, because it gave me things to visualize). And even then, it was F’s and D’s all the way. Thank God for computers; without them either buildings would be falling down, or I wouldn’t of gone into engineering design in the first place. I would have never of been able to make the cut.

But this story isn’t about my math history. (I got my first “F” in it in fifth grade.) It’s about my dad.

My dad was a terrible tutor. He could do the work, show you what he did – but when it came to explaining it, well . . . (sigh) – lets just say he was impatient. If you didn’t get it the first or second time, you were “stupid”. By the third time of explaining it the same way, he’d be red-faced and yelling, and would throw up his hands in disgust. Maybe even slap you upside the head good and hard as if to rattle the brain cells into position. By the fourth try he was done: rising from the table he’d leave you to your misfortune, struggling to work it out on your own. Not a good place to be.

This one time at Fort Bragg my dad was sitting there attempting to show me how to work out some problem. I think the reason my math skills were so poor was that we’d just moved from one school to another; from down south to “up north” where the schools were much further ahead. I’d made my “F” the year before “down south” (converting fractions to decimals confused me), and this year was turning out no different. I was scoring F’s in math like it was some goal. F, F, F. And F’s were bad. They were beyond bad. An F could earn you six weeks in prison, so to speak – confined to your bedroom until your scores showed some indication of improvement.

So we are sitting there and my dad is on his “effort number two”. I can see he’s already getting mad at my dense head, my inability to understand what all those numbers floating around are supposed to do; how you are supposed to convert them from this thing to that, and why. His explanation – high level and full of big words – is just so much buzzing noise in my ears. He looks up at me. I look down at the problems.

“I don’t understand . . .” I say, trailing off in confusion. By “I don’t understand” I mean I don’t even understand the basics, much less this more advanced stuff he’s trying to show me. Ask me to draw a bird; ask me to write a story – that much I can do, and do with such remarkable charm that my teachers will comment on it. But don’t ask me to solve a math problem. Please – don’t.

“Dammit,” he says, glowering at me, his face growing redder by the moment. His eyebrows are dancing on his forehead like angry caterpillars. “Can’t you SEE? What’s your PROBLEM? Are you STUPID? I can’t believe you are this stupid! It’s simple!” And he glares at me, as if daring me to challenge him.

So . . . I do what any child (especially a disobedient, reckless, stubborn minded child like me) – would do.

I stick my tongue out at him. Just a flick – an unusual impulse; a desire I could not control, and I reeled it back in immediately, horrified and shocked at what I had done. Not only horrified and shocked – but certain I was going to get my little arse pounded – and pounded but GOOD. And poundings by my dad were no laughing matter. They could leave you sore for a week.

My dad stares at me. I can see the shocked surprise in his face, too. Shocked that his little son should defy him; make such a blatant (and silent) statement such as this: the sticking out of my tongue. I had never (to the best of my knowledge) ever done this before. I start shrinking in my chair, certain that the blows are about to begin.

Instead, his face suddenly clears and leaning his head back, he roars with laughter – so hard he’s got tears in his eyes.

“I’m not going to beat you for that,” he says, chuckling and wiping the tears from his eyes. “I’m going to leave you with this.” And he shoves the papers towards me. “You figure it out. I can’t help you.”

And with that he walks away, still chuckling. I stare at his retreating back, amazed. Amazed I am alive. Surprised I’m not getting pounded like he usually does. Amazed he is laughing. Amazed at all my good luck.

And then, facing the problems I can’t conquer, I begin to work on my F again.

The Piano

I remember the day it came – huge, boxlike, with a massive keyboard stained in yellow, white, and black; the huge walnut case; the brass pedals with their dull smooth surfaces, how it towered above me. The moving men brought it in the front door, and there it stood: huge, massive, and impressive. My mom was thrilled.

“I got this for you. You’re going to learn to play this thing. Mrs. W (across the street) is going to teach you. You’ll get piano lessons once we get this thing tuned . . .”

