The Ruins

There was something about being a boy here. Being a boy here meant our farts could shake the trees, our burps could scare the birds. Being a boy here meant only the blue parental-like sky watched over us. Being a boy here meant we could take a punch, could give a punch. Being a boy meant we could roar profanities without the fear of parents, without repercussions, just the echoes of whichever word that we would huck, like spit, into the air, and how those words, like globs of mucus, came back down and how we weren’t afraid of them falling back on us, how sometimes we’d catch them back into our mouths. Being a boy meant no crying, however severe the pain—a knee-scrape, plug it with mud—a bee sting, squeeze out the stinger—a jammed thumb, crack the socket. Being a boy here meant without consequence—we looked when ripping off scabs and didn’t care if it hurt and maybe we wanted it to hurt—it meant we wanted a scar, just for a story to tell—and here, in this place, there was a story to tell, and we called it The Ruins, a neighborhood that we believed was being built on an Indian burial ground, that the tribe called the Lenni-Lenape had cursed the land, the soil—and the acres of underdeveloped houses, the slabs, the cement foundations, the PVC pipes, the reinforcing steel bars—that there was proof, that if we hand-over-hand dug deep in the dirt, we’d find the evidence, the arrowheads, the bones—and like those bones that were graves in the dirt, we told stories about the dirt, about the bones, about how they got there, about the violence, the sieges between the Tribe and the Man, about teepees being burnt, about the Braves emerging from the soot, about their bodies covered in war paint, about the their eagle feathers, about their retaliation—their spears and bows and arrows and tomahawks and clubs—about killing the Man and removing his scalp—and how much fun we had imagining the very real carnage, and how we’d retell it, reenact it, how we hid behind the half-built cement blocks and threw rocks and said Geronimo as those rocks descended, how we chased each other down yelling—heya heya heya, and when captured, twisted each other’s arms, wringing the skin into an Indian Burn, how we’d find long branches and hurl them like spears at each other’s backs, how we’d uncover what we thought were relics, something old and clay-looking in the earth, how we’d sit Indian Style under that sky that turned colors, turned how blood turns like that time when we punched some kid in the mouth who said all the Indians were Indian Givers, how then his lip bled, and the blood dripped in the dirt, and how it made us happy to see him hurt, and then how it all looked like the sky—how we talked about punching that kid under those ebbing stars and pretended twigs were peace-pipes and smoked the air and give each other names like: Black Hawk, Sitting Bull, Iron Tail—and this was the language we used, though didn’t understand it—didn’t understand how we, not Indians, not Native Americans, appropriated their culture—and though we tried to honor them, us boys from a small town called Oschummoonk, “The place of big horn,” and though Native Americans really did live here—on our streets: Ottawa, Hiawatha, Cutchoque—and how our mascots, the Brave, the Renegade, the Chief, were celebrated in our schools, that were, too, named after the Lenni-Lenape—but even then, it was not our story and not our history to tell, and those names and those places were not a dedication but a remembrance of a people who lost their land, whose land was stolen, whose people were killed—this land is your land and this land is my land—and how they were gone, the Lenni-Lenape, and how the Man reclaimed it for themselves, this place, The Ruins—and this was where we found them and where we tried to find ourselves.

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Neither of us can comfortably bend our minds around the gap between leaving and having been left behind, even for a brave possibility.