The unfinished basement in our house was divided into two perfectly defined war zones. They butted together to make an L. Essentially, a den and a living room. The den was the long vertical part of the L. There were 3 block walls, 2 were solid and the third had french doors in the middle. They opened into our lawn. The den was ideal if you wanted to put distance between yourself and the missiles that were about to be fired.
The living room, which I’ll call the western front because living room doesn’t sound much like a war zone and western front is the only name I can currently think of, was wide but the back wall was close to the boundary line which is where the 2 zones meet. There were more places to hide on the western front but you had less time to dodge which increased your chances of getting “drilled”. It had a fireplace which formed a great column on one side and 4 huge windows on the opposite side. The windows were on the same side as the french doors.
It’s night time and my brother Blayne’s friend DJ is sleeping over. DJ is a pitcher and he can throw the ball harder than anyone we know. “DJ’s on my team!” claims Landon, the youngest brother. His logic is because he is the youngest he gets DJ. We argue for a bit. Blayne and I are on the same team. Blayne is the middle brother, and I am the oldest. Blayne has a really good arm, though not quite like DJs. Mine is just average. Overtime, we have saved up our money and bought several softball sized inflated rubber balls. We are obsessed with dodge ball but we add a twist. We play in the dark with forts.
The lights are on now and we are taking toy boxes, tables, couch cushions, and pillows and making forts to hide behind. We spend a lot of time building our forts. We make tunnels, peep holes, and pillow shields. We’ve strategically placed exits on the sides and laid pillows on the ground so we could jump over our fort if it were an emergency. They have to be good. They have to be strong. They have to be safe.
We are ready. The lights are out. The balls are on the boundary line and it’s time to play. “Ready….Go!”. It’s dark but our eyes adjust quickly and it’s easy to see the shadows of our opponents on the western front. Blayne runs for a ball. I immediately jump behind the fort. I don’t want to get hit, I know what’s coming.
Blayne changed his mind and has retreated to the fort. The western front is closer to the boundary so they reach the balls first. DJ and Landon sling whistlers at us. Crack. One hits the toy box that I’m crouched behind. I can see their shadows through a peep hole. We count to make sure all the balls are thrown before we peak our heads out. They have retreated so we gather the ammo.
This goes back and forth for a while. We are laughing and having a time. We count as the projectiles hit. 1, 2, 3, 4. Ok, we are good. I peak my head up but I hear that familiar whistle. My eyes get big as the black object is getting bigger. A flash of bright lights. The sting as the rubber wraps around my face. I feel the tears forming. I miscalculated. A ball has bounced back to DJ. DJ never misses his target. I never see it coming. The game is over. The pain is too much.
This is how our games went. We were boys. We played until someone was injured or until a florescent tube exploded on the floor. We always had a good time, that is unless you were the one who got injured but it was always worth it. There are so many stories that live in that basement. So many good times, injuries, broken lights, broken windows, stitches, and epic games of wall ball which I’m sure I’ll tell you about later.
I saw DJ’s Mom & Dad in the grocery story the other day. I felt tears swell up in my heart. DJ was a special kid. One of kind. One taken way too early. It’s impossible to forget him. I want them to know that we still think about him. I don’t know how say it. I hug his mom and we chat for just a bit. It’s hard to know how express that. As I was leaving, I found this memory nestled in the archives of my 30 year old mind. I wanted to share it. It hardly does justice to DJ, but it is a fond memory.