I can never thank my parents enough for kicking me out of the house for a few hours and telling me that I couldn’t play video games. If I was inside and plugged in all day, I would have never been as creative as I am today. There were days when I wouldn’t come home until I had conquered the evil wizard that lived in the swamp behind my friend’s house. His bent back and crooked smile would try to lure our younger friends into his grasp, but Sterl and I protected them. Other days, I would build forts and prepare for battles. My formative years were spent exploring new, strange worlds with my best friend while never being more than a quarter of a mile away from my backyard.
Growing up with an eccentric friend is not always easy, especially when he has an imagination like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Kids made fun of him in school. They said that he was a freak for loving medieval history. They teased him for almost everything he did, even called him “Sterl the girl” and told him he was gay. I didn’t care, he was my friend and we had each other.
Every day after school we would walk back to his house, grab oatmeal crème pies and Goldfish, and go on an adventure. Sterl had the best backyard a kid could ever ask for. Tall pine trees, clearings, woods, and a swamp topped off the ideal scape for most of our adventures. We would take the cover of the little crab-shaped sandbox and used it as a raft, guiding ourselves through the shallow water with a stick. When we weren’t navigating the swamp, we would dock our raft amidst the small clearings that were dotted among the trees whose dark green branches hung low, making them perfect for climbing. The pine needles on the branches were long and soft, making climbing all the more easy. Sterl and I each had our own tree. While his looked out over the swamp, mine had a perfect view of the tiny hill that was covered in white and yellow flowers every spring. Sterl called this world Celtia, and it became our home for years to come.
Sterl and I went on countless adventures. On one particular day, we headed east through the woods until we found a marshy spot. The recent rain and soaked the forest floor, and solid ground could only be found at the base of the trees. Every tree base became its own island with its own name. Dinosaur Island was at the center; a huge log had fallen and was now covered in an emerald moss. We used it as a home base while we conquered countless islands, taking leaps of faith to get to each. This was one of my favorite childhood memories. Not in front of a screen or inside the house, but just enjoying nature and creating different worlds.
One day, Sterl had to go on a trip with his family, so I went over to my friend Tori’s house. Her house was small, but very modern. I remember her calling her closed off patio the “feng shui room’. Her backyard was sectioned off by an old brown picket fence, but she had a huge in-ground swimming pool and a trampoline in the middle of the yard. I was looking forward to playing outside. She, however, did not feel the same way.
“The pool’s too cold and the trampoline makes too much noise” She would complain.
She suggested we go play American Idol on the PS2 she had in her basement. It was fun, but the whole time playing we didn’t really talk much. We had completely plugged into the game, talking only inside of our own heads to focus more on the task at hand. I missed laughing with Sterl and preparing for battles and climbing trees. I missed leaping around our marshy worlds and clinging to the bases of the trees, whose solid ground still wasn’t as solid as the basement floor of Tori’s house.
Sterl and I had a falling out when we got to high school. Even though we eventually made up, our friendship was never the same. He was no longer interested in discovering new worlds. He turned his focus toward politics and is now very successful. Politics became his new solid ground, where he excelled and was embraced by those around him. I miss my time in the different worlds with the small boy with the jet black hair. I still think about Sterl’s backyard and how I would do anything to go back to it just one last time.