Now that I find myself (somewhat surprisingly at age forty) with two boys under two, merely seventeen months apart, I often think about sibling rivalry and the myriad of ways these two will find to bang their heads together. I grew up in the middle of three boys on a farm in southeastern Indiana, and we competed while fishing, riding our bikes through a homemade mud bog, playing football in the front yard, and basketball on the hoop nailed to the barnside. Later, we competed for girls and bigger fish.
One hot August, when I was probably ten, the farm ponds were stagnant from too little rain and too much cow piss. The ponds lay covered in moss, the fish waiting on fall or at least a storm front. We were running out of things to do for the first time that summer, so it made sense that my younger brother Tim and I were up on the roof of the Car Shed.
The Car Shed, so called because we parked the family car in it, had a roof shaped like the top four lines of a star – a flatter section on either side of a sharply-pitched peak. The lower sides were about ten feet off the ground. Sometimes when my grandmother babysat we would take a ladder and gain access. One side of the roof was hidden from the house, and so we spent our time on that side.
The goal was to run up the peak of the roof, but we could only make it about halfway. We took turns throwing ourselves at it. We would sprint up the peak, only to lose footing and slide down in a heap. Great fun, if a little hot and repetitive. The metal roof about glowed with heat.
I had to be the first to grab that peak. And so, fueled by the adrenaline that only a long-standing rivalry can juice, I ran up the roof and kept my legs churning, finally grabbing the apex. I pulled myself up, straddled the roof and looked around. I was between twenty and thirty feet off the ground. Not as high as the barn roof or the grain bins, certainly, but high enough to feel superior to my brother, who stood on the flatter part, shielding his eyes against the sun, appropriately coming over my shoulder. I felt breezes I had never felt before.
Then I made the decision to go back down – on the other side. The side visible from the house, the side without the ladder leaning against it. I had reached the peak once – I could surely do it again. But once on the unfamiliar side, I made a run or two and found I couldn’t do it. Not even close – was this side somehow steeper? Maybe fatigue was becoming a factor. Maybe I needed someone on this side to compete with. Either way, fear set in. I called for my brother and could hear the panic in my own voice.
He ran for help. I don’t know where Grandma thought we were, or what she thought we were up to, but she lived in town and made it clear she didn’t expect to see me up on a roof. There I stood, sheepish and alone, having won something that no longer felt like much of a prize.
GREG SCHWIPPS was raised on a working farm in Milan, Indiana. He graduated from Milan Jr./Sr. High School in 1991 and attended DePauw University, where he majored in English Writing. Following his graduation from DePauw, he attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for his MFA in creative writing. After receiving his MFA, Greg returned to DePauw, where he is currently the Richard W. Peck Chair of Creative Writing.
Greg is the author of the novel What This River Keeps. In 2010 he won the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award in the category for emerging authors. His creative nonfiction articles and essays have appeared in outdoor magazines like Outdoor Indiana, Indiana Game & Fish and In-Fisherman.