And so it began. I knew deep down right then that she had made this sacrifice for me, though I don’t know why. I guess I was musical as a kid. I know I sang a lot – singing to myself, alone in my corner – or just singing to sing; or me alone with my stuffed animals – and we’d “all” be singing along. (I could hear them in my heart if nowhere else sometimes). Not your typical songs – these were like birdsong; they came from my heart – just simple notes, not words most times.

Music wasn’t something played, not ‘needlessly so’. There was the one simple radio that came on in the mornings – it had the “Bob Fisher Show” or something like that, and during school in the mornings he’d “march us out!” to greet the school bus with some little song he’d made. He was also the one who took my mother’s request that he play “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” when I was about eight years old – on the radio! – no less, and I was amazed. And sort of embarrassed about this thing. After all, it was a “kid’s song” by then; but I loved it. After all, it sort of reflects my philosophy on life and things: to go out exploring and see what the next mountain may bring. (There’s a symbology in that sentence as well, if you can catch it – it’s a subtle one, of course. And tells you something about me again.)

Anyway, we’d hear a little bit of this music in the mornings while eating breakfast – and then it’d be gone. The radio would be shut off – and us kids either in school or out in the yard, or playing in our rooms. No more music anymore.

And then along comes this piano. Huge. And I should have been intimidated – but I wasn’t. I was thrilled.

I immediately began pounding on the keys – not much! – just experimenting with them, and not getting too loud lest my mom start complaining – and after a few days the piano tuner / repairman came and tuned this old thing up. I remember standing there almost all that afternoon, watching him – marveling at all those little hammers and strings; the little felt tips, the bouncing pedals – while he talked and explained some things: like what the pedals were for, and how you had to keep tuning it up if you were moving it around; about how to treat it (mostly to my mother) – while I excitedly (and somewhat nervously) waited for my lessons to begin.

And it began right there – the following day I crossed the dirt street and went to see Mrs. W. She was a great friend, and treated all her young’uns right. She was always big bright beaming smiles and kisses and Southern hugs – with a little bit of sweet ‘meanness’ thrown in – just enough to keep you in line if you needed it. She would always greet me at the door with a big wide hug – and she also had a big wide bosom to squeeze you in (sometimes it felt like I was drowning – or being smothered – sometimes both) – and she’d squeeze you hard as a rock and give you a great big kiss on the cheek (it was always wet it seemed) – and invite you in. It was really cool, and I enjoyed the comfort of their home.

And her piano sat right there, too – in the living room. She’d set right down beside me, and then we would begin.

I remember those first lessons rather well – very well, as a matter of fact. Starting with “middle ‘C’”. Everything worked from there, I’ve been told. And it was a matter of repetition – over and over again. And just when you thought you were done, you’d do it again. And again. And again. And again. Until you were so sick and tired of the thing – and then you’d do it again. Until it became more like habit and second nature. However – reading music was a different sort of thing. That became confusing in my head. There are only seven letters in the alphabet of music: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. After that you start again – depending on which ‘row’ you are climbing or going down in ‘scale’. That was confusing to me as well. So I had a hard time trying to read the music – but once I got it down; the pattern and the rhythm – I was good. Or good enough I suppose. I was never any ‘musical wonder’ and I’m not possessed of any great musical talent that I know of – but it was there nevertheless: the desire to learn this sort of thing. To ‘know’ the music and play some of the tunes in my heart and that I had heard on the radio sometimes.

So I was (at least in my opinion) – a ‘slow student’ and a slow learner. I played the simple songs (“Putt-Putt Went The Boat” and things like that – really slow and stupid – that’s both me and them sometimes) – but I wanted to learn more. I wanted to learn some of the really hard songs – or the “good ones” in my opinion. Like many aspiring art students (no matter what the field) – I wanted to soar before I could fly. And I kept on – always tugging at my reins (her) – while she diligently and with fondness and respect, kept my head on the proper path.

