We spent a lot of our free time throwing rocks at cars. That’s just sort of what you did growing up in the sticks with not a lot of stuff to keep you entertained. Sure, we’d play videogames for a while, Goldeneye and MarioKart on the old N64, eating Bagel Bites Derek’s mom would make for us. But eventually our bellies would be stuffed with microwaved food and we’d get a hankerin’ for troublemakin’. We were 12 years old and like most 12-year old boys we had an urge to get out there and scramble the order of things. To fuck stuff up. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it was. The way it is. So we’d wait until Derek’s parents were asleep, usually just after midnight, then we’d creep downstairs and out the front door, like two skinny thieves, moving through the darkness and into the woods. Once we hit the trees we no longer had to be quiet because there weren’t many neighbors around. So we’d run as fast as we could into the pitch-black night, tripping over limbs and bumping into trees and moving closer to our destination: Blue Dove Road.
Blue Dove Road was pretty busy for an old country road. It was the road toward the big city, a city we’d never been to and wouldn’t go to until many years later, a city that in our minds was oblong and untouchable. On a good night of rock-throwing, we’d see maybe two or three cars per hour, so we really had to make the best of our throws. A creek ran parallel to the road, so Derek and I would climb down the bank and gather rocks from the creek bed and stuff them in our pockets and make little kangaroo pouches with our shirts and hold them there. Then we’d climb up the opposite bank, slipping on the unstable ground, until we were up and over. We always lost a few rocks in the process, but that was alright. We could always go back for more. Once we were on the other side of the creek, we’d find a spot behind a tree that would give us shelter but also a clear line of sight to the road. We found the perfect place to set up after a few outings. We were old pros by now. The spot was about 10 feet from the road, right behind a big oak. Perfect cover for trouble-makin’ youngins.
We always had a lot of downtime out there in the dark, waiting for headlights to appear through the trees, so Derek and I would get to talking about stuff. Kid stuff, mostly, like baseball and video games, but sometimes we’d talk about the adult world. We’d talk about it through the lens of two 12-year old relatively sheltered boys, an adult world so abstract and full of strange rituals that it made no sense to our prepubescent minds. We never imagined we’d actually grow up. We assumed we’d be kids until we died, even as we pined for the day we grew into our adult selves, taking trips to the grocery store and talking around the table at Thanksgiving and drinking alcohol. And sex. Sex was, like, the most adult thing we could think of, and of course we had no idea how it worked, so we pieced together the details from various sources of questionable reliability. Mostly, from our friends at school, those who’d claimed to have had it, specifically this kid named Jorge, who seemed so cool and experienced that he must’ve known what he was talking about. He was two years older than us, 14, and even had a little peach fuzz mustache coming in. We thought of him as a man beyond our years.
We assumed we’d be kids until we died, even as we pined for the day we grew into our adult selves, taking trips to the grocery store and talking around the table at Thanksgiving and drinking alcohol.
“Jorge told me the woman’s bagina is on the front of her stomach there,” Derek told me in the woods, holding a couple rocks in his right hand. “He said he’s touched one before. It’s like a wet hole.”
For some reason this made me think of all of the softball players I knew: what if the ball hit them in the stomach and went straight up their bagina? This seemed a very scary, very plausible prospect. Why was no one else concerned about this?
“No way,” I said.
“Yes huh,” Derek continued. “And each bagina is shaped differently. And every guy’s wiener is shaped differently. And the way you find a wife is if your wiener fits in her bagina. You stick it in and it fits like a key and that’s sex.”
I felt so small because Derek knew all this adult stuff and I had no idea. When would I get to touch a bagina like Jorge? I didn’t think it would ever happen. Staring out into the darkness everything felt so far off, like I’d never get to it — the bagina, the alcohol, the loud conversations around the kitchen table — because time passed so slowly back then. Each day felt like a year unto itself, so it seemed impossible that I’d ever grow up. The adult world was merely an illusion, and I would stay a kid forever, a hopeless, hairless kid who’d never find a bagina of his own.
“We should look at each other’s ding dings,” Derek said. “I’ve never seen no one else’s before.”
I felt my face redden.
“OK,” I said. “I never seen one, neither.”
Derek started taking off his shorts, but before he could pull them down, headlights shone through the trees. “Car!” he shouted, yanking up his britches and scrambling to the roadside. Our pile of rocks was at the ready. The car moved closer and the lights lit up the forest in slivers as we took cover behind a couple of huge trunks. Derek was always in charge of these things. He was the one keeping watch, the one who’d shout the command when it was time to pummel the car. I arranged about 10 rocks of various sizes in my right hand and waited for Derek to give the word. I was a pretty good pitcher on my Little League team, probably the best pitcher in the league, actually, on account of we’d won the championship and I was on the mound when we did. I had a pretty good arm, if you want to know the truth. I loved baseball and I’d struck out Rufus McDonald with a curveball to end the championship game, even though my dad said I shouldn’t be throwing curveballs yet, on account of the fact that it could hurt my arm because I was so young. But I liked throwing curveballs, so I did it anyway, I didn’t care what my Da-…
“Go!” Derek shouted.
