The Nights of Yore

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Many moons ago I lived on the west side of my hometown, which at the time wasn’t as rough of a neighborhood as it is now. It was filled with middle class, hard-working factory types. Men and women who got up everyday, went to work with the lunch bucket and then came home. I won’t call them good people, because “good” and “evil” are all too often overused in our daily lives. What I will say is this – I grew up with little in the way of a fear of people. Now this doesn’t mean I didn’t avoid people as a teenager, that was all a fun game though.

In my teenage years I was hard at work on playing out the next adventure with whatever D&D character I was using at the time. For me and some of my friends our days were merely a preamble before throwing dice and living our nights in the world of sword and sorcery. We would flit from house to house, desperate to find a mother or father who would let us commandeer their dining room or basement for hours on end. Looking back on it, I have no doubt that those same parents were happy to have us somewhere they could see us, and thus not worry about where we might be at.

But kids like us were the kind you couldn’t let get bored.

As fun as those games were – and trust me I spent so much time gaming as a teenager I can only remember some of the stories – they didn’t always keep our attention. When night fell we changed into ravenous beasts who prowled the back roads and side streets of Rockford, looking for the next challenge. Was it possible to sneak into this person’s backyard and yank their clothes off the clothesline? Could you navigate a route through this alley and not set off any of the motion sensor floodlights? Are you gutsy enough to steal this ceramic statue off this porch and run down the street with it? Yes we were hellions, and we loved every minute of it.

We had guidelines and rules. Chief among them was making it back to whatever house we were staying at for the night and getting back inside undetected. We became the local band of thieves and robbers, taking our internal struggles for acceptance and brotherhood out on the random hard-working, middle class people we grew up with. Thing is, none of this was personal. We had neighbors we didn’t like, but I don’t remember any specific one that we targeted purposely. Our merry band of night children stalked the streets out of a need for something more than what we were offered or could imagine with dice and paper.

The games went on for years and so did our antics. By the time we were into our mid teens though, the choice of sport had increased in difficulty and danger. Suddenly a brand new piece of equipment had been placed in our inventory, the automobile. Now the group that was once restricted to a six to eight block radius (depending on who’s house we were at) had the ability to travel much longer distances. And so we did, playing our choice of games on the east side of town. We drove to nearby cornfields and let the summer roll out in front of us at local festivals. I spent a good chunk of those summers far away from my house, determined to exorcise the demons my father had left inside me. It felt good to have the wind in my hair sitting shotgun and seeing the open road, but it wasn’t a perfect solution for what ailed us. There was only so much gas money to go around, and while we were free to do what we wanted on most nights, it hadn’t come with a fancy unlimited budget. Let me be clear too, we eventually got caught doing those things that should not be done. The long arm of the law nabbed us one day when we were too busy doing something stupid and not paying attention to the reality of life. We paid for our crimes against the populace, including fines, community service, and having our parents pick us up at the police station.

On those nights we did get out and into the streetlight accented darkness to prowl the street by foot or car, we were on top of the world. We felt the same feeling any teenager does, that surge of invincibility steeped in a rush of puberty inducing chemicals. It has given me a good perspective on how to approach the coming years with my oldest, who is creeping closer to those nights of yore. There was no umbrella of social media to track my every movement or act as a chain of custody for illicit evening activities, a fact I am forever thankful for. I’ve tried my best to remind him that those days and nights when I took advantage of my youth and inexperience with the legal system are over. The law does not treat rabble rousers the same way anymore, and I hope that he will make smarter decisions based off my warnings.

The call of those nights was hard to dismiss as a young man looking for adventure. Nights when I learned more about myself and the person I wanted to be than I ever did sitting in any classroom. I longed for a life unscripted, one I could mold and make my own, which might describe my desire to write stories. I never stopped being that kid, I just channeled him into a form where he won’t get arrested.

 

Addendum:

We ran our last game at the house I’ve lived in for the past decade last night. The nights of gaming have come to a close in this place, and now Em and I can continue the process of preparing to move. Boxes aplenty await our things, with tape and sharpie markers to make sure they get placed close to where they are supposed to go in the new house. I’m lucky to have a long list of friends and family who will help us transition during such a cold month. I admit December isn’t an ideal month to move, but having a new home for the holidays will be nice. We have worked hard to make this happen, harder than most know, and yet there are miles to go still.

I received a rejection notice for my recent short story submission, which isn’t the response I was looking for. I haven’t let it discourage me of course, and I’ll pitch it around to a few other places before deciding what to do with it. The story isn’t long enough to give any thought to Kindle, but if it doesn’t take hold somewhere I may release it here.

Next week is Thanksgiving, the high holiday for turkey, pumpkin pie, and of course desserts. I hope you get the opportunity to spend it with the people you care about.