I remember she would reach down and squeeze me – right there on the knee. You know where that nerve is? Especially among small children? Right behind the knee joint, right behind the cap. It tickles them like crazy. I know it did me! I’d jump and I’d jolt and she’d laugh – and I’d end up laughing as well – and she’d dart her hand down – squeeze that knee – and I’d be doubled up nearly laughing until I cried, and she’d give me a great big hug and then we’d start again. She was always friendly with me – and all the kids I’ve known. Like any person she has faults – but not giving kindness was never one of them. Especially to the younger ones.

I eventually went on to learn two songs that I played rather well because I loved them. One was “Born Free” (from the movie about the lions), and the other was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (the old “da-da-da-DUM . . . Da Da Da DUMMM”). I’d be pounding out that thing (either one or the other) as loud as I could, over and over again. I also loved the words to “Born Free” (by Andy Williams). It brought visions to me, even as a young child – of endless fields and savannahs; of roaming tall grass – even though I hadn’t seen the movie.


Born Free


Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart

Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star

Stay free, where no walls divide you
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
‘Cause you’re born free

(Stay free, where no walls divide you)
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
‘Cause you’re born free

To this day that song brings tears to my eyes and makes me wanna cry sometimes. I don’t know why. It just does. And it even did as a kid – a LOT of times. And there again, I don’t know why. Something in it was calling to me strong – calling an unknown place to me, an unknown place in my heart wanting to go there, perhaps . . .

I really don’t know.

But that piano ‘died’ – or went away when we moved somewhere, or when my father came home and saw it and the money that was spent on the lessons . . . either way, it only lasted one summer or so – perhaps two or three years, even! – but it went away like everything.

Even including the ‘hood.

It’s hard to describe the roundhouse effects of Child Rejected One, Child Rejected Two, and Child Betrayed.  A ‘one-two-three’ punch to the child he’d loved and the child who had loved him (meaning our pedophile friend and our little one, Mikie).

Some of it I suppose was due to age.  Little Mikie had taken on some years; quite in the same way a hungry person will put on weight.  Not physically: Mikie was a trim and fit kid; able to run fast, play hard, tanned and muscular beneath a Southern humid sun.  But he’d already changed . . . big for his age; his shoulders broadened; by the time he was ten or so the other kids wouldn’t take him on – even the teenagers pretty much left him alone.

But in that ‘getting bigger’ perhaps was another clue: he’d ‘outgrown’ that teenager friend of his – or perhaps the teenager had outgrown him.  Who knows?  We haven’t got a clue.

But on the other hand . . . the teenager was covertly scheming to have us coerce and coax that little kid over … the one from another next door.  That sand blond kid; thin and with freckles – a giggly tough but kind hearted kind of kid – was only five years old.  About the same age I was when the teenager started doing me.  (Only I was about a little bit older; maybe six or seven years old.  But so innocent in all so many other ways … but not unfamiliar with terror and pain.)

So maybe it was the innocence that ‘caught him’.

All I know is what he did to me.

That first betrayal: that shoving aside … all had taken place (I think) in the period of about one year (amazing, come to think of it now: how those three events can stand out so strongly like that; they were affecting me and mine so much both then as well as now).

But examining it from the child’s side:

Mikie’s father was gone.  The closest thing he had to a father . . . who knows?  There were several men: the one next door (a massive man, good humored besides) and his side-kick (a gruff old man chewing a cigar and reclining on his sofa out in the heat of the yard).  The one across the street?  (His wife was a ‘momma’ of sorts to all of us) . . .

It takes a village to raise a kid, and we certainly did: that neighborhood was like a village all unto itself – safe from the law and violence (for the most part; what happened in stayed in; what happened out – stayed out, but came in sometimes nevertheless…)  Everyone’s ‘momma’ was the momma (with the notable exception of a few) – and everyone’s daddy to be obeyed (even the drunk ones; or the ones that made no sense).

It was the rule of the law; the lay of the land . . .

and the teenager was included within.

Only he was some kind of ‘demi-god’ – middle management, if you prefer.  Falling under control of the grownups; only slightly less in the eyes of some kids – he was the ‘demi-god’ – one of several, to be sure – but he was MY demi-god and I loved him – strong and clear and clear.

