I wrote this for a college creative writing class in 1999. It's kind of sappy, but I thought a few of you might enjoy it. Most of it is based on actual events. On paper, it's about ten pages.
When I was nine, I hit my best friend with a hammer. It was one of those things you never really bother thinking about. In fact, I forgot about it almost immediately after it happened. He didn't forget, though, not even after ten years had passed.
I remember when we first met, we were on our bikes. I had been trying to learn to ride with no hands like the older kids, and I was concentrating so hard that I wasn't watching where I was going. I don't know what Keith was doing, but I dont think he had been watching either, so we both ran into each other. The sidewalk was narrow, the curb was high, and there was a long concrete wall along one side, so it would have been difficult passing each other even if we had been paying attention. As it was, our handlebars got tangled together and we wound up falling in a heap against the wall. I sprained my wrist, and Keith scraped his knee pretty bad, but we were otherwise okay. Keith's bike wasn't, though. It was one of those adjustable ones with the handlebars that you're supposed to raise as you get older so you don't have to buy a new one, and the impact against the wall had twisted them to the right so they were no longer in line with the wheel. My house was just down the block, so I offered to help him fix it.
I never was quite as good with tools as I liked to believe, but Dad gave me free access to his toolbox as long as I put everything back in its proper place. It took a good deal of fussing, complaining and arguing, but together we managed to get the thing loosened, straightened, and then tightened again. Afterwards, we stood for a minute surveying our handiwork.
"We should be best friends now." Keith said.
"OK." I said.
I'd never had a best friend before, but Keith assured me that we wouldn't have to spend all our time together. He'd ride his bike over to play every other day or so, and became a regular fixture around our neighborhood, even though he lived several blocks up Hildesheim. I never really went to his house until a year later when we found out we were in the same class in school. We'd always walk home together after that, since his house was on the way.
We were living only a few blocks from the city in our house on Oldenburg. All the streets in our neighborhood had wierd names like that. Hildesheim, Heidleburg, Hanover, Oldenburg. We lived only one house down from Hildesheim, which ran perpendicular to all the other streets in our neighborhood. It was probably one of the better houses on the street, though at the time I never really thought about things like that: the narrowness of the streets, the cracks in the walls, the aging sidewalks overgrown with weeds. It was a two-story house, which made me excited when we first moved there, because I'd never lived in a two-story house before--well, except for the time when we lived with my grandparents for a few months when we first came to St. Louis. Before that, we lived in a mobile home in a trailor park in New Mexico, where no one I knew even had a basement, much less a second story.
The best part about our house, though, was the yard. It was the biggest yard in the neighborhood, well, at least our part of the neighborhood, and it took up more space than the house itself. It stretched along one side of the house, joining both front and back, and was wide enough for ten-year-old boys to play football. There was a swingset, too. Not like the kind you find at the playground with the swings all side-by-side, but one of those store bought ones with the slide and monkey bars which were almost as good. The ground had been worn into little dust pits underneath all the swings, so we could still play in the dirt even though there was grass everywhere else. At least we could until Mom and Dad filled in that entire area with gravel.
The swingset was our clubhouse most days. We'd sit on the swings or hang on the bars or climb the ladder and sit at the top of the slide when it was too hot to play during the summer. We had the best yard, so all the kids from the houses surrounding us would come to hang around. Mom would give us all popsicles, the kind that come in the long plastic wrappers that you have to push up from the bottom, and sometimes we'd get to play in the sprinklers.
My brother David was the oldest, so he got to be in charge. Even when the older boys were around, his was the sovereign right to rule, since it was still our yard. Occasionally, we'd make up clubs or gangs, and David always got to be president. He always decided what we were going to do that day, so when he was bored, we all were bored. I suppose that's what made us go to war.
