His dad was in the US Coast Guard. I lived for the years where he’d move back to an area close to me so that we could play again. It was like having a brother close to my age. We had our good times and our bad times, but we were the best of friends for many of our childhood years.
There’s a photograph of us, around ages three or four, sitting in a restaurant in San Diego holding our new stuffed animals that we had a big dispute over. I remember us both desperately wanting the Minnie Mouse, and somehow I got stuck with the Mickey Mouse. They even lit up. Who wouldn’t want a pink light up Minnie Mouse when they were four years old? Mickey was just, Mickey. We had a bazillion other versions of him at home. I think I always held that against him, the fact that he got the toy we both wanted. He was the boy, after all. He should have gotten Mickey.
At one point, he and his parents moved into a little apartment close to my house where they had a small park. My mom dropped me off there to play one day while she ran some errands, and that’s where the psychological torture began. L and I were sitting in his bedroom, examining his toys, not sure what we should do next.
“The park?” I suggested, thinking about the tall silver slide that gave me butterflies in my stomach when I slid down. It was such a thrill.
“Nah,” he replied. “That’s so boring.”
“Only because you live here,” I retorted. “Why don’t you just come watch me play for a couple of minutes since I never get to play there.”
“I don’t want to.”
We were clearly at an impasse, so I resolved that whatever he wanted to do we’d just do.
“Hey, you wanna see something scary?” he offered.
That sounded like fun. “Sure,” I agreed, leaning forward to see what he’d dig out of his closet. My mind was racing. A scary movie? Something a ghost left behind? A creepy picture?
“Ready?” he asked, his hand hidden behind the edge of a cardboard box.
He slowly lifted his arm, for dramatic effect, revealing first a wooden cross with fishing line attached to it, and then, a small boy marionette. It looked like it came from Latin America with its colorful traditional outfit and wooden clogs. It had a pair of big cartoon-looking eyes that somebody painted on with the utmost of care.
“That? That’s all? That’s scary to you? That’s just a puppet! I love those! Can I play with it?”
“Why not?” I asked, indignant.
“It’s not just a puppet.”
“What else is it?”
Circular logic. What a weirdo.
He walked about the room with it, making its feet move while I sat on his bed, annoyed that he was being no fun today. I just wanted to play.
Finally, he handed me the puppet and said he needed to go to the bathroom.
“Make sure it’s eyes don’t move when I leave, okay?”
“It’s eyes?” I asked, clarifying.
“Yeah, make sure they don’t move.”
“L, its.a.puppet. Its eyes are NOT going to move.”
“Well, watch it just in case. Don’t take your eyes off of it. Promise me.”
I thought that was a cue. He wanted me to scream, give him a reaction, claim the puppet’s eyes moved, and then we’d play one of our imagination games while we lived in a world where maniac puppets were killers. It would be tons of fun. Finally. Some real fun. I was glad he was initiating a game.
“Fine, I pinky swear,” I said.
I made the puppet walk while I waited a few moments. I looked at its happy wooden face, and I said, “Your eyes don’t move. L is crazy.”
Then, I screamed the most realistic terror-filled shriek I could conjure up.
“His eyes!!! L!!! HIS EYES MOVED!!!!”
“What?????” I then heard him scream the girliest scream I’d ever heard from a little boy before. The toilet flushed immediately; there was no hand washing involved. His world, unbeknown to me, had just sky-rocketed into psychological chaos, all while I thought we were just playing a game.
I guess my act was pretty convincing because years later when we were teenagers reflecting back on our childhood, I’d come to find out that he had recurring nightmares about the marionette, it had to be locked in some deep recess of his parents’ closet because it couldn’t be trusted, and even as a teenager he still had a little bit of a complex about puppets.
I hope nobody ever gives him a Chucky doll, even as a joke.
He moved to the local Coast Guard base after about a year, and our playdates were relocated to the new housing on base. It was actually some of the most fantastic childhood memories I have. In my neighborhood, I wasn’t allowed to walk down to the end of the street without supervision. We had a fire hydrant in the middle of our street that I was told I was never allowed to go past unless I was supervised.
On the Coast Guard base where L moved, it was every kid’s dream. We’d take our bikes and ride everywhere our little legs would pedal us too. The base was highly secure, so his parents let us go just about anywhere we wanted, as long as we left with a Walkie Talkie in one of our packs. We visited the movie theater, the bowling alley, the pool, and the park. The hills were so fun to soar down.
Little did I know, years later, I’d be on that same base, L would be living in Kentucky, and I’d be training for the Navy where he and I used to play. Those locations I used to ride my bike to would take on an entirely different form as an adult.
At the pool, L and I discovered little smooth stones of varying colors that somebody had dropped, and the pool became a treasure cove. As an adult, it became a place I floated face down for five minutes, coming up for air only to place my head back in the water. The streets L and I used to race down became places where I ran in formation with my unit for our fitness maintenance. Things change as time passes. Even just ten years can change a lot.
As children, we’d arrive at the park, we’d put the kickstands down on our bikes and strap on our imaginary spy gear. We were Carmen and Juni from Spy Kids (I look back on that and shake my head in shame). We could fight Thumb-thumbs on the play equipment and peer at the suspicious looking mom on the bench who we believed could be a minion in disguise.
It was pure fun. If it was raining, we’d hole ourselves up in L’s basement which doubled as his playroom, and he’d teach me new board games. My favorite games that he taught me were Connect 4 and Guess Who. Sometimes we’d create forts down there, play Truth or Dare, pull out Walkie Talkies and skip through the channels to listen to the Coast Guard guys’ conversations, or we’d simply talk.
