A bunch of us were playing in my neighbor’s front yard. I was maybe 8 years old, and the mix of kids ranged from ones my own age all the way up to a couple of the “big" kids from down the street who might have been twelve or thirteen. We were embroiled in a “war”; the horse chestnuts had fallen from my neighbor’s tree, and they were perfect for hurling at one another. Horse chestnuts, if you’re not familiar with them, are oblong and slightly smaller than a tennis ball. They’re a shade greener, too, and decorated with small points scattered widely about their surface. Nasty looking – almost medieval – which was probably why we were drawn to them. We knew someone could get hurt, but no parents were around and we were having fun.
I ended up near the pick up truck parked under the ‘nut tree. One look in the bed told me that I’d discovered the perfect spot - it was full of horse chestnuts and the bed’s wall offered perfect protection. The rear gate was gone, so I easily pulled myself up over the rusty bumper, chestnuts flying overhead. One of the bigger kids had the same idea I did and followed me up into the truck. His name was Gerry Lee, and he was a kid from far down the street, a kid who I didn’t know very well and who never seemed to notice me. He had the reputation of a troublemaker, so I was afraid of him, but I knew enough not to show it. On most days, it kept me off his radar.
“Get out of here,” he said. He wanted the spot for himself, but something in my seven year old brain balked at the idea, at its inequity. I’d found the truck first and besides, there were more than enough horse chestnuts at our feet. Hundreds. So I pretended I didn’t hear him, picked up some ‘nuts, and turned away from him to start throwing.
He shoved me, hard. I went off the back end of the truck and somehow ended up landing on my butt. In all probability, that didn’t hurt too bad, but what did was the back of my head bouncing off the bumper. I don’t know if it really happened, but I picture every kid stopping and turning at the odd sound of skull meeting metal. My head throbbed as I got up. I cried, screamed at him, and his eyes were wide with shock, but a moment later he told me to shut up and went back to filling up his arms with ammunition.
I ran across the yard and down my long driveway. My house was set back a few hundred feet from the road, and I cried the whole way. I came through the door and my oldest brother Mike, about fifteen at the time, looked at me and asked a question that made me feel instantly better, “What happened?” Something about the way he asked the question told me that he would do something about it, and after hearing the story he did. He walked next door and tossed Gerry Lee off the back of the pick up truck. He told Gerry Lee what would happen if he ever touched me again. And then Gerry Lee ran home.
My child won’t have older brothers (or sisters) to watch out for them, but I’ll do my best to make sure they have the sense of security that I discovered that day, the sense that someone was watching out for me and would come to my aid whenever I came up against something too big for me to handle. We don't get to have that feeling as adults - at least not in the same way - but every kid should have it.
50 days until baby.