“You still playing with toy guns?” my cousin Derek asked, as he smirked with just enough sarcasm in his voice to know he meant for it to hurt. He was three years older.
“Yeah,” I said with a nervous hike in my voice. It was a gut punch. I already knew.
Each game I played, each mission to save the world, to defeat the worst, most diabolical villains began to feel lamer. The triggers on the guns were wearing; even the carefully detailed black spray paint on the water guns were starting to show their true colors – fluorescent green and orange. My shoulders felt a bit too big for my Henry rifle. Some of my disguises were feeling a bit snug.
I was twelve years old and in a new middle school, making new friends. There were new girls too that I was so excited about getting to know. Especially Stefanie. My favorite t-shirt was a deep red with the Abercrombie insignia. I had the cologne to match. My hair was neatly spiked up each morning to get on the bus to school.
Something was shifting in me. I knew the desire to a punch a pillow across a room pretending it was a bad guy would never really go away; nor the sense of adventure and scoping out my next greatest stunt.
By far my best stunt was getting the red and yellow cozy coupe in motion as I jumped up on the roof and rode it the stair case, where I then jumped over the banister to grab onto the hanging ab straps fixed to a pull up bar, sliding them across the staircase like a Tarzan rope swing to the other side of the railing, and into a pile of pillows. At least indoors that was my best. Or just as exhilarating, were the hundreds of passes riding my bike at full speed under the oak tree and jumping up to grab the nearest branch while letting my bike continue the journey into the street and down to the cul-de-sac. That stunt admittedly was inspired by Zoro, when he rode his horse and jumped up to grab the tree.
No, none of that lust for adventure would ever leave me. I wouldn’t let it. It’s when I felt the most alive. I felt like in those moments, those secret missions, I was living my destiny. This is what I was born to do.
I would play again a few more games, despite my cousin’s harsh remarks, or the fact that I wouldn’t tell any of my new friends when we would meet at the mall on Friday night. Just one more quick game.
The character for this mission was a mix of The Shadow and Zoro. My American flag bathrobe served as the outer garment to conceal two .45’s strapped to my waist. I also had other utilities that I would need to dismantle a nuclear bomb and infiltrate athe enemy base. I had a grenade, a knife, a rope, and a tracking device.
I put on my black mask that I cut out the holes for the eyes from an arm of a t-shirt. I ran down the stairs into the basement and was immediately surrounded by bullets tracing by my head. I tried to be stealth, but I tripped a wire. I retreated to an underground pipe outside the building. I took a deep breath, broke in a side entrance and began firing all my rounds against the enemies. There were hundreds. I reached the reactor, but I was out of ammo. I decoded the bomb and dismantled it. I had to get out of the building now and get to safety.
I used my grenade against the twenty guys chasing me in the reactor room. I escaped going through the smoke of the grenade, out of the window and swung down the fire escape with my rope. A few more guys approached; I threw a knife right into his head. And one more, while I was climbing on the fire escape, he threw a punch as I simultaneously grabbed his arm, and sliced him in the throat with my hand, and threw him off the building. I was safe got to my getaway car and made it back up the basement stairs and all the way up to my childhood bedroom.
I took off my robe and my utility belt. I put my guns in the dresser behind my bed, I took off my mask and held it in my hands. Tears strolled down my face. I knew it was the last mission. It was time. I was getting too old. And it just wasn’t the same anymore. “I’ll go into retirement,” I thought, which I did.
The years passed by with lots of firsts – bar mitzvahs, high school, and girlfriends and kisses, college, drinking and swimming Division-1, and first jobs and apartments, experimenting, and so on. I’ve thought about those countless missions over the years with warmth and admiration for my childhood imagination. I had gotten rid of most of my tools, gave them away, put the plastic in recycling. I did keep a few guns that were still in the best shape and stored behind my childhood bed in the storage dresser.
I’d even take them out every several years to admire the detail I put into making them look real. I’d show friends and girlfriends to give them a sense of the kid I used to be. I still had my rocket pack that my dad built for me to be the Rocketeer. But those days were just a shimmering memory.
We all became adults in the blink of time, and then my family started grow their family.
And one day, the next generation of cousins came over to my parent’s home for a summer barbeque.
My little cousin Benjamin of the next generation had heard about the guns I used to play with from his mom because he liked playing guns too. “Cousin Jason,” he affectionately called me. “I heard you have guns; can we play with your guns?”
“Sure!” I said, “What do you want to play?”
“Let’s travel back in time to stop the worst villain from taking over the world. We’re going to need as many weapons as we can get! And we have to hurry! We are running out of time!” Jonah exclaimed.
And so, we loaded our ammunition into the few relics I had left and ran down to the basement to save the world…which we did.