I remember waking up one morning and going outside. Mom and Dad were both gone that day, so we were pretty much free to do whatever we wanted. I found David by the swingset, stick in hand, scratching something into the dirt underneath the swings. Brock Tucker, a friend of David's from down the street crouched across from him. Matt, who was the youngest in the neighborhood, was sitting at the top of the slide and holding the swing so it wouldn't be in their way. Matt's older brother Mike leaned against the fence which separated their yard from ours, trying to look like he wasn't the least bit interested in what was going on and was only hanging around to keep an eye on Matt. I don't know how old he was, but I know he was older than David, and he didn't much like the idea of being a subordinate. He'd gotten ahold of a lighter somehow and was busy setting fire to his arm hairs.
"What's going one?" I asked, kneeling down next to David and eyeing the diagram they'd drawn.
"We're going to war, what's it look like?" he replied in annoyance. Somehow, everything I said managed to annoy him.
"Oh," I said, "who're we fighting?"
"The girls." he said.
"Oh." I said.
I glanced over at Jennifer who was hanging upside-down from the bar like usual. I didn't know how she managed to do that without getting dizzy, but she hung there every day, for hours on end. Her long black hair brushed the ground and was starting to turn gray with dirt. She had the same last name as us, so she was always on our side and didn't count as a girl on those days we decided girls were our enemies. The rest of us were usually polite enough not to say anything.
"Where's Jason and Jeff?" I asked.
Jennifer had two brothers: Jason who was eleven, the same age as David, and Jeff who was a year younger than me, which was cool because we all got to ride the bus together the first day of school. When the bus driver called the roll to make sure everyone was on board, she'd call all our names together and it was like we were related, even though we weren't, but she didn't know that.
"They're out spying." David answered, which meant they'd probably gone across the street to see what our sworn enemies Janet and Emily were doing.
"What do you want me to do?" I asked.
"Why don't you go look for a weapon or something? And leave us alone," he added, "We're busy."
"Ok." I said, and went looking.
Weapons, for us, were a thing to be prized. Not that anybody really needed weapons, or even planned to use them, but we liked the power they granted knowing that we could brandish our weapons and make our enemies run away. Brock had grabbed the only baseball bat in the yard, of which I was extremely jealous because I never got to use it. Matt just picked up rocks and threw them at people, and David never needed help chasing people off. Mike had the best idea, though. He'd found some old bottle rockets in the alley and planned to set them up in the front yard and launch them across the street. I still hadn't found a weapon yet at the time, so I helped, but we soon realized that the fireworks had been left in the alley for a reason. Only a few of them had wicks, and of those, we couldn't get them to go off, so we had to abandon our makeshift artillery.
Eventually, it became apparant that I wouldn't find a good weapon in the yard, so I went down into the basement and got my hammer. It wasn't a real hammer, a big one like Dad's, it was just a toy hammer for kids. The head was real metal, though, so I knew it would make a good weapon. I grabbed it along with a flimsy metal coping saw whose wire handle was so thin it might have been made from a coat hanger, and headed back out to the yard with my prize.
The war by then had been going on for some time. Jeff had gotten back while I was gone and was now hanging around the yard shooting things with his slingshot. He'd brought the news that Jason had switched sides and was no longer to be trusted. The news was just in time, too, for as soon as I had emerged, Jason approached the gate. Normally, I would have done nothing to stop him, but a frantic shout came from the direction of the swingset.
"No! Don't let him in!"
Not truly understanding the situation, but as a dutiful younger brother, I charged the gate, coping saw in hand. Jason turned and ran, and I was elated that my weapon had worked, but then I turned and realized that he hadn't been running from me, but from David who had come up behind me.
"What is that?" he asked, pointing at the tool in my hand.
"It's a coping saw." I said.
"You're going to hit people with a coping saw?" He asked incredulously.
I was suddenly embarrassed that I hadn't realized what a flimsy, pathetic looking weapon it was. My head dropped, and my spirits with it, and I returned to the basement, deciding that one weapon would be enough.
By then, word had gotten out that we had gone to war, so by noon, every kid in the neighborhood started coming around to find out what we were up to, and to try to catch a glimpse of the mysterious diagram drawn in the dirt. "Spies," David called them, sent by Janet and Emily, and we were under strict orders not to let anyone in the yard, lest they report back and ruin our chances of winning. They came from all sides, some through the front gate, some through the back, and we had our hands full chasing them away. Janet and Emily, as usual, ignored us completely, but we weren't taking any chances.
