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Childhood Past by Ray Printer Friendly

Man, I can’t believe how dumb things are at the moment. Can’t sleep, don’t feel like drinking, my body aches, and I think my arms are getting smaller.

Times like these are generally when I resort to the little mental movie screen in my head, and watch a hilarious imagining of a monkey dressed up as something other than a monkey, and doing something funny. But I think I’ve finally run through all imaginable scenarios. You reach that point, I’m not even sure what’s the point in living anymore.

Ninja, robot, pirate? Those are all at the top of my favorites list, and even they aren’t making me feel better. When thinking about a monkey dressed as a ninja doesn’t cheer you up, that’s when you know you’re in some serious trouble.

It’s not even that I’m in a terrible mood or anything. Mostly, I’m just a little bored, a little restless, and a little pissy. I don’t feel like watching a movie, because I don’t feel like being a bystander. Don’t feel like going through all the trouble of turning on the PS2, and I don’t have the brain power to write a story.

This is when having action figures would be awesome. Playing with Star Wars and G. I. Joe guys, that’s like having a video game where you can do absolutely anything with your character.

When I was visiting Trey last weekend, he broke out a giant tin can full of action figures: stuff that he had as a kid and that has been in storage for years. We didn’t get to look through it much, because we had to do grown-up things like discuss the terror of encountering a 106-year-old nun that screamed all the time.

So maybe I’m just Jones-ing. I miss playing with toys. Especially the action figures. I remember one winter, I was in fifth grade, my parents were adding an extra story to our house, but since it was so cold, the construction had been stopped for a while. I went up there with my little brother and one of my friends, and we set up an entire battlefield. It covered the entire addition—an area approximately 20’ X 20’. Elaborate bases, clever hideouts, little forts made of real snow. Vehicles and ammunition dumps spread across the raw plywood floor, soldiers perched ready for action.

We played up there for over a month, staging a battle that would make our military leaders cringe in fear and smile in admiration. It was nothing short of amazing.

We played for hours at a time, the howling wind and shifting plastic a background soundtrack that was quiet compared to our explosions, conversations, laughter, and cries of defeat.

I remember we used to rush home from school, do our homework, and then head upstairs, dressed in our coats and winter hats. We would play until the sun went down, then we would turn on the various work lights that were strung about, and we would continue to play until we had to go in for supper.

We would march downstairs with numb fingers and stinging cheeks and full bladders and empty stomachs. My brother and I would tell my friend goodbye, and he would continue through the house and out the front door—to his house across the street where he had his own family and his own food waiting.

We would eat our dinner while talking to each other about new plans and strategies, and discussing the highlights of the day’s battle. We slept in the same room at the time, and I remember talking well into the night about what had transpired on the battlefield.

Thinking back on it, I find it odd that we never got angry during this war. There were triumphs and there were failures, and there were losses. It’s the only time I remember playing where if one of your guys died, you didn’t get to pull him out the next day. Once a man was gone, he was gone until the war was over.

If you’ve ever played with Star Wars guys or G. I. Joes, you understand how it is to have a favorite. Mine was always Frostbite, even when we weren’t playing in the middle of the winter. I was always a big fan of the snow guys.

One thing I learned during that time was to be careful with your favorites. They were your favorites for a reason—perhaps you liked the way they looked, or maybe you just liked the personality you made up for them—so you always wanted to use them during the war.

Frostbite made it through that battle, but many of my other favorites didn’t. I remember trudging down those steps with a heavy heart, knowing that I had lost a good G. I. Joe, and I remember missing them. The fallen soldiers were gently put to rest in the plastic carrying case that held 24 action figures and all of their accessories. By the end of that war, we had filled three of these cases, and still had soldiers that had to be laid to rest in the wicker toy chest in my closet.

We learned to be careful with our soldiers, sending the lowest out to battle first, learning to keep back the best until the very end.

That war ended the only way it could have ended—when we were all down to tiny bands of soldiers that we were unwilling to sacrifice, we made a treaty, as it were. We agreed that although there had been much bloodshed, there would be no hard feelings. We agreed that from now on, we would be on the same side.

And then the war was over.

After nearly two months of play, we gathered our toys and descended the stairs. My neighbor went home, my brother went to watch TV, and I went to my bedroom. I put the G. I. Joes into the closet, the plastic cases on top of the wicker toy chest, and I closed the closet doors.

I remember crawling on to my bed and feeling exhausted. When my brother and I were going to sleep that night, he said from the darkness (or what passed for it at the time—I was scared of the dark when I was little), “Ray?”

“Yeah?”

“That was fun.”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Do you think we’ll ever do it again?”

“No. Not like that.”

Silence for several minutes. Long enough that I was just about to doze off.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

“G’night.”

“‘Night.”



We never did have a battle like that again, either. In fact, the three of us didn’t really have much to do with each other after that, for quite some time. Sure we saw each other, talked to each other, but we didn’t really hang out. Probably about a month passed before we started playing with each other again. I guess that we had just spent too much time together.

Spring came, the snow melted, the addition to the house got finished. Then summer.

My neighbor moved away in the middle of the summer, and I didn’t cry—I was old enough that it felt weird to be a boy crying for another boy.

My brother and I got separate rooms, which was fine, because by that time, we were really tired of sharing.

That fall, I moved on to sixth grade, where I promptly got stomach ulcers.

Thinking about it, I wonder if that epic battle was like my going-away present from Fate. “Say goodbye to your childhood, kid, because it’s all downhill from here.”

I still played, and I still had fun, and I made new friends, but sometimes I wonder if that was pretty much it for me being a child.

It was a helluva going-away party, I guess.


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