We Said We’d Always Be Blood Brothers

Evan Hiking

Evan hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In the thick of summer, when Alabama simmered like hot soup, Evan Davis and I would don camouflage and combat boots to patrol the woods of Monte Sano Mountain. While most young teens hung out at the pool, we embraced the heat and the bugs, because this was our jungle and we shared a dream of one day joining the Special Forces together. As if we were preparing to elude some invading force, we’d put a flame to a wine cork and smear the black greasy soot on our faces, and hide in the shadows. As we slinked through the oaks and underbrush, I not only fed my military fantasy, but also realized how much I enjoyed being among the trees and creek basins. Very quickly I developed a love of the outdoors, and Evan would eventually take me on my first backpacking and canoeing trips.

On one of those sweltering summer afternoons, Evan and I huddled beneath a canopy of oaks and peeled open the C Rations we purchased from an Army surplus store. As I dragged a stale cracker through the oily peanut butter, Evan said out of the blue, “Hey, we oughta become blood brothers.”

I snapped my cracker.

“You mean, like, cut our hands and stuff?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

If you’ve ever paused on a high rock before jumping into a river, you know what it’s like to feel intrigue and fear simultaneously. First of all, I had never sliced myself on purpose. In fact, I didn’t know of any kid in the neighborhood who had actually performed the blood-brother ritual, and I assumed Evan got the idea from a book—maybe a Natty Bumppo story by James Fenimore Cooper. It seemed outlandish, and I imagined a scene with drums, chanting and maybe even a bonfire. But, honestly, his proposal didn’t shock me.

Ever since we had met on school safety patrol in the 4th Grade, I knew that Evan had an unusual appreciation for ceremony and ritual. When a classmate on the school patrol insulted Evan, he challenged the kid to a duel. I think he actually said, “I challenge you to a duel.” Which really freaked out the kid. Armed with the long wood handle of a road crossing flag, Evan dispatched his foe faster than you can say Kung Fu. Over the years, I often thought that Evan was born in the wrong century, and I was sure that in a previous life he wore plate armor.

But the blood-brother ritual was more than just a cool