There was this tree in our small town that over time had been used by multiple waves of kids — mainly boys, but not exclusively — as an ever-evolving treehouse. This sacred place went by many names: the fort, the tree house, the place, and the hideout. These are the names that I can recall at least. The town we lived in was barely on a map. There were only dirt roads, a post-office, a library that smelled like grandparents and only seemed to have kids and young adult books like the Pokey Little Puppy and Goosebumps, a hotel that catered to railway workers (when there were any that came through) and a diner beneath it. Eventually, there was a feed store for nearby ranchers. There was a park with old metal playground equipment, the kind that burns you when it gets too hot in the summer, but only older kids hung out there.
After school one day, as a couple of us kids were adding on to the multiple levels of the fort before our parents got home from their blue-collar jobs, I climbed high up on and out on a branch to nail down what would be the first piece of wood for the new level. Before I knew it, the tree branch snapped and I fell maybe 10 or so feet to the ground. My leg was in excruciating pain. A dead branch that had been pointing up, collided with the back of my knee and got lodged in like a knife or sword that pierces an assailant. I screamed and we didn't pull it out.
My friend Erin, a girl, lived right across the street and her dad or step-dad or mom's boyfriend came running out and carried me inside and laid me on the table. He grabbed some gauze and bandages, pushed down on my chest, and pulled the giant, inch-round branch from behind my knee. Helpless, I laid there. I couldn't do anything about any of this. I was just a child, one that thought he was invincible and incapable of damage.
As a new dad, I think about this story more and more and realize how I'm still that kid with the branch in his knee, completely unable of doing anything to soothe my crying newborn at times, only praying that my wife will come to my rescue, and my daughter's.