Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I spent nearly every minute of the summer of 1994 in a fort I built in my backyard. It was a rough construction, but it kept most of the rain out and let in just enough light for me to be able to read from morning until mom called me in for supper. Just a few sheets of plywood, some branches, and assorted pipes and screws I pillaged from the junk bin at Mitch’s Hardware Store. It was deep into the woods and leaned up against the biggest oak tree out there. My fort could be anything to me at any given time. It was my spaceship, my racecar, my fortress of solitude.
In June I went exploring the woods, looking over the same paths and streams I’d seen a thousand times before. But an adventure was an adventure and I ran around jumping over logs and leaping across creeks and hiding behind trees from the Indians who existed only in my head. I peeked around a tree and saw, a few hundred feet away, a lightning flash of grey fur. It darted off before I could identify it.
I told my parents about it at dinner that night. They said it was probably a coyote or a wolf and told me I shouldn’t go that far into the woods. I said Okay, never again, and tucked a piece of bread into my pocket for tomorrow.
The next day I went back to the same spot and left the bread near where the grey flash had been. I waited and waited, looking out from behind a thicket of branches a few hundred feet away. A coyote appeared from the deep woods. He approached the bread, looked around, snapped it up with his powerful jaw, and trotted off.
I continued feeding the coyote for weeks, each time standing closer and closer to the bread. He noticed me after a few days. At first he was apprehensive and stared me down. I stood in place until he walked off, satisfied that I presented no threat. I got closer and closer, until I could finally reach out to his mouth with the bread in my hand and feed him directly. He devoured the bread and looked me right in the eyes before leaving. He felt no threat and neither did I.
Soon the coyote and I were best friends. Feeding him by hand led to him hopping up onto his hind legs so he could put his front paws on my chest and we danced around the woods. We wrestled whenever he wanted to play and he would lick my face like I was one of his own.
For weeks this continued. I would run out to the fort every morning and he would be waiting for me. I named him Navajo. He was my co-explorer, my bunkmate, and my best friend.
We became so close that Navajo felt comfortable asking to borrow money from me. Just a few bucks, he said. To pick up a prescription. I lent him the money, confident that he was good for his word. Later on that summer I brought up the subject of the money he owed me and he said to not worry about it, that we’re friends, right? I smiled and hugged him and he licked my face. “Yeah, you’re right, Navajo.”
Navajo and I were the kings of the woods. We knew every tree, leaf, and stone in there.
Navajo asked me for a ride to the mall. He promised me it would be just this one time. I agreed and put him in the basket on my bicycle. When we got there I asked if I could go in with him. He acted like he didn’t know me and ran off with three girls. I shrugged it off. “This is just a phase.”
I would read stories to Navajo by the moonlight. He liked picture books the best. I raided the boxes my mom kept in the basement from when I was younger and introduced him to all of my favorites. Every time, right on queue, when I turned over the last page, he’d give me a big kiss and curl up tight so he could go to sleep. I’d never felt so close to anyone in my life. I remember the last time I read to him. It was August 3rd and we read Goodnight Moon.
At 3:16am August 4th, my father received a telephone call from the Clark County Police Station. He woke me up and said someone wanted to talk to me. I was terrified. Had Navajo been hit by a car? I had made a tag for him with my name and address on it, in case anything ever happened to him.
I picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, Peter. Listen, it’s me, Navajo.”
“Oh thank God. You’re okay.”
“Sort of. Here’s the deal. These police have me stuck here. They say I murdered nine people in a bar brawl or something. They said they found blood and PCP all over my fur. I don’t really know all the legal mumbo-jumbo, but it’s all lies. That stuff could come from anywhere. Anyway, I’m going to need you to bail me out. Does your dad have access to four hundred thousand dollars?”
I put my hand to the phone. “Dad, do you have four hundred thousand dollars?”
He said no.
“Sorry, Navajo, but it looks like he doesn’t.”
“Alright, fine. I guess I’ll just rot in here. Thanks a lot.”
“What do you mean? I love you, Navajo, there’s just nothing I can do. Don’t you love me?”
“I loved making love with your sister.”
I was appalled. I rode my bike to the police station and shot Navajo in the face with a rifle my dad kept in the closet.
A week later I received a key to the city from the mayor. I had no idea Navajo was such a menace.

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