Every once in a while, we’d fight. It was usually when he wanted to do one thing, and I wanted to do another, or in the middle of a board game, his mom would ask him to finish a chore, and he’d argue with her about it while I’d offer to quickly help so we could get it done and avoid him getting acquainted with the spanking spoon or the time-out chair.
His mom was a typical Southern woman, and whenever he had an ailment of any kind, she’d simply say, “Go sit on the pot, honey, go sit on the pot.” He fell down one day and I swear, she told him to go sit on the pot with his skinned knee. It would have to be one magical heck of a crap that he’d have to take in order to heal a skinned knee.
One day I asked her, “Why do you tell him to sit on the ‘pot’ and not the ‘toilet’?”
“The pot is the toilet.”
“Oh.” I pondered that, and then I asked, “What will sitting on the pot do for him?”
“It’ll help him to calm down and get control of himself before he comes back to me with his problem.”
Again, I repeated, “Oh.” It was rather genius. Maybe Southern women were on to something. I later went home to a screaming little brother and ordered him to sit on the pot, but it didn’t really work out the way I’d hoped.
One day, when there was a break in the rain, his mom sent L and I outside so she could have some peace and quiet to get some housework done and get our lunches ready. I shoved a Walkie Talkie in my back pocket and L and I headed off. He was complaining because he didn’t want to go outside. I, on the other hand, was tired of him bickering with his mom every chance he got, so I was glad to be outside where he’d get away from her.
“Why’s she makin’ us go outside?” He asked me. “It’s so cold!”
“We have our coats. It’s fine. We’ll have fun. You wanna play Spy Kids again?”
“Naw, not today,” he said, kicking a rock down the empty street. Everybody else in the neighborhood was either doing their job or holed up in the house to escape the foul weather. The sudden light streaming through the clouds was creating a glare off the dampened street, and the white homes looked like they were glowing. I squinted.
“Let’s go back inside and fight her on this. I want to go inside,” L suggested.
I did NOT want that. “You’re gonna get a spankin’” I cautioned him. “Why do you give her so much trouble?”
“I don’t mean to.”
“Well sometimes, when she asks you to do something, she isn’t trying to torture you. She’s just trying to ask for your help to keep the house nice. Your life would be a lot easier if you didn’t fuss so much.”
He started back for the house and I had to stop him. I was desperate. Logic and reason had failed.
“Let’s go for a walk,” I suggested, hoping this would change his mind.
“Let’s just go back inside,” He replied.
I turned around, looking for something, anything that would give me a reason to keep him outside so he wouldn’t get in trouble going back inside and fighting with his poor exhausted mama.
Seeing a ray of light pouring through the clouds gave me an idea.
“L!!!!!!” I screamed and he turned around. “THERE’S JESUS!” I was facing L now with big excited (and fake) eyes, pointing down the street.
He looked, following my finger. “Where????” He was just like a cat with a toy mouse. I knew I had him roped now.
I turned and looked, in total actress mode. “HE WAS JUST THERE, I SWEAR IT!”
“REALLY???? LET’S GO LOOK FOR HIM!”
We ran off down the street, looking up for the imaginary Jesus I’d just made up.
“What did he look like?” L asked me, as we were on our hands and knees examining the bottom of somebody’s front porch.
“He was wearing a white robe and glowing. That ray of light up there is where he came from.”
“You sure you aren’t pulling my leg?” He asked me, seriously.
“I’m sure! I know I saw him!” I turned away for a moment, pretending to look behind me, but really, a giant grin had broken out on my face that I couldn’t contain and I didn’t want him to see it.
“Wow,” he replied calmly. “I just…wow. You’re positive it was Jesus and not just a man in white?”
“He was glowing, L! Can other men GLOW?”
“No, I guess they really can’t. Man. Well, let’s keep looking.”
We looked for the next forty minutes when his mom finally called us in for lunch. By the end, I was pretty sure that L had just been playing along with my game, but after lunch, he suggested that with something as big as Jesus, we’d better go out and look for him again.
His mom overheard and asked, “What was that about looking for Jesus?”
I kicked L under the table, not wanting his mom to know that I’d lied to her son about seeing Jesus.
“Nothing, ma’am. We just wanted to go outside and play a game called ‘Jesus.’”
“Maybe you should call it something else. You don’t want to use that name lightly.” I nodded.
“Okay. We will.”
L was looking at me with an expression that said, “What? What are you doing? If you saw Jesus, why don’t you tell her?”
When we got outside, I told him, “L, what if Jesus wanted to only show himself to you and I? That’s something we need to respect and keep it a secret. If he wants your mama to see him, he’ll show himself to her too.”
He seemed to understand this explanation, and we agreed that Jesus appearing to us on the US Coast Guard base would be our secret.
The day I told L that the puppet’s eyes didn’t move was the day he also asked me if I really saw Jesus.
“What? What are you talking about?” I’d asked him.
“Remember that day?” He proceeded to recount our playdate and I couldn’t believe he had actually thought I was telling him the truth. So many times I’d thought we’d just been playing, but really, I was messing with his mind.
So, friends, I thought I’d make this public: Jesus did NOT appear to me on the US Coast Guard base. I was just saving my friend from a date with the spankin’ spoon, and the puppet’s eyes did NOT move. Are we clear? It’s time the truth came out.