I grew up in a mostly Catholic family. I say ‘mostly’ because we were Catholic, but we didn’t really go to church much. Well, I went to church – I had to because it was right there at school and all. Through the 8th grade, anyway.
When it was time to begin High School, I didn’t want to go on to a Catholic school. I probably should’ve. They never really let me get away with much, not like I would in the next four years of public school, anyway (another story for another time. Maybe). Still, I was determined not to head into the Catholic High School if I could avoid it. I had several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that my best friend would not be going there; he was heading to public school.
I appealed to my mother on many different grounds; my best friend was going to public school, I hated wearing uniforms (really, really hated it), I never wanted to see a pair of corduroy pants again in my life, I would be miserable (especially in the corduroy pants and the 110 degree heat (115 in the summer)), I would complain every day, loudly and, of course, think of the money you’ll save by sending me to public school!
I’ve no idea what swayed her, but I did end up going to public school for the next four years, where I met quite the cast of characters.
There was T (I’ll not include names to protect the innocent); as big and tall as me, if not more so. He played football for a couple years but our team sucked so he ended up quitting. He said ‘medical reasons’, but I’ve always thought he was tired of getting his butt kicked by visiting teams each week. We had school spirit! We went to many games and screamed our heads off while we lost magnificently.
There was A, who couldn’t seem to keep his story straight. It changed a lot. Probably still does.
There was D, my best friend at the time. I’d never really seen him out of our school uniforms before (blue shirts, dark pants) so imagine my surprise when he showed up that first day in one of the loudest, Hawaiian type floral print shirts I had ever seen! He wore those all that year and part of the next, I think.
C came later – a year behind us. Quiet, artistic, loyal. This ended up being the core of our little group – the five of us. There were some others here and there, but this was the core group for years.
I can’t remember exactly what the catalyst was, but I think we started hanging out and playing all sorts of different board games like Risk and Axis and Allies and the like. Someone mentioned D&D and we were intrigued. T brought me a couple of books (that I still have) – Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules – Dungeon Master and Players edition. They were red, with dragons on the front and all this cool stuff on the inside. I was pegged to be the Dungeon Master, they the players.
In short order, we were hooked.
This was the very first creative endeavor for me. It got the juices flowing, so to speak. I started creating campaigns and tweaking existing ones from books, adding my own little twists and creating my own brand of chaos. It was a blast.
…and a lot of times, we played in the library during lunch.
No one seemed to mind. We took over a corner of the place every lunch hour, gathering people to our campaigns as time went on. Some played, some just watched. Everyone had fun.
You wouldn’t think that a public school library would be a good place for such a thing and yet it seemed perfect at the time, and perfect now that I think back. The Librarian didn’t seem to mind as long as we were quiet. I guess I thought any adults would have a fit if they found out what we were doing, so when it didn’t happen, I was a little stunned.
A teacher even asked me in class one day and quite unexpectedly, “Do you play Dungeons and Dragons?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. A lot of people thought that it was evil, somehow. That the game itself drove people to worship Satan and whatnotall. There was the famous story of the kids who started ‘playing for real’ and someone died or something in a cave (they made a tv movie about it so the story spread). Of course, that was the exception and never the rule, but people still believed that anyone who played that game were sacrificing goats in their basements or something while defiling virgins.
I grinned sheepishly and said, “Yep. I’m a Dungeon Master.” I fully expected some sort of deluge, which would have devasted me as this was a favorite teacher of mine.
She looked at me and smiled, “I thought so. You seem the type, very intelligent.”
Higher praise I could not have received.
Contrast this to another experience several years later when Magic: The Gathering was the game of choice. We invaded a small coffee shop where one of my cousins worked. She’d told us of the atmosphere and the comfy sitting areas where people would meet, play games, chat, etc. and had invited us to come by and hang out – all in an effort to boost the little shop’s business. We brought our cards to play, but the owner was so disturbed by the games ‘obvious demonic influence’ that he banned us from returning.
Those early days of creating campaigns and, sometimes, creating things on the fly because my players did too well or moved too quickly through an area, helped to shape my voice in writing today.
I wouldn’t trade that time in the library for anything.