What goes up, must come down, unfortunately

What goes up, must come down, unfortunately

A crab apple fits nicely in a 7-year-old’s hand.

It’s an ideal projectile, once you pull off the stem, and has just the right heft to be aerodynamically sound.

From a distance of 50 feet, not many things found in a suburban neighborhood would be as accurate; therefore it was my weapon of choice.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When you’re a kid, you’re always looking for ways to pass the time, especially when it’s spring and baseball season has yet to begin. You can knock out your homework in a matter of minutes — second grade is probably the easiest stop on the k-8 highway — and there’s not always a lot to do after dinner.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, kids outnumbered adults by a 10-to-1 margin, and we ran free, hardly ever going inside, even when it was raining, and it wasn’t unusual to have snow for Easter.

We clustered like electrons around an atomic nucleus, bouncing off one another as we dissipated the energy that was in such large supply. Sometimes we played nice; other times we didn’t.

But even at our worst — rough games of red rover, which ought to have been outlawed or at least rigidly supervised — we didn’t mean each other harm. The streets were paved, and sidewalks were plentiful, and we knew we had it golden, so we mostly got along.

One kid broke his arm, but that was a freak accident involving an idle steam shovel and a friendly dare. Another guy got his foot stuck underneath a cyclone fence, but once we pried off his P.F. Flyer, he was good to go. And there was always someone trying to jump from limb to limb, but kids did that everywhere. Didn’t they?

We played hide and seek, we traded baseball cards, we built forts, we had Kool-Aid stands, we pedaled our festooned bikes in holiday parades, and we stayed up late on Friday nights, watching “Chiller Theater,” draining bottles of Cotton Club grape and wolfing down fistfuls of Jiffy-Pop.

Sometimes we went to the movies for real.

Once, a buddy and I went with his father to see a film called “The Longest Day,” which was exactly that. Another time Mom and Dad took us to “How the West Was Won,” which was endless too.

And we had library cards and passes to the pool, we wandered in the woods and played in construction sites, we went to school and to church, and we listened to the radio.

WCOL was my favorite station for music, and at night you could listen to KMOX, all the way from St. Louis, where Bob Gibson pitched for the Cardinals.

One of my friends spent weeks and weeks fiddling with his father’s high-end hi-fi, faithfully transcribing in a loose-leaf notebook every single station he could find as he adjusted the dial with surgical precision.

“New Orleans last night,” he confided one morning as we walked to school. “Boston the night before.”

We bought models of our favorites from the monster movies, and I was particularly proud of my Phantom of the Opera. I can still smell the Testors paint I used, a scent as nostalgic and evocative as the turkey Mom roasted for special occasions.

In short life was full and fine and fantastic.

In that idyllic world then, imagine a 7-year-old boy picking up a crab apple. He’s not trying to hurt anyone; actually he’s not trying to do anything, really. He’s just about to do something really dumb.

When I freeze-frame that moment, the crucial one before I let it fly, I’m struck by my lack of motivation, my guileless stupidity, the utter lack of comprehension that often accompanies random acts of childhood ignorance.

But there’s no excuse for the pain I caused. I knew that as soon as I understood what was about to happen.

Picture a boy on a bicycle. He’s just learned to ride a two-wheeler, having jettisoned the training wheels, his father standing, watching proudly as his boy steadies himself on the machine, mastering Newton’s First Law.

From the other direction, a little girl walks on the same sidewalk, heading home, having finished a sing-song session of jump rope in a friend’s driveway.

They are headed right for each other, neither aware I’m standing across the street with a crab apple in my right hand. I call out to the boy, a couple of years younger, friends with my brother.

He looks over at me, sees my arm go back and follows the path of the crab apple, losing control of his bike, which swerves and nearly collides with the little girl.

In a mad, crazy second, he flies over the handlebars and sails face first into the curb, trying to break his fall with outstretched hands. He comes up screaming, bleeding from his mouth, clutching what look like broken teeth, hideously victimized.

How do you apologize for doing something like that?

You do what you can to make things right, but when you’re 7 years old, that’s not much. All you can do is accept the punishment you’ve got coming, the one you so richly deserve.

Dad sentenced me to solitary confinement for a month. I could leave the house only for school and church. The rest of the time I spent in the bedroom I shared with my sister and my brother, but they didn’t come up the stairs until they were ready for bed.

It was a sobering quarantine, endless hours spent thinking about actions and their consequences.

From the dormer window, I could look down on the scene of my crime: the crab apple tree, the street, the sidewalk.

I could see the children playing hopscotch, flying kites, riding their bikes, sitting on the curb waiting for the ice cream truck to arrive.

I could hear their voices.

But mostly I stared at the floor, watching the shadows lengthen as the light faded and nighttime drew nearer. Tomorrow, I knew, would be easier, one more day crossed off my shameful calendar, another step closer toward joining the world, reunited with normal.

In the years since I threw that crab apple, I’ve done my best to be a better person, to benefit from my mistake, to think before I act, to avoid being the bringer of pain.

And sitting alone doesn’t bother me.

As we’re all learning these days, it’s OK not to leave the house.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load