I've forgotten my real name, the name I had before their divorce, the name I earned, holding up my end in back yards and fields, the snake-laced and endless grass beyond Eby Street, where we boys ran together in heroic stories.
Robin Hood as Castaway, the Lost Spaceship in Africa, The Treehouse of Science: the gibbering mad manhood of pre-adolescent boys, and our rubber knives, kit bags with compass and periscope, climbing ropes looped into belts, fixed with twine, for the inevitable cliff, the treetop rescue, the binding of villainy.
Stage directions thrown, just enough to seed the Game, until we finally knew who we were, where we were going, how to triumph.
"Pretend we're pirates..."
"No pretend we WERE pirates and..."
"...on a ship..."
"...these are our cutlasses..."
"We landed already..."
"No, in a tree, from the giant wave..."
"I'm the boss"
"I'm the captain, but, but I'm SICK, a fever..."
"...the blubonic plague" (laugh, shove)
"...but not catching!"
"We have to keep you alive, 'cause you know..."
"Pretend there is a tribe..."
"I'm the chief!"
"No, I am, I'm the SON of the chief, you're the witch doctor..."
"Nyuh-uh, I don't wanna be the witch docter, he always gets it!"
We scatter for props, big branches considered, flat rocks discarded; we run to the brushy edge near the woods man we don't even discuss it, just woop and run and leap up familiar trails hemmed high with clover and ryegrass gone to seed, brushy topped under our palms; we rip and shred as we go, with hands, hatchets, straight whipping sticks.
I had Names, my true Names: bestowed, short, undeniable Names like Ty and Ace and Ukalatch and Conan and Mantee; I am the Mean One, who tortures the Son of the Chief; I am the Professor who has the Potions and can read the Map; the Scientist with the Zombie Machine; the Hermit Indian they search for, who knows where the Hidden Waterfall is.
All the best Names, now lost, lost in broken clods and rotted thatch, buried under pre-form slab concrete, in new subdivisions, in the suburban sprawl of Kansas City, where once was the forever edge of the mass of wilderness, the lovely frontier.
The animal boys all gone, driving Taureses now, looking at internet porn, eating Super Size, watching the lights change before rolling forward in their lanes; their Names are now the parent names, the angry official names, the whole names we once froze in fear of: GregoryStephenDarden, PhilipSeymourKinderman, StephenMorrisBenedict; the names intoned when comics were left splayed on the sofa, when Dad's 3-in-1 was spilled on his workbench, when we STILL didn't put away those shoes young man.
These are our mere names now, our corrected names: limned and secured now with guywires we once snapped like dandelion chains. Plain names, mowed into the perfect green we once trampled under bare feet; names on labels sewn tight into what we once skinned off, left behind when we become the whistle-breathing, sly men of the forest, peering out, crouching, ready to sieze each other, to throw our true selves to the ground, to roll in itchy undergrowth, all tumult and rowdyboy with our faceted and useful Names, learned and taught with the heart language of roughhouse and salvation and caves.
When we could be anything, even old, even animals, even Evil unrepentant, even perfect Good, smooth and clean and doe-eyed...
Our mighty, everlasting Names, gone now, unrecognizable on any page.
Only sensed, only murmered at night, if a long trundling train haraommms, if a breeze lifts curtain to admit pale light, when feral, beautiful boys tread in and growl into our sleepy, empty ears:
"Pretend you have survived the crash..."
"I will be the one with the rope..."
"Take this stick, it will be your sword..."
"We will build a fire..."
The Death of Robin Hood
Both Illustrations by NC Wyeth