And then he threw me away; threw me aside; favoring someone ‘better’ – or at least unknown – younger looking; younger acting – more naive in his innocence; more round eyed; doe eyed . . . than me.  Perhaps that was it.  I don’t know.  All I know is he rejected me … then abused me some more.  (The twisting emotion; a sickening pain .. the one of some love betrayed.  Bitterness; anger in this thing; the betraying of emotions.)

And then love died (I’m thinking to myself; wondering what all had gone on).

We can feel that in ourselves; that love softly dying…

only it wasn’t softly at all; it was off of that first moment; when the teenager betrayed him; announcing to the crowd:

“Mikie really loves sucking some dick.”  and then the neighbors laughed.

Cruelly, mockingly; just as the teenager did that night in the tent (and some … I don’t know what, but we wanted to say “some more”.  Perhaps he mocked us again later on; I don’t know – but I feel a real deep hurt; a screaming that it did and I see my friend and he – Mikie my own kid….I think we both got insulted some of the time which is why we were so tightly bound together – B., my best friend back then.  With the handsome eyes (wide spread); curling sand brown locks on his head … he was a cute kid looking back in time; here and he and I.)

(sighing again … this pain is so hard; Mikie loved B., the teenager’s younger brother – Mikie’s own age – as such a friend…)

Both of there at the beginning; but not so much the teenager at the end.

This is going to be a long post I see.  We’re already over 800 words (the ‘proper amount’ for a ‘commercial blog’ – but this is not some commercial we’re producing.  It is I and my friends … and there’s a lot going on … a lifetime we’re trying to recover…so be patient with me dear Reader and friend … while we ramble on.)

A hatred of love … I think that’s where it began.  The seed was planted in little Mikie’s heart.  It would take more, of course – uprooted, rejected again.  Losses overseas.  But eventually it became such a thing – a source of all his pain.  Love, then lost; love and lost again.  Giving it another try – and violently yanked from its source.  Again and again this sort of thing happened – loving and losing again.

By the time we were 13, I (Matthew) was done with it.  And so (I reckon) was Mikie.   Or at least he ‘retreated’ – went inside – leaving me alone to run the farm.  Hoeing those long rows of pain; trying to undo what had been done (that’s M3 talking right there) – but for ME??  Matthew??

I couldn’t do it again.  Not for him; and not for Mikie.

Not even for myself.

And that’s when the wall began.  The inner ‘walls’ sealing ‘him’ (Mikie) inside – the ‘outer walls’ against the world.

We had been betrayed by love – for we HAD loved; DID love – and got a kick in the face (a dick in the face); and something rammed up our ass.  It resembled a bootprint for sure – but it hurt much more; going deep within . . .

just like that teenager friend.

I wish I could go ‘aaaarrrrgggghhh!!!!’ with a cry of anguish; but I can’t; I hold it in.  It wouldn’t do no good.  I know; we’ve tried it before..

When the pain gets so bad the cutting begins … we’re drinkin’ a beer, numbing my friend; and my being Mikie (so we can’t hear his whimpering … tho’ in my mind I AM trying to hold him close … but it’s like hugging a cactus; each spike brings us pain – those spikes of loves lost, betrayed – over and over again.

I wish I could get over this thing (we wish we all could heal.)  On this one thing if no other . . .
one day maybe we will….


We cannot even begin to scrape the surface of the damage that he’s had; Mikie and our friend (Matthew is in mind).

Those two; most precious to our hearts.
perhaps that’s where the pain began…
deep in our hearts with parents who … while taking care of us … beat us and hurt us all.

Screwing us up forever in relationships ….
driving us to these things
looking for love in the wrong places
darkening our angel’s wings…

The Drum Beats Slowly (Tokoni 05/10/2009)

(Note: I wrote this 5/10/2009.  Now it is almost 5/2011.  So . . . the drum beats again.)

