I was reminded today of a concerning game I devised at age 5. That was a long time ago and wouldn’t seem to have any reflection on who I am today except what I came up with was so out of the ordinary, it made me wonder less about the events themselves and more about what they said about me.
We lived in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee and I was playing outside at the bottom of the hill in our front yard with my then best friend George Baker. George was as easygoing and likable a guy as I’ve ever met and I was glad to have him as a friend. He was tall and athletic but I was able to persuade him to play games I made up even if they didn’t make a great deal of sense and even if they happened to put him at bodily risk. George was a good sport.
A few weeks earlier I had broken George’s thumb playing Batman and Robin with him. I asked George to play The Penguin and I played Batman because I wanted to jump off the bed and on top of my 5 year old friend George (now The Penguin) just like Batman had done in an episode we just watched. I put on a towel cape, got into the mindset of the caped crusader about to rescue the city of Gotham and got a running start on my parent’s bed and pounced just like Batman on little George. But unlike the Penguin, George started crying like a baby after I jumped on him. Whaling, in fact. I tried to get him to be quiet because he was going to ruin our game but he wouldn’t stop until his mom came in. The next week George came over to play with a cast on his thumb and I was told I couldn’t jump on him anymore for awhile.
This day we were playing outside and looking for something new to do that didn’t involve capes, jumping or reenactments from Batman and Robin. I don’t know how I came up with the game I’m about to describe, but I did. All by myself. And in just a matter of seconds.
I reminded George that we both liked to run and having a cast on his thumb didn’t prevent him from running. He agreed. But how could I make plain old running interesting? I told George to step down right beside me on the side of the road that ran in front of our house. The speed limit was about 35 miles an hour but often cars, when they would drive by, would go even faster.
I said we’d wait until the next car came and when it got really close to us–maybe 10 feet away–we’d take off running as fast as we possibly could run when I said “Go!” and try to get across the street before the car hit us. I guess, according to my game, if we made it across without getting flattened by the car, we won. If that didn’t happen, I guess that meant we lost. Frankly, I hadn’t fully thought through all the details at this point. But I was ready to get started.
We stood beside the road for a couple of minutes waiting for the next car so we could get started. Finally, we saw one coming. Going about the speed limit, all I remember about the car was it was a dark green color and an older car. As it approached –and got within my “adrenaline zone” of within 10 feet –I shouted “Go!” and took off running as fast as I possibly could. I wasn’t wearing my usual superhero cape but felt I had some sort of superpower as I took off running. Think Flash Gordon not Batman. Except that superhuman feeling didn’t last for long.
They say baseball players can see a 90 mph pitch in slow motion so that they can even see the seams on the ball slowly spinning before they swing. After about 5 paces of hard run, I could see the gleaming metal front fender of that old dark green car just a few feet away from me–and it was moving in slow motion.
And here’s the hopeful part. I may be an adrenaline junkie; but I’m I’m not stupid. OK. I am stupid but not really, really super stupid. Anyway, at that moment I made a brilliant split second decision to turn around and run back the other way to the side of the road. And I did.
I looked up and there was my sensible friend George just standing there looking at me with this goofy scared and confused grin on his face as if to say he was sorry for not running with me—but also saying that he never even considered running with me and couldn’t believe I was serious.
The car came to a screeching halt and the woman driving was white as a ghost, mortified at what I had just tried to do. She took a few moments to gather herself and catch her breath. She was still in a state of mild shock and with her voice quavering she scolded me (and George, even though he hadn’t done anything) and made me promise her I would never ever try anything like that again. I promised I wouldn’t.
It finally began to sink into me that my idea was, in fact, a very bad one despite how much fun it may have sounded when I first thought of it. And it did sound pretty exciting. I just didn’t do a good job of thinking the game through to the end before proposing it.
I can’t believe, in the first place, I would ever think up such a game. Yeah, I was only 5 but that’s not a good enough excuse. I didn’t bother to think. I just had a fun idea pop into my head –and went for it. Along with anyone else I could get to join me.
That was 45 years ago and my friend George Baker is alive and well and has a nice family of his own and many new friends besides me. And I’m alive and well, too, but had to wonder what this long ago incident says about me. They say kids who drink alcohol are “self-medicating.” Maybe the risky games that I made up was a form of “self-medicating.” A 5 year old jonesing for an adrenaline hit.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’m overthinking it all. Perhaps I was just an adventurous kid who overshot himself with that particular game. And there’s nothing more to read into it. Maybe.
A few weeks later my dad pulled into the driveway and found me playing by myself in the backyard –not the front yard near that dangerous road. This time I was climbing up the side of a wall where my parents parked their car. I had climbed all the way to the top and was hanging by my hands and had gotten stuck. My hands were getting very tired and if I let go I would drop about six feet and that looked like a bad idea. So, I decided to just hang tight and wait for someone to drive into the driveway and rescue me. My plan worked. My dad came home and helped me down before my hands got too tired.
Another day; another game.
But also the beginning of the end of my days as an adrenaline junkie. I had hit my bottom. I guess hanging by the whites of my fingertips made me re-think things.
I can’t remember what game I made up after that. But if memory serves, my parents started buying me lots of board games after that. And I became one heck of a Chinese Checkers player.