It was about that time that Keith came by. He'd decided to come visit and had heard about the war from Jason. We were still under attack, so I only had time for a perfunctory greeting.
"I can't let you in." I said.
"Why not?" he asked.
"You might be a spy," I replied, "and I'm not supposed to let anybody in."
"Well, why not?"
"Because they're working on something, and you're not supposed to see. You'll have to come back later."
"Ok," he said, and left.
Soon after, and with much preparing and planning, David's grand scheme was finally finished. It was a risky venture, but one which would ensure our victory over the enemy. It was an encircling maneuver: David and the others would sneak around to the other side of the street where they could attack the enemy from behind. It was a bold move, one requiring all the manpower we could spare, but it required the scaling of several fences, which meant that I wouldn't be able to go. Fence climbing was one of a number of things I couldn't do because I was too fat, so I would be left behind to make sure no one got into the yard while the others were gone. It was my responsibility, and a difficult one, and one which I took extremely seriously.
So I was alone when Keith showed up again.
"Can I come in, now?" he asked.
"No." I said.
"Where is everybody?"
"Gone." I said.
"So why can't I come in?"
"Because it's my job to hold the yard against spies." I said. "And you're a spy."
"Am not!" he said.
"Are too!" I said.
"Well, how do you know I'm a spy?" he asked.
"Matt saw you talking to Jason." I said, "And he's the enemy."
"He wasn't the enemy yesterday."
"Well, he is today." I said.
"Can't I just come in?" he asked.
"No." I said.
The gate was held closed by a metal latch which could be lifted from either side. Keith went to lift it, but I held it down. I put all my weight on it, cause I knew he wouldn't be strong enough to lift it.
"Let go!" he said.
I brandished my hammer, "You let go!"
Keith took a step back. He didn't want to let go of the latch, but he moved the rest of his body as far away from me as he could. The gate was just the right height so that I could reach over the top, but Keith's arms were longer than mine. He was out of range, but I could hit his arm if I leaned way over and swung hard.
"You won't hit me." he said. "We're best friends."
"I have to." I said. "It's my job."
I swung as hard as I could, leaning over as far as my short arms could reach. I barely felt the impact, so I didn't think I'd hurt him that badly, but by the look of shock on his face, somehow I knew otherwise. He let go of the latch and stumbled backwards, almost falling, but regaining his balance. I watched as he retreated down the sidewalk, then turned and ran into the alley. I never saw him look back.
We were still best friends after that, and had many other adventures together. The summer was short, and there was so much to do, so we concentrated on having fun, and the topic of the war never came up again. I soon forgot all about the incident with the hammer, we had moved on to other things.
About a year later, I had moved on as well, and I hardly ever saw Keith after that. I changed houses, changed schools, and completely forgot about the old neighborhood, our old house, and how much fun we used to have.
Ten years later, I decided to take a walk through my old neighborhood, to try to relive some childhood memories, and I ran into Keith. He didn't recognize me at first, but I recognized him immediately.
"Hey," I said. "Remember me?"
He looked at me strangely.
"We used to be best friends." I said.
"Yeah, I remember." he said. "You hit me with a hammer."
It was my turn to look strangely. I had forgotten.
"Oh, yeah," I said, "I remember now. We were in a state of war."
"Yeah." he said.
"And you were a spy." I said.
"Yeah." he said.
"And I was under orders." I added feebly.
"Well, so long." I said.
"Yeah, see ya." he said.
I watched as he turned and walked away. I never saw him look back. I explored the streets a little while longer, remembering the war in my head. When I found our old house and saw that the swingset had been removed and the house covered in aluminum siding, I turned to go, walking briskly up Hildesheim to excape to wider streets and better-kept lawns. The sun was setting, it was getting dark, but before I left, I spent a moment looking back.