'Twixt Earth and Air

SAILING THROUGH THE AIR wasn’t something that came naturally to me, like it did to other kids. While Jay-Bird was agile and flew through the air (as his name suggested), I was clumsy (so he called me Bo-Bo). Stretching or bending or moving like other kids was impossible for me. I was a rock. A Bo-Bo. Whenever I tried to reach the heights, I invariably toppled through the air, landing with catastrophic consequences.

I was embarrassed that local ER nurses knew me by name.

To my credit, I wasn’t stupid. I learned not to climb up into things that I could tumble out of, or to lean over gaping expanses that I could spill out into.

But the tree house that Jay-Bird and Stover built was too much. Their treetop fortress tempted me as I sat drawing on the forest floor far below. What did they do up there? What was all their laughing about?

I’d seen them climb the tree a million times, so I knew how. They started by stepping onto a cement block then jumped up to grasp the lowest branch. Then they pulled themselves up using only their arms and swung their legs sideways, up into adjacent branches. For a moment they hung upside-down before pulling themselves upright into the tree where branches spread out to create a vast network of ladders and stair-steps. They made it look so easy.

But even the first steps of ascending the tree eluded me. When I jumped up from the cement block to grab the lowest branch, my belly collided with the tree trunk, ricocheting me backward to the ground. If I did manage to reach the lowest branch, it was all I could do to simply hang there — I found it impossible to swing my legs up to yet a higher branch. I couldn’t even keep hold of the branch — slowly, its barky roughness slipped through my fingers and I landed with a thump.

“Hey, you guys! I wanna come up, too!”

Their heads popped out from the tree house and disappeared again. Laughter ensued.

“Stover! Jay! I wanna come up. I need help!”

“We don’t wantcha up here!”

“C’mon! I’ll buy you guys some pop and chips!” I pleaded.

I could hear conferring whispers before Jay called down, “Okay. Butcha gotta get ‘em now.”

It was a deal. So off I raced to the corner store to secure my bribes.

I returned, as breathless as I was penniless, with two Hires and two bags of Ballreich’s. Jay-Bird and Stover were slinging a rope over the tree’s upper branches.

“Whaddaya, whaddaya doin’?” I asked between gasps.

“We’re gonna getcha up the tree,” Jay announced.

“Whaddaya mean? You just need to give me a boost up.”

“That wouldn’t be any fun,” Jay said as he cinched the rope around my waist. Then Stover gave the other end of the rope a firm tug, and I was airborne!

“Help me hoist him up,” Stover grunted. “He’s heavy!”

As Jay-Bird and Stover strained with the rope, I rose higher and higher. I felt like Peter Pan. Or like Sandy Duncan playing Peter Pan.

“Tie it off,” Jay commanded.

And as suddenly as my ascent started, it stopped.

I hung there like a lifeless yo-yo. Yo-yo. Bo-Bo.

Stover and Jay-Bird clatter back up into the tree house with their pop and chips. I swirled about, neither in the tree nor on the ground. But I wasn’t on the ground. And I wouldn’t fall. (Jay was a good knot-tier.) So I lurched myself forward. Then back. Then forward. Then back. As chip crumbs landed on my head, I swung around under the tree house, laughing giddily and getting dizzy.

“I wanna try!” shouted Stover, starting down the tree.

“Me next,” yelled Jay.

We spent the rest of the day hauling one another up into the air. Jay-Bird and Stover eventually got me up into their tree house. It wasn’t long before I learned to make it all the way up, unassisted. Unfortunately, I never outgrew my clumsiness. But that’s another story…