About every four or five or eight or ten years, it happens. It’s like a drumbeat in my life. I suppose the first stroke may have been from that time in “Remember When”. It sounded again when I was fourteen, again (hard) at twenty-one. Again at twenty-eight. Then another beat when I was thirty-eight., a hard blow that took years to overcome. And now at forty-nine I feel the pulse of the drum again. I can’t say which time has been worse or better, only that it’s always been different. And each time the beat echoes through my mind, I learn more about myself and life and people in general. And each time I come through the other side. Stronger in some ways. More sensitive in others. Always better and sometimes wiser. Life is a learning process, and I’m still learning.

The drum beats slowly, and I’m hearing it again.

Why Tokoni? I found Tokoni through a banner on Fictionpress, clicked to see if it was of interest . The byline caught my eye. “Life is full of stories. Tell yours.” That was five months ago. I just joined last week.

I don’t do things lightly, not anymore. But that phrase kept whispering in the back of my head. My youngest daughter, now edging towards twenty-two, has long begged me to write my story. I wrote my story for my wife when she was my fiancé so that she would know what she was getting into, so she could have a chance to back out before she got in. But that was almost a quarter century ago. There is only one copy; it is hers, and for her alone. Other people have told me I should “write my story”, because apparently they think I’ve lived an interesting life. Note that interesting doesn’t always mean fun. I don’t know; I have no reference; it’s the only life I’ve known intimately. I’ll have to let others judge whether the quality has been ‘interesting’ or not. As for me, I don’t pretend. I know its been more interesting than some, less than others. So that’s one of my reasons: to obey Tokoni’s subtle command, do it honestly, and do it well; to fulfill my daughter’s wishes, and those of some others.

There are other reasons, of course. Once again, I find myself compelled by some deep part of me to explore my past. Not just looking for the abuses, the problems, the tragedies; but to also find the good things and the lessons there. I know they are there, but I’m all too painfully aware of the human mind’s instinctive nature to remember the bad and forget the good. After all, it’s a survival mechanism. Think about it and you’ll understand it’s true. The bad things are threats,or at least perceived as such – whether to life and limb, or soundness of mind and spirit. The mind files them away for future reference in the hope that you’ll know what to do next time it happens. The good? Not so much. After all, those things didn’t threaten you. I also wish to understand the motivations – not just of myself, but of the other people around me during those darker times.

I know better than to peer too deeply into my past’s bitter well – the well of sorrows and regret. I just might fall in. It’s happened before, and it affected me badly, until I climbed out of the deep dark pit. That’s one thing about drinking from the well. The more you drink, the deeper you can fall, until you’re full of bitterness, anger and sorrow, and when you look up – there’s no light anymore. The well is endless; you can find yourself swimming in it forever, if you’re not careful. You’ve fallen too far. That’s the Pit for me. Been there, done that, and don’t intend on doing it again. So I’m taking it easy, just a little bit at a time – a teaspoonful here, a half a cup there. Is it dangerous? Yes, drinking poison always is. But I subscribe to a theory here and now: that perhaps that’s what it’s about, this thrumming of the the drum. Inoculating myself to the sadness; drinking from the well just one drop at a time; letting it settle in – and then letting it pass. After all, I’ve been here before, in ninety-six or so, and again when I was twenty-one, two, and three. And in each time, I learned something – sometimes many things – important to me and my being and state of happiness.

I’m no stranger to the internet. I was using it back when it was just Unix, and a bunch of university and governmental sites. I dropped it for many years, up until the mid-nineties, when I heard that drum once again. I’ve done the chat rooms; was even an on-line counselor for a few years, while I was seeking help for myself. They said I was good at it, and through it I discovered that one of the best things a survivor can do is help another survivor. Helping others helps us help ourselves. It’s a way of overcoming the abuse. It’s also a way of healing one’s self, though the scars will always be there. Just don’t pick at them too much. Open wounds are hard to heal. I often refer to the abuse as being a bloody coin. Like a coin, it has value. You just have to turn it over and over again sometimes to discover the golden side. Perhaps that’s why I’m doing it again – holding that heavy coin in my hand, looking at it again, hoping to discover more of the hidden truths and goodness in it’s dark nature.

