When I was young, I wandered in the woods by my house. It was in a time before cell phones or the internet. The woods were where the young men and I, still in the influence of 20th century values went off with plastic guns and weapons to build forts and fortify the great causes of history across the lands in our mental depictions of great men. We were in Vietnam, we were in the civil war, we were in the medieval woods of England or in the Holy Land fighting as knights or Bandits. I can only say that in my experience, it was only the neighborhood boys who participated and, where I did not excel in football or streethocky as an uncoordinated youth, I loved playing war. It was perhaps the only opportunity to use my imagination. It was the first time I remember Imagining with others, a game where war meant comradery and ideals. Not killing, but struggling with others as a team and playing outside. We were among the fallen leaves and the sunshine and the tall trees, hiding and running through the small block of wood between our neighborhoods. But at least we were in the real world, if it could only be enjoyed through events we would never truly understand.
After many years of adventure passed, I wandered into those same woods where my neighborhood army had built their forts. The old tarps and support logs now ripped and deteriorating, still with our kits and relics left behind. But something new was there, newcomers and invaders. There were yellow and green stakes plotting out the new development that would make the woods a new row of houses. The destruction of all past days of war and struggle over the land would be imposed by a better equipped army of backhoes. In defiance I tore those stakes out, took them home, and using my dad’s sheet metal tape and some black electrical tape crafted swords to fight with.
Most were long blades made in the Gallic fashion. With slashing and swiping. Coated in aluminum and duct tape, I went out to the neighbors houses. Dressed in my fighting clothes. I went to each house, laden down with the previous night’s work of arms for the army that I would lead to defend our woods from the construction companies. Many said no, but most agreed, that something had to be done.
On a hot summer day, we prepared ourselves and took our weapons. We trained and prepared for hacking and slashing the machines and the grown men who would be driving them. I don’t think any of us intended to actually hurt anyone, but we would try to at least scare them off. We re-fitted our forts and made defensive positions. We dug trenches and readied the field for our great battle.
I had made one blade especially for me. It was long and I had put extra tape around the handle as a guard. But it was broken in the training so I was forced to adapt it in the style of a roman gladius. I felt like Caesar then, and the others agreed, that that was the right type of sword for the general. It seemed I was promoted.
Then the sound of machines and breaking trees were heard. We ran into the woods and hid among our defensive forts. The trucks and bulldozers and backhoes readied on the far street, we were gripped with silence and fear. Yet I held strong. I knew that those before me had fought impossible odds. The others thought differently, they thought this was stupid, that we couldn’t stop them.
I gave a speech.
“Whoose woods are these?” I said, standing before them as the engines stirred behind me. “They want to build new houses in OUR woods, they never used it, they never built forts here. Solders are meant to fight and why are we here if not as solders and warriors?” I banged by garbage can lid shield “And if we should die this day, it will be with a shout form my heart and getting as many of these bastard’s off our land. WHO’s WITH ME!”
The others we heartened and in a frenzy we let out a great war cry and charged from the woods up the field towards the road where the contractors were eating lunch. The grown men in beards and hard hats and reflective vests looked out and saw six lads in clanging slipshod armor charging toward them. There was no greater sense of victory in our hearts than in those moments when our legs pounded up the muddy grass.
I charged ahead, my sword outstretched and the aluminum glinting off the noonday sunshine. One of the workers put up his hands and said “Woah Woah guys” and David ran ahead of me and hit him in the shin so hard the man let out a slew of curses and fell ponderously to the ground. The other workers, realizing just how serious we would defend our homeland snapped into action. One grabbed Ryan’s sword and took it off of him. I jumped to his rescue and pushed him with my shield. He did not move, but when he shifted his attention to me, Ryan grabbed his sword back and ran.
The rest became a chase and chaos as I ran for one of the backhoes. I clamored up and into the cab. The keys were in it. It was running. Unsure of how to operate it I pushed a lever forward and the caterpillar treads began to lurch forward down the grass, tearing up dirt and rocks on to the woods below.
It’s safe to say that I panicked.
Then the door to the cab opened and a man grabbed me. I hit him with my sword and he threw it out behind him. Pulled me out and shut down the machine.
We were all lined up as prisoners. We were told to tell our home phone numbers. We had lost.
