Edgar was a nice kid. He was soft-spoken and respectful and called my mom “Ma’am.” (I had never called anyone “Ma’am” in my life.) Edgar had to be coaxed over and over before he relented and agreed to call my dad “Artie” like the rest of the kids did.
Edgar wasn’t handsome like Peter, or stocky like Mark, the freshman high school football player. His nose was all over the place and he was tall and skinny and sometimes his pants were too high like he’d just grown another inch. “He’s at an awkward age,” my mom would say. But there was just something special about him.
Edgar didn’t brag when he won a game or make excuses when he lost. And he certainly wouldn’t stomp his feet and scream “He cheated!” like the rest of us. Unlike anyone else I knew, he had already planned out exactly what he wanted to do with his life, which I thought was pretty cool for a 13-year-old. He was going to go to military academy and then join the Air Force, like his Dad, and become a pilot. (At the time, I thought I was going to be a professional baseball player and play third base like my hero, Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles. Either that or I’d become a pro wrestler and kick Killer Kowalski’s mean butt. Like any of that was really going to happen.)
Edgar and I loved to play on the same team, which I think made some of my older friends jealous. “Once-twice-three shoot.” And I’d throw out one or two fingers, picking “evens” or “odds” and always choosing him to be on my side when I won. Some of the guys would look down at the sidewalk, not wanting to show they were hurt by only being second or third on a team. After all, we’d been friends long before Edgar and his two cute sisters moved on the block.
One day I got an idea. It probably came from reading Tom Sawyer in school or watching some old corny movie, but when I asked, my new best friend agreed to be my “blood brother.”
This was no joke—it involved smuggling out one of Mom’s sewing needles and actually drawing blood. And as tough as I liked to think I was, I didn’t want to look like a wimp and flinch when I jabbed the needle into my finger.
But it had to be done. Sitting in my backyard, leaning against the wall of our homemade stickball field right next to our painted white “strike zone,” I withdrew the needle from my beaten up little wallet. I handed it to Edgar, not quite ready to jab it into my own flesh. Without hesitating, or even blinking, he broke the skin of his middle finger. Blood started to ooze out. Hey, I thought, this kid had some soldier in him already.
I took the needle from him. Gritting my teeth slightly, I hesitatingly stuck it in. I felt a pricking sting, and watched the blood spring up like I would a movie. I let out a slight sigh.
Black and white fingers rubbed together firmly but tenderly, the fluids mixing. Licking away his blood, Edgar looked like he had just finished a satisfying meal. And from the expression on his face, I think this meant as much to him as a Baptism or Communion or whatever Catholic kids did.
I looked at my friend not knowing quite what to say, but he gave me a kind smile and it was all I needed to know. A warm feeling washed over me. This only child now had a brother.