Back when I was twenty-one and the drum sounded hard and loud, I examined the nature of happiness. It wasn’t the first time. I was a different person then; that tolling of the drum changed me, and it was for a good thing. It was painful, nearly killed me – but I don’t have the temper I had then; I have much better control – and I learned a modicum of happiness – though finding my wife and her kids (another story) helped a whole lot.

I’ve been studying happiness since my mid-teens. Again – another story. I think I’ve done well; better than some I see. People say I’m a happy-go-lucky laid back type of person with a good sense of humor (even in the worst of times). It wasn’t always that way. I’m the first to admit I used to be a mean SOB. But the thumping of that drum changed me.

I guess that’s another reason I’m on the internet, here on Tokoni. Its a small site; just take a look at the number of users and stories posted. I’m not out to shout my story to the world. I just want a small fine place where I can get it in order, take a look at it, see how far I’ve come. And yeah, a lot of its been painful, and hurts me to this day, but that’s okay. I’m well equipped (I think) to deal with it now. I know the nature of happiness, have learned the art of acceptance. I don’t get furiously angry; bitterness is not my style, though sometimes it still bites. Are there bitter stories? Yes, they come from the well. But I know I can survive telling them, which is why, I guess, I’m here right now. To sort it out. And yeah – I save these stories, here on my own computer. My daughter and family don’t know I’ve begun this task. My wife probably suspects I’m hearing that drum again (I can tell by her somewhat troubled expression and actions now; I guess I’m not hiding it as well as I should. It’s too painful to her.) Not all of what gets posted here will make it into my story to them. But some of it might.

I know survivors. There are endless variations. No two stories are the same. The results can be similar – but the stories are as varied as the stars, and some – some are much, much more painful than mine. I learned that as an on-line counselor. I also learned its useless to compare stories, the ‘who’s story is worse than whose’ syndrome. For it’s not the stories that matter so much as their effects. I won’t go into all that. There’s just too much to tell. But I did learn: it can be overcome.

Why tell the stories at all? That’s another thing I learned. That sometimes, by posting a story, it can encourage others to tell theirs – in all their glory and pain. It can help someone, if only by letting them know it’s okay – and hopefully move on. Maybe some will see my reasoning, my methods, and find them useful to them. Perhaps there is some rationality in my somewhat irrational way of thinking. And I know — there is always some water left in that well. That’s why I advise survivors to drink from it lightly, and a little at a time; not to dive in, lest them find themselves immersed in that dark water, all light gone. It’s advice I need to remind myself from time to time, this being one of them. And hopefully, for those swimming in the well of pain, it’ll help to know someone managed to climb out – and is willing to reach down to them in this way. Sometimes it is only the hope of having hope someday that keeps us going. Sometimes that’s all there is.

Its time. I hear that drum, softly thumping in my soul. I know the dangers of where I go. Darkness may lay ahead – but I can not ignore its beat. I don’t fear the darkness. I have drank from the well before. But hopefully I have the tools, the knowledge, and the wisdom not to fall in – not this time. If I do, then so be it. I know I’ll emerge a better man. I have before. I’ll have to be careful; I always must when I lean over and look into the well. Its an easy thing to fall into – and a long, hard, agonizing climb back out. But at least I know this time: if I do fall in, its for a good cause – many of them, both personal, and for others. And if I do fall in – I know this:

I can climb out again, because I’ve done it before. And if somehow, somewhere, one of these stories can give a survivor hope, give them a method, a helpful realization – then I have helped myself by helping someone else like me.

And if so, then all I’ve gone through, all I’ve seen, and all I’ve done has been worth it. That’s the golden side of that bloody coin I mentioned; the bloody coin of abuse.

If it helps just one, then it has helped me – and that gives it value and meaning in my life.