Such trouble that I will never forget.
Still i managed to go back that night and find my sword. My blade resting along the outskirts of the woods.
This blade survived a long time, but it passed into secret vaults and was placed in hidden places among the world through the course of ages. I grew up. Got a job. Did my own thing. Eventually I adjusted. And now I’m in a time when nothing like my childhood could be replicated. Not so much trying to liberate my woods from a construction company, but a sense of self, of individualism, of imagination. I see kids now with tablets and phones, swiping their life. Knowing facts but not understanding experiences.
I had a daughter born to my family. She would be the only child I would ever have with my wife. I loved her with all my heart and treated her as I thought befitting of a daughter. I shielded her from discomfort and promised to protect her always. But each time I affirmed such a promise, I knew that one day I would not be able to keep it. I knew that one day she would need to take charge of her own life, and that I would phase into the past as all those before me had done. However, I did not know if I had the strength within myself to shed this truth to her. My little girl was too precious for me to spoil with the ways of the world.
For six years she grew and I could see flits of myself within her. I could feel the adventure and the longing for the wide spaces and perils of the proving life gives us. She was smart and had no short wealth in what I admired about her mother. The friendship and joining of our personalities were instilled within this being that ran and laughed before me. What those had said about avoiding childbirth and making new people was out the window when I saw her eyes and hair and vibrant living existence in front of me.
Yet still, beyond it all, I knew that there would be the inevitable and unspeakable sadness at the end of this road, if not for me in the end, most certainly for her… It horrified me.
One day, I found myself unable to sleep with the thought of her, alone in the world. I knew it made no real sense, but I could only see her as she was, a small child standing at a bus stop at 3 in the morning on some deserted city street with the vultures of the world about her.
I eased out of my bed and made my way through the house and wandered into the attic. The mess of old things and knick nacks brought me to photo albums of my own family and their familiar, yet mysterious faces that smiled back at me; captured moments of life that were frozen and dead on shiny plastic paper.
I was met with an overwhelming longing for the past, the shreds of history, of my own origins and identity and meaning. Boxes untouched for decades flew open and pages and photos and tchotchkeys and heirlooms were examined and spread across the hot and dismally dark space. All of life seemed to mean nothing, how could I live up to all those gods and goddesses, these elderly and past and wise people who formulated my own tribe and love?
And that’s when I overturned another box. Contained within were such things as a “pin-up-girl” flask, a tile painted with a coyote howling at the moon, books on herbalism and wars of Irish Kings. Sitting within the center of the pile was an old construction stake covered in metal tape and aluminum. It was the sword of my childhood adventures…The Gladius that lead the charge for the woods.
The wood broke through in several places, the aluminum was wrinkled and the red tape on the grip was peeling, but it gave all the impression of an ancient relic.
I felt a clarity and took it from the musty tomb where it had been sealed.
Some days later, in secret, I took my daughter aside.
“I have a surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
“It’s something very special.”
With an illustrious pose and a flourish I pulled the small sword from behind my back and while kneeling down to her, presented the fabled blade in outstretched hands.
“This is a very ancient and mystical sword.” I said, realizing as I spoke what it had meant to me. “It has slain many monsters and evil wizards. It has seen many battles and defied rulers and armies both horrid and foul.”
“Oh yea. A young warrior once held this blade and journeyed alone for many years. He had a long and hard road to get to where he is now, but whatever this world threw at him, he was able to best it. Through betrayals and sacrifices, and hardships, this sword helped defy those who wished him harm.”
She looked at the relic in awe.
“Does it have fire breath?”
I began to hand her the sword. She reached out her hands, but I pulled back.
“But the most most important thing that you must remember is this…”
“The power of this sword does not come from anywhere, but yourself. You give this sword the power it needs to fight any obstacle.”
She furrowed her brow at it. “Okay.”
“Then, by the power given to me, I dub thee, the rightful owner of this magic blade and in your own right, use as you see fit to fight those who would do evil upon yourself and the world.”
I tapped the sword on her shoulders and then flipped the pommel around to her. Her small hands gingerly reached out to grab the electrical tape. Then, grasping it in her fingers, she lifted it up in the lantern light and I bowed before her power.