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The Days of Maple Swords
Leaning in the front corner of my tiny, overstuffed closet is a well-worn, beaten and beloved stick. Carefully crafted from the branch of a maple sapling, the weapon is light, maneuverable and deadly. It was my Excalibur, my Curtana, my Vorpal blade. It was soaked with the blood of my many invisible enemies, and with it I fought for friendship, life, and honor. Now it sits collecting dust, waiting for a pair of hands to take it up in battle once again. Until then, the branch is a reminder to me, of the time before reality.
“OK, the moms are talking again, so we should definitely have time for a game.”
“Well what do you want to play?”
“How about Vikings?”
“We played that yesterday, and we already exhausted the plotline.” I retorted, slumping into the couch cushions that were already strewn about the floor. “I want to play fantasy this time. We haven’t done that in a while.”
And with that settled, our little group of four proceeded to brainstorm our new and exotic aliases.
“OK, I’ll be an elven messenger, with some sort of treaty or something to deliver.” I said.
“Well what’s your name?”
“Hmm … How about Elia, that sounds elven.”
“Tsh, too easy.” My blue eyed rival would smirk. “You always want to be an elf. Then I’ll be the assassin hired by the human overlord to take you out. You can be my partner.” He said, pointing to my sister. “You can have throwing knives and poison darts and stuff, and use your super-acrobat moves to totally own the enemy. But I want a sword.”
“Sweet.” My sister nodded, her short shock of blonde hair just brushing the point between her brows.
“I’ll be a mercenary.” His brother said. “My axe goes to the highest bidder.”
I laughed. His characters were almost as predictable as mine. “Fine, how about I hired you as my body guard. Frankly I don’t want to be cornered up a tree again.”
The blue eyes glinted. “You know if you were better at hiding, you wouldn’t end up in the tree.”
I stuck out my tongue obnoxiously and felt a sharp jab in my ribs. With an indignant threat thrown in his general direction, we would be out the door and into the woods, finding our weapon stashes and staking out forts.
After running a few miles back and forth across the huge property, having an epic swordfight, hiding in the chicken coop, being tied to a tree, chasing my captors to hell and back and exacting my vengeance, I would collapse on the couch, dehydrated, panting, covered in pine pitch and wearing a stupid grin on my face. He would grin back, and I knew that the battle was not over yet.
But then, it was time to go home. Our rematch would have to wait for another day.
And so time passed, game after game. And things changed. We changed.
Puberty visited the blue eyed boy and me first. Though our friendship never wavered, something was different. We couldn’t fight like children, as we had once done, wrestling with flying fists and hair pulling. We couldn’t be raw and uncivilized. And so we resorted to milder forms of torture. A poke here, a blistering comment there, shoves and enraged slaps across the face when one of us crossed the line. Like adults, and yet still so juvenile.
Our parents watched us carefully, knowing that we were getting to “that age”. And inevitably the question came.
“Do you think of him as anything other than your brother?”
In that question, I saw everything that I treasured about our friendship threatened. Because if I answered yes, everything would change. There would be no more battles with maple swords. We would most definitely not be “kids” anymore.
And so I lied.
It preserved our little group for a while, but just the presentation of the question had set us on edge, and whether we were aware of it or not, we began to grow apart. We were afraid to get too close, lest we slip on the tightrope between childhood and adolescence.
High school was the straw that broke the back of our childhood adventures. Our group remained friends, but age, grades, maturity and new people pushed us apart. The blue eyed boy and I barely saw each other that first year. Our classes were on different days, and even though we made the same friends, we didn’t make them together. He found new girls to tease, and consequently, I found new boys worthy of my contempt.
But it wasn’t the same.
High school was a battle ground, but I couldn’t solve my problems by busting down the door, brandishing my weapon and screaming out the depths of my soul with an earth shattering battle cry. That simply wasn’t done. And as I watched him grow up and care about other people, I realized what we had lost when we had tucked our maple swords in our closets and surrendered to reality.
Fantasy, Samurai and Ninjas, Vikings, Pirates, Dragons … Everything unreal. Everything we were and what we wanted to be. It was distilled in those childhood games. The conquering and clever warriors, the brothers and sisters fighting for survival, the apprentice striving to become something great – they were more real to us than any conversation in a crowded hallway could ever be. By opening up our imaginations to one another, we had opened up our hearts, our very selves. We had known each other then. Really known each other – like a bibliophile knows every page of a treasured tome that has been enjoyed over and over. It had been a different kind of love, an understanding and a mutual trust without emotional consequence, given freely.
But now there was a price – and I was unsure I was ready to pay.
And so the bond we sealed with our crossed maple blades was lost.
But maybe … not lost.
The old blade is smooth under my hands, the bark whittled away to reveal the hardwood beneath. The snag of a chip brushes my palm as I grasp the tip of the sword, probably broken off in some long forgotten fight. This old, beaten stick holds memories no photo album could capture. This is my treasure. So I keep it hidden away, just like I did in our games all those years ago. While this knobby, useless piece of wood holds a place in my heart, our bond can never be lost. But still it sleeps, hidden in the closets of my heart, while I remember what it meant to be real, back in the days of maple swords.