The BB Gun Wars

I’ll never forget the first time I got shot with a BB gun. It was in the laundry room, which was built onto the back of the carport – a separate room from the rest of the house. It was winter, I know, because I had a jacket on – and I’m glad I did.

My brother, a year and a half older than I, came in. He’d just gotten a BB gun – a Daisy “Spittin’ Image” – for Christmas. Pressing the end of it into the belly of my jacket, he backed me against the clothes washer, and then when I had nowhere left to go, pulled the trigger. Just like that. It wouldn’t be the last time he pointed a gun at me, and sometimes they were real ones. I’ll tell those stories later, and how they affected me. (Both bad and good – because I became a Marine one day, and was robbed at gunpoint once while working at a gas station. My lack of fear came in handy, then, and the robber was very lucky.)

Anyway, that first time he shot me – I was scared. I thought I’d been really ‘shot’. But those BB guns couldn’t penetrate skin; they’d just leave a little red dot on the skin, and hurt like a bee sting. No big deal. But this first time it was, at least for me. I pulled up my coat – I’m sure he’d shot me just to see what it would do – and there on my belly, about two inches above my navel (an “innie” and not one of those strange “outies” that some of the kids had) – was a bright red dot, almost glowing with pain. So I did what any normal six year old would do. I screamed and ran for my momma.

Mom, of course, was furious. She was madder than a badger in a trap. I don’t know what she did to him, only that it ended up with him getting his BB gun taken away. For about a week, I reckon, though it may have been a month. That’s how their time punishments ranged: One week, or one month. Same went for restriction, only they would restrict you to your room. A one month ‘room restriction’ was nothing to joke about, because they were serious. You didn’t come out of your room for a full month – no TV, no radio, no nuthin’. Only to go to the bathroom, eat, or go to school. Just four blank walls, your bed, and later on, my desk. Not a whole lot to do in there. After all, we didn’t have many toys, though I had my collection of stuffed animals to keep me company – animals from when I was one and two years old. We had quite a few parties in there, me and my favorite stuffed bear, Chee-chee, and Grandpa and Alley and Leo. Monk-monk, too, though he was a little bit stiff – due to his wire framed arms and legs (making him ‘posable’). Plus he was a late-comer to the game to replace one I had lost about four years earlier in some other, distant woods. He wasn’t the same.

I’ll never forget those BB gun wars. Oh, I can’t remember them all; just the big ones, and the one where I got shot up pretty bad. I ended up getting a Daisy myself, a year or so later – all the kids had one, except the teenager, who also had a pellet gun. He illustrated its awesome power to us gang of little kids once, by gathering us all around and shooting it through a tree – a scrub oak, to be precise, about two inches in diameter. That chilled us, and he was very serious about it – and what he intended to do with it if any of us ever made him mad. Mad about what? I’m not sure, but I think it was what he was doing to us in secret when the parents weren’t around, or when he was babysitting us. That was a very cold time indeed – seeing the neat round hole pop in one side; the splinted and mangled wood spraying from the other. We all went and looked, running our hands in amazement over the damage. He made no bones about it. He would kill us dead with that thing, if he had a mind to, a reason to – and we weren’t to give him any reason. Were we. Of course not. We all quietly agreed to his demand. We kept our mouths shut. I don’t know what set it off, but it did, and he showed us. Maybe he was just illustrating his power over us. I don’t know. But I do remember the cold fear.

My mom’s typical response to finding that me or my brother had shot the other with a BB gun was take it away – for a week or a month, as I’ve said. Then we’d get it back – and go right back to doing what we did before. Engaging in the BB gun wars.

I’ll never forget when I was sitting in our pup tent – the one me and my brother had. It was the standard military issue – thick green canvas walls that would weep in the rain, and two-piece wood and metal poles for standing it up. Military canvas has such a familiar smell; a unique one. It still conjures up many, many memories. We’d set that pup tent up in the back yard when my brother came to the ‘door’, pulled open the tent flap, and began pumping those rounds in. Bing! Zip! Bing! Whiz! Little BB’s bouncing all around, some ricocheting off the walls, some hitting me. I was unarmed at the time, so of course – “No fair!” I cried, and then went wailing off to my momma. He got his gun taken away at the time – but I still had mine. It felt good.

