Suteki Da Ne
“Yeah? Well I triple-dog-dare you to carve your name on the Gypsy Tree!”
Why did that always work? Seriously, you’d go in for oral surgery with no anesthetic at that age if those three little words were attached. Yet there I was, my BMX bike (with the mag wheels that I *had* to have even though I had know idea why) lying discarded because only geeks used the kickstand, slowly walking through the small patch of woods behind Shawn’s house toward the Tallgrass with a knife in my hand that was better used for carving turkey, ready to carve my name into a tree that would surely signal the thumbing of my nose at an entity that would gladly break into my house and take me to that one place that every kid fears: Away.
I was actually supposed to just be riding around the Ryan Track on my new bike that I’d recently gotten the training wheels removed from, because yes, I was ready to graduate from the E.T. Big Wheel with the plastic handbrake that just made grating sounds rather than actually stopping you. I had ridden down Stony Point past the Church of Nazareth that would later become a nail salon and a Starbucks, turned onto the Track, and was simply riding along with the glee that I was doing it all By Myself when I saw a group of kids my age, stopped, and just starting talking to them because it’s just one of those things you can do at that age, kind of like how you can fall in a way that later in life would shatter your hip but then you only giggle and do it again until you get bored.
“…down in my basement, you know? And I hid in it, ‘cause I knew he was on the other side and then I was in this desert and there he was! So I climbed out of the box and ran back upstairs before he could get me.”
The story was being regaled by Shawn, who had the dirty blond mop-top and a tendency to wear brown, while Mike, Steve, T.J., and Dan all responded with various retorts and supports, all of them just sitting out on the front lawn of Shawn’s house. When I rode up they didn’t pay attention, and when I responded “What are you all talking about?” they all gave me the story:
There was a field out behind Shawn’s house that never got developed by Ryan Homes, who built the Track, and it became overgrown, so it was call the Tallgrass because, well, the grass was tall there. It was a prime place to play hide and seek because all you had to do was duck and you’d be properly hidden. Near the border was a tall and old white birch covered in carvings of names, usually pairings of male and female, but all the names were of people he didn’t live in the track, save a few who lived on the other side but that was unbeknownst to us.
So the story that got built was that there was a thing that lived in the Tallgrass called The Sandman, a cross between Jason and Darth Vader with a whole lot of tubes, and he would find ways to get into your house and Take You Away if you went into the Tallgrass even once after dark.
But the real clincher was to carve your name on the Gypsy Tree.
The same white birch with all the names on it that was probably carved up by a plethora of horny teenagers was thought by us to be a list of the people that the Sandman had Taken Away, and no one knew who any of them were, because that was one of the consequences of being Taken Away: no one would remember you. So carving your name on the Gypsy Tree was a way of saying, “Come get me.”
So after hearing all of this, my response to them was, “I think you’re all rationalizing your fears of abandonment and neglect by creating a shared delusion that you can all reinforce with logic that’s circumstantial at best.”
Damn my parents for all of those vocabulary lessons and “gifted programs”. This is why I didn’t really have any friends until I discovered profanity.
Which brings us back to the beginning. The dare.
So Shawn gave me a knife he boosted from his mother’s cutlery set and they all followed me out to the tree, muttering about how crazy this was, that I didn’t really know what was going on, everything that I knew wouldn’t get to me but it did anyway. I wanted to drop the knife and just run back to my bike and ride it back home and never come out of my room for fear that The Sandman was, in fact, going to emerge from my closet one night and drag me screaming into the dark.
They kept going through all the various and sometimes contradicting rules regarding proper conduct regarding avoiding The Sandman, and I’ll admit that I bought most of them, my defensive wall of psychobabble quickly eroding because even I didn’t know what exactly most of it meant.
So when I carved my name, I made a few little rules myself, I shared in the delusion:
He wouldn’t find me because I didn’t use my last name.
He wouldn’t find me because I didn’t live in the Track.
And most importantly, he wouldn’t find me because my bedroom carpet turned into water after bedtime and Jaws was slowly prowling those yellow shag depths and would devour said Sandman with ease because Jaws was just bigger and that, of course, made all the difference.
Of course, dares are forgotten within the hour, it’s simply their nature, so when we played freeze tag in the Tallgrass afterward we all felt safe from potential capture.
I mean, it’s not like we were playing Hide and Seek. That would just be *crazy*.