Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Uses of Pretend, Circa 1987

“Mom! Josh won’t leave me alone!”

“Josh, leave your brother alone.”

“Mom! Josh called me barf breath!”

“Josh, don’t call your brother barf breath.”

“Mom! Josh poked me!”

“Josh! Get away from your brother now . . .”

The boys were cranked up from cake and ice cream and too many toys. I was exhausted from cake, ice cream, party managing, and too many toys. It was the perfect time for sibling rivalry to rear its ugly head.

The deck was littered with squashed boxes and ripped paper. Tables and chairs were strewn with sticky paper plates and napkins. Only the yard remained birthday party-ready. I rented a large helium tank, far larger than I expected, and so, generously tied bunches of balloons to every shrub and branch I could reach. They floated above the green early-summer grass like monstrous bouquets.

Josh put his younger brother in a head lock. He was intent on strangling the recipient of all the attention.

“Josh, go and gather all the balloons from the yard. If you can get them all tied together you can keep them. Trev, go inside and wash your face. You are helping me clean up this mess.”

That was the day Josh invented sky fishing. He grabbed his fishing pole to use some of the test line for tying the balloons together. The rest, as they say, is history.

I looked out in the yard after Trev and I finished stuffing the garbage bags. Josh was flat on his back in the center of the yard. He was holding the fishing pole and feeding out line into the sky. I craned my neck out and leaned over the railing, not clear about what the line was attached to. On the sidewalk in the front of the house I saw our elderly neighbor George walking his dog and tilting his head back. He was shading his eyes in order to get a better look at something in the sky. I walked down the steps and looked up. A large bunch of balloons was sailing eastward above the tree tops.

I ran into the house and grabbed an old picnic blanket. When we joined Josh on the grass, the balloons were suspended above the house next door and heading for the park. The current in the higher elevations became turbulent. Josh struggled a bit to handle his “catch.” By now the balloons were colorful spinning dots in the distance.  We talked of clouds and migrating birds and prevailing winds.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in various balloon experiments. Josh and his Dad figured out how to lift small water balloons and release them to bomb our side yard and garden. Then his GI Joe paratrooper action figure came out. It was fun to see him gliding confidently down with parachute billowing brightly behind him. After I got Trev off to bed that evening, we went back outside again, added a few Mylar balloons to the bunch, affixed a small pen-light and, giggling in our collusion, perpetrated our own UFO hoax on the neighborhood.

Later in the summer, we put together a party for Josh’s birthday. The guests arrived combed and cleaned and ready for musical chairs and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Instead they went sky-fishing. When their parents returned, they found their children resting on scattered blankets and angling big bunches of balloons in the airspace above our house.



When Trev was four years old he wanted to be He-man, Master of the Universe, for Halloween. It was six weeks after a surgery that left his jaws wired shut. Despite my most creative efforts pulverizing cheeseburgers and spaghetti with my blender, he was emaciated from the required liquid diet. His sunken eyes and bony knees gave me little to work with in the creation of a beefy blonde warrior.

I made a yellow yarn wig, no problem. I picked my way through the rest. I decided to put together a new body for him. I took a set of white sweats and dyed them to a pale flesh tone, then lined them in the appropriate places with cotton batting, making beefy arm and leg muscles. Using my rudimentary sewing skills I managed to quilt He-man’s signature washboard chest.

Trev couldn’t wait to try on the muscle suit. We added a skimpy pair of red shorts and makeshift studded armbands and he became He-man: the Super Hero who spent his spare time catching meteors and plugging erupting volcanoes. My sister contributed a blue satin cape and He-man learned to fly. He practiced every afternoon from the third step.

Long after Halloween passed, after Trev’s jaws were unwired and he ate through his Halloween cache of Milky Ways and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, He-man would make sudden appearances at our dinner table. I found him vainly flexing his muscles in front of my bedroom mirror. I looked out the kitchen window and saw him playing with the kids next door. Often, I tucked him snugly into the bunk bed above Josh.


Most of the time now Harry just sits on Trevor’s bed. Like Josh’s over-sized Garfield doll and worn stuffed bunny, he guards my children’s dreams. Harry is big, about the size of a three-year-old. There are corduroy horns on his head, plastic bug-eyes, and a bulbous, warted green nose. His body is covered with shaggy blue fur. His mouth is set in a permanent leer. Run your fingers through his fur and you’ll find it punctured from numerous IVs, blood tests, and catheterizations. He’s withstood more rectal temperature takings than anyone I know.

Harry is Trevor’s personal monster. When Harry first appeared in our home, under the Christmas tree with a large bow attached, Trev was a little afraid of him. He soon discovered Harry was afraid of the dark, the dog, and even the cellar stairs. Trev helped him. After all, a monster can’t live his life in fear.

“Don’t worry,” Trev told him, “I’ll show you how not to be ‘fraid.”

And he did. Trev would get a shot, turn to Harry and say, “Now hold still. This will only hurt for a second.” Harry cried and fussed but he never got away.

“You have to have it Harry, if you want to get better.” Trev was patient but unrelenting. Blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and urinal bottles were explained again and again to the forgetful Harry. He’s been taped and bandaged and oxygen-masked. Trev generously shared his IV pole with him on many occasions.

Over the years many doctors examined Harry, listened to his heart and peered into his blue-haired ears, and pronounced him a difficult case. Harry is a lucky monster. With Trev’s help, he has survived.


Trev was strapped into a bed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Between the IV lines and drainage tubes, I held his hand. I sat in a metal fold-up chair pushed close to the bedside and rested my chin on the chrome railing. The whoosh and suck of the ventilators beat slowly in the background. I whispered stories to him.


They were outlandish tales. Tales I loved, starring Trev and, his brother Josh, with their pretend names of Hong Kong Heart-out and Ryu. They were bold knights searching in dim caves for a key to an invisible castle, or space adventurers planet-hopping to battle menacing aliens. Ryu chased dreams and demons across wide blue skies. Hong Kong Heart-out flexed his biceps and befriended tormented ogres and threatening trolls. They rescued worlds, saved us all from destruction, and then came home to finish their homework and eat macaroni and cheese for dinner. 

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