We were the children of soldiers and airmen, and war ruled our blood. We terrorized the neighborhood with plastic lightsabers, garish nerf guns, and barbaric stories. We staged elaborate battles, splitting the neighborhood into warring factions with which to destroy each other. We took our inspiration from George Washington, Sun Tzu, and Obi Wan Kenobi. We took action figures, Polly Pockets, and stuffed animals to play out stories filled with strategies and betrayal. We took over each other’s houses, spreading the battles from the kitchen to the bedrooms. We were stopped, only barely, by the National Anthem playing, a herald telling us that it was 5 o’ clock and time to head home.
Saturday evening Mass tamed my brother and I. Everyone else in the neighborhood went to Sunday morning, leaving us distraction free and tethered to the pews. We sat, and we fidgeted, and we sang. Mostly, we waited for mass to be over. I watched a beetle lazily make its way across the floor. I counted the number of women who had short hair versus the number of women who had long. My toddler brother quietly drove hot wheels up and down the pew. My older brother, who had always been better at sitting still, sat piously, fidgeting far less than I. We were quiet, we were respectful, we were calm.
When our friends returned from church on Sunday, the games were back on. We vaulted chain link fences and burrowed through the empty baseball fields. We scaled the dugout and balanced on giant drain pipes. A yellowjacket stung my finger when I unwittingly seized the plastic tubing on a fence and smashed the bug’s nest beneath. We rampaged through the neighborhood, our mother’s calling each other to find out where the gang was. We drew on rocks, we scaled jungle gyms, we spun each other on roundabouts until we felt like puking. We ripped our skin on trees and ate cherry blossoms. We raced across burning sand and knocked each other down playing riotous games of tag. We galloped our bicycles down the street, whizzing over the sidewalk, and screeching up to a friend’s house. Our bikes piled on lawns like a fallen house of cards.
Friends came and went like green waves of the Potomac River. Often, we went to a friend’s house to find out they were moving and would soon be gone. We squeezed the last hours of the night out before we were forced to go to bed. When we woke up the next morning, our friends would be gone and their houses would be empty. New friends would move in where neighbors once were and they wouldn’t get our games or like our interests. They wouldn’t like us or our families. They would invite everyone else over for a party except us. They made fun of us and the branch of the military our parents were in. They became friends with my brother’s friends instead of him, my friends would suddenly think I wasn’t fun anymore and that these new kids were. Not that my brother and I needed them. The neighborhood was empty and big, we could rule over another section, a bigger section, a cooler section.
Slowly, our pack began to split. Friends would move out or move on. New friends would not take their places. There were rumors among the children that the neighborhood was being emptied and would soon be torn down to be replaced with newer homes. Friends went away and they didn’t come back. The neighborhood emptied. My brother sat little green men up along my polly pocket houses like they were secret service. I sat in a tree. I read books on the playground. I taught myself how to do the monkey bars. I walked around and around the baseball field, kicking the dust. I learned how to ride without training wheels. The neighborhood turned into a ghost town. My dad announced he was retiring, and we would be moving. I was excited.
The neighborhood belonged to my brothers and I. Ruling was lonely. We missed our friends, we missed our games, and we missed our battles. We only had each other. The only chaos we owned was within our house, boxes and movers, bubble wrap, and draining rooms. Slowly, life faded away from our house and the neighborhood.
One day, we loaded into the car and drove away. We left our house, passed the empty homes of our old friends, and turned away. Suddenly, surprisingly, I was struck with tears and the miserable realization that I would not see this neighborhood again.