Derek hurled his handful first and mostly missed. I heard only a few rocks clink against the glass and plastic. Then I wound up like I was on the baseball mound, staring down Rufus with the game on the line, and hurled my rocks as hard as I could. It was a dead strike. They thudded against the passenger side door like a string of firecrackers. I threw my hands up because I was so proud of myself, then I went over to Derek and we high-fived like we’d won the Super Bowl. It was this adrenaline rush we loved, the thrill of the wrong, the high of getting away with stuff we shouldn’t be doing. Derek smiled and gave me a punch on the arm. “Good throw, dude,” he said. “You nailed it!”
The car drove another 50 yards then slammed on its brakes. The tires squealed and the red brake lights were like devil’s eyes on the asphalt. The car was motionless for a few seconds, as if the driver was trying to process what happened, then the thing came careening back toward us in reverse. Derek grabbed my arm and we sprinted into the woods, briars lashing at our ankles. We threw ourselves behind a tree, landing in the soggy dirt, and poked our heads out to see what was going on.
A man was standing at the edge of the woods, silhouetted by the headlights, waving his arms in the air and shouting “Where are you? I know you’re out there! You kids think it’s so goddamn funny to throw rocks at cars, well how about I give you a taste of your own medicine!” He walked to his car, lifted something out of the passenger seat and returned to the woodline, waving a pistol over his head. “This is the third goddamn time this has happened!” he shouted. “If it happens again, I swear to God I’ll find and shoot all of you!” He fired two rounds in the air, two loud pops, then hopped in his car and sped off, squealing tires down that old country road in the middle of the night.
Derek and I looked at each other with wide eyes. In the pale glow of the moonlight I could see the sweat on his forehead, his red hair matted to the skin like it was under plastic. “We should probably get back home, don’t ya think?” he said. I nodded, and we walked through the forest, our hearts beating out of our chests and thorns swimming in our blood. Sticks crunched under our feet as we trudged side-by-side like a couple of Civil War soldiers.
“Say, do you think that guy really would’ve shot us?” I asked.
“No way,” Derek said. “He was a big-time pussy. I could tell.”
We walked in silence for a few more minutes. The moonlight was casting strange shadows on the trees. An old owl was hooting somewhere in the forest and every once and awhile I could see a small star shining above the canopy. Our breathing slowed as the adrenaline drained from our bodies. I touched the back of my left hand and felt a warm liquid and realized I must have cut myself during the commotion. I wiped the blood on the front of my shirt and we kept on in silence, too small to realize we wouldn’t be this young for much longer.
“Do you still want to see mine?” Derek asked.
“See your what?”
“My ding ding.”
“Oh,” I said. “Oh, sure.”
“OK, you have to show me yours, too.”
We were both wearing gym shorts so there wasn’t much to the big reveal. No dramatic unbuttoning of the pants or anything like that, if you get what I’m saying. Derek said on the count of three, we’d both pull our shorts down, and that would be that. I said OK, and Derek counted it down, and in an instant there we were, shorts around our ankles, hairless dongs hanging like snails in the moonlight. My face grew hot, and somewhere in my gut I felt a strange glow of excitement, a man with red eyes smiling behind a door. I couldn’t look Derek in the eyes, on account of my red face, but I could feel him staring at me, staring at it. All at once he moved toward me and put his cold hands on me. He was so close that I could feel his hot Bagel Bites breath on my neck. The red-eyed man howled and something down there stiffened and it felt weird but not bad but I didn’t like it so I jerked back and yanked up my shorts and stood there staring at the ground. When I looked up Derek was facing away from me, fully-clothed and leaning against a tree. The red-eyed man closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Without saying a word, we started back toward the house. We didn’t say anything for the rest of the walk. When we finally got back we snuck in just as quietly as we’d snuck out, and Derek climbed into his bed and I laid down on the futon across the room in the dark. I couldn’t even think about sleep, eyes wide and staring at the ceiling as a slant of moonlight illuminated a fan that spun round and round but didn’t actually cool anything, instead only moved hot air around a hot room. I began to sweat as I heard Derek breathing loudly and quickly and it was all very strange but eventually he stopped breathing like that and was quiet, except for a little snore here-and-there.
I did not sleep, but instead stared at the fan until the sun came up and then went downstairs to have breakfast with Derek and his parents, eggs and bacon and toast, before my mom picked me up in her Chevy Malibu and took me home to my bed where I slept for the rest of the day and through the night. I woke up the next morning and got dressed in a white button-up shirt and khakis and went to church with my parents. My Dad kept staring at me and asking why I looked so tired.
I am grown now and have moved elsewhere. Far away from my hometown. Derek still lives there. He works as a mechanic. We’re still friends, though we barely see each other. We text occasionally, just to check in, just to see how everything’s going. Talk fantasy football and crap like that. Men stuff. But we’ve never discussed that night. Never will. I can’t even be sure it all happened like I remember, because it was so long ago, when we were living in a dreamworld. Maybe I made the whole thing up, and the passage of time solidified the lie as truth, when in reality all we did that night was throw a handful of rocks at a car and there was no man with a gun and we took off running through the woods like a couple of angels who would never die, who would never stop running, who would forever remain in youth. I think you understand what I mean.
Reflections on fatherhood and family history.
When I was in my early 20s, I took a bus to New York City for no reason other than to do it.
I could wake up tomorrow, walk into my front yard and be attacked by a rabid bobcat.