Someone once asked me if I rocked? And I said
“Yes, all the time.”
As a kid my life consisted mainly of throwing rocks, hitting rocks and looking for rocks to throw and hit. I was essentially an only child with simple needs. I’m still not sure when my fascination with rocks began or how it grew, but I hunted for good rocks everywhere I went and more often than not my pockets would be filled with really cool and useful rocks by the time I got home from my day’s wanderings. If anyone saw me I’m sure I looked very much like a lonely, depressed boy with very few friends because my head was always down as I looked for something shiny and round to bring home.
Ketchikan is situated at the base of a mountain and receives an annual rainfall of around 200 inches of precipitation. A continuous sheet of rain falls from March until September – when it stops for a day’s respite and then turns to a continuous sheet of snow which falls until the end of February. The perpetual rain washed the topsoil away years ago leaving a lumpy surface of gray rocks that tumbled down creek beds and washouts, exposing new layers of igneous intrusive every few weeks. A different boy on a different continent may have collected plants (we had skunk cabbage and pine trees) or insects (we had mosquitoes). I guess I loved rocks because that’s all I had to love.
I couldn’t classify rocks into their scientific categories, but I knew which ones felt good in my hand and I spent hours throwing the best ones at things or hitting them with a special rock bat I had made by sanding down one side until it was smooth and flat. Even at 50 I can skip a rock pretty well and hit what I’m aiming in two or three tries and I can still throw a flat rock high in the air so that it spins exactly into the water making that schmucking sound when it hits.
I guess I have been throwing rocks my entire life. I threw rocks at signs, at telephone poles, at other rocks, at birds and squirrels, cats and dogs, at windows and even at cars once or twice (don’t tell my mom). I once hit a dog on the bohunkus while she was in the throws of, umm, making puppies with another dog, and the results were, umm, well rather unusual and shocking to a nine year old. I can tell you I never did it again.
So, when I felt a sharp sting on the back of my leg and turned in time to see a kid, whom I had never seen before, bending down to pick up another rock to throw at me, I wondered what in the heck was he was thinking. He must have been one of the kids who lived on the Coast Guard base and new to town.
A calmness swept over me and a smile passed my lips. I was in my element – a rock fight. It was as if my entire life up to that point had been in preparation for this exact moment. I patted my pockets; I was loaded with ammunition. I was like a nine year old Bradley Fighting Vehicle and I pulled my baseball cap down over my eyes and prepared for battle.
I searched for MY stone, a perfect stone I had found months before, but could never find the right target to pitch it at. It was just the right weight and jagged in all the right places, with a nice curve that fit my index finger like a glove (a leather glove that had been left out in the rain and then baked in the oven). Like David must have done, I gauged the distance with a practiced eye, felt the heft of the stone in my hand and tested the wind without knowing I was doing it. I ran a few steps and crow- hopped a little, pulling my arm back as I ran and hurled the stone with a wiry arm, swift and high into the air. The kid never really stood a chance. The thick chunk of shale traced a perfect arc in the sky and though he tried to run, the rock homed in like a patriot missile. He turned at the last minute, a look on his face like he knew he was about to breathe his last.
I still remember the thunk (like a fist punching a bag of wet cement) as the projectile lodged into his crew cut. He stared at me in disbelief and awe, as if he secretly wished he could have done the same thing to me. He gingerly reached up and touched the spot and when his hand came away bloody, all admiration and composure left in an instant and he went from being “that” kid to being “that” kid who was now screaming bloody murder.
“I’m telling my mom!” he shrieked as he began staggering home, his pudgy hand pressed to his head.
That’s all it took for all heck to break loose in my own head. I was off. There was nothing that struck greater fear in my heart than for someone to tell his mom, for in my day moms wielded absolute power and handed out swift retribution. He had started it, but when there was blood and stitches it never mattered who started it, there was always swift justice to the one who had finished it – especially when a rock was used to complete the task (even though it was an acceptable piece of weaponry in my world, rocks were strictly verboten in all worlds adult).
I had no idea who the kid was or where he came from. He certainly didn’t go to my school, so I knew that if I vacated the premises there would be little chance of being caught, so vacate I did. For all I knew, the kid died from blood loss on the way home because I never saw him again.
Maybe it’s time to get rid of my rock collection, for my rocks are not me.