Dad, I want to go to Diamonds Direct.”
“Because I need a crystal to make a lightsaber.”
The engine of any Jedi’s sword is a special gemstone that bottles The Force and turns it into a beam of lethal light. So in Levon’s 5-year-old brain, Diamonds Direct is a necessary supply station. Beyond this simple conclusion, he also believes that lightsabers exist, and that he can build one with some Elmer’s and a hole-puncher. More importantly, he feels in his heart that I will buy this special ingredient, giving him permission to then use the energy sword against me or anything else that crosses him. Levon wants control of everything. Give him the reins or watch out.
Of course, the controls aren’t always handed over, but he takes that in stride and throws out words that he has learned, mostly from his older brother, Atticus, whenever he needs to get his opposition across. “Idiot-shut-up!” Levon blends the words together, changing a command into a single noun, which he then uses against us. His mother and I are both idiot-shut-ups. Levon doesn’t understand what he is saying, but he knows we don’t like it,
so out the words fly. We watch our walking Mount St. Helens erupt. Then, it happens. We do the worst thing you can do. We laugh. I know it’s horrible, but Levon’s rage doesn’t fit his hang-up. Then, our 5-year-old drops his a-bomb: “I hate you.”
I can’t remember saying any bad word to my mom or dad. I knew them. All I had to do was turn on HBO after eight o’clock. But I was afraid of being sealed in my room until summer or feeling a throbbing buttock. I stayed clear of any family hearings. I did things on the sneak, like my first cigarette from Grandmother Lillian’s purse. Words weren’t my problem. I just didn’t want to get caught and miss my next adventure.
In the last few months, I’ve found myself re-thinking my own rites of passage, especially those that I understood as a kid, versus the ones that only now have given me meaning. In looking back, I see that many came from one specific weekend.
When I was six years old, Cooper Baldwin invited me over for my first sleepover in Powhatan, Virginia. His dad picked me up, and we drove for half a day just to get there. Back then, Powhatan was another state. On and on we went, out into the country, toward a world I didn’t know. The anticipation that comes from going on a trip was born for me in that moment. Cooper had been talking up his place for weeks. Before I even arrived, I knew I would take to the country life. After all, Cooper had a motorcycle, an Atari 2600, a BB gun, and matches.
Built in the 1830s, Cooper’s L-shaped house looked like something out of a Lone Ranger episode. With a 2-story porch, I could close my eyes and see the shootout and the stagecoach taking off. There was little grass out front, just dirt, and a paddock. I brought along my sister’s vinyl-green suitcase, looking like the city mouse that I was.
Just beyond the wood-stove and the tired pine planks, part of the house was sealed off, in need of major renovation. Exposed pipes and spaghetti wires made that side feel bizarre and dangerous, like a no-man’s land no kid was supposed to see. Upstairs, Cooper’s room had little heat, but he had cowboy boots and pocket knives. Everywhere I looked, his dangerous stuff called me to be an outlaw.
That first night, we blew out his dad’s stereo listening to “The Gambler,” and he showed me Pong. We took his Daisy BB gun to the creek and shot bullfrogs. When I think about it, I don’t remember seeing an adult after breakfast. They disappeared and let us run any way we chose. We cruised all over, off to the country store for more bait and BBs, down to the barn to look for kittens, and toward the abandoned camper by the fishing hole for snakeskins. I got splinters and blisters and wore a bandanna around my neck.
At night, we built a bonfire by ourselves. We sat next to the flames, just the two of us, throwing in .22 bullets that we had taken from his father’s dresser. Cooper said, “The hole in the top means they are blanks.” I didn’t learn until I was in my early twenties that a hollow-point .22 caliber bullet expands on contact, and that all of that Powhatan gunpowder was definitely still inside. At Cooper’s command, we tossed handfuls into the flames and listened to them pop like M-80s, unphased. They nearly killed us, but we had no clue. Today, every chapter of that sleepover lives inside me: trying to start a motorcycle; tricking a horse on a lead to trot faster; kicking his sister in the shin – being free.
Last weekend, my older son Atticus packed his Darth Vader suitcase for his first sleepover. He left our woods and our creek, and headed into the Fan where he walked the sidewalks and ate the best pizza in his life (his words). When I picked him up, I looked through the front door’s glass and watched a Nerf battle unravel on carpeted steps. The first thing Atticus said to me was, “Dad, I want to live here.”
“I know you do,” I said.
Then, we got in the car, and that Diamonds Direct radio spot started selling gems once again. As I buckled up, I thought about Levon, my other boy, and his unruly temper. I realized then that he needs his own adventure. So tomorrow, I’m picking him up, and we are going to look at crystals.