The other major war I remember (aside from pieces of memory of running through the woods, firing them at each other, or hiding behind some bushes, taking potshots at someone) is when the teenager and a bunch of other kids got into the tree house we’d built in the big old pine tree in our back yard. It was a good tree house, with a thick piece of plywood for a floor, and little knee high walls all around. You didn’t lean on the walls; they’d peel off and send you tumbling far, far down to the ground, some thirty or so feet below. It was our favorite tree house, and the one all us neighborhood kids would use (we believed in sharing back then – with anyone who dared to climb that big old tree with no branches to hang onto and only loose boards haphazardly nailed on to use for a ladder.). I went up there quite often, but this time I was on the ground. Me and a friend, both of us armed to the teeth with our Daisy Spittin’ Images.

I remember this quite clearly, the day of that war. It was late afternoon; the sun is shining off to my left, away from the tree house. Me and my friend are on the west end of our wood paneled house (redwood, that is, because it never rots and never needs painted). There is a bush on that corner we can hide behind. I can see that tree house in my mind – way up there, the end of it protected by a good thick branch, so we can’t get a clear shot inside. The boys up there – the teenager and his friends – are popping up over the walls like weasels, taking potshots at us. We can’t step out from behind the bush without getting hit. I get madder and madder at this seemingly unfair situation, and finally I’ve had enough!

I step out into the yard – away from our protecting shelter – and the teenager and his friends immediately start plinking at me. Zip! Zap! Ow! I’ve been hit a half dozen times before I can even get my rifle up. My friend, behind me, cowering behind the bush, is looking at me like I’m crazy. But I don’t care. I’m MAD – and when I’m mad, I don’t feel any pain. All I feel is . . . something. Nothing. Anger and anger again. Folding back in on itself. Apparently that’s part of being DID – they say it sets in when you are a young child, by the time you are five or six. I’ve separated myself from myself, totally ignoring the pain. I don’t even FEEL the sting as the BB’s come raining in. The kids in the tree house, realizing I’m just going to stand there, are rising up and sitting there, taking potshots at me like I’m a sitting duck. Which I am. I don’t care anymore. Shoot at me if you wish. I know it’s not going to hurt, because I don’t care anymore. All I care about is getting a good shot off at these strangers, these kids who’ve taken over my tree house, and are now shooting furiously at me. I raise my rifle, take aim – BB’s whizzing past, striking me, bouncing off like rain – and I still don’t care. I hold my position. I wait. Until I see my moment. Then I fire.

I hit that teenager – I don’t know where – but it was hard enough to make him quit. He yells. He cries out – loud. I shoot again and get him with a ricochet off the branch that was shielding him. He cries out some more. They quit the game.

I learned something then. That just one small man – a single soldier – determined not to give into the pain – can take out any number of enemy, given enough determination and guts. Given a single rifle, and just the right kind of shot. And I often felt as though I was a soldier back then; was training to be, wanted to be – exactly as my old man was. Tough. Mean. And a killer. (Maybe that’s where that ‘self’ came from, huh? Weird, I’m just now thinking that for the first time in my life. I reckon that’s one of the reasons I write these stories. They are a voyage of self-discover.)

And I also learned how tough I was. That these rifles couldn’t hurt me anymore. I look back at my friend, who is slowly creeping out from the shelter of the brush, his eyes wide with amazement as the teenager and his friends come climbing down.

I was much braver about them after that. Much braver – and not a bit afraid to take on someone twice my size. Whether they had a gun or not.

I have no fear, not of guns. Caution, yes. Wary of them? Of course. I know what they can do – up close and personal. I’ve seen it, from here to you, your computer screen to your face. It’s ugly. They can kill you dead; make a really bad mess of things. But even still – no fear. Not even now, this day. Respect: yes. Fear – no. Not no way.

After all – I’d been shot enough to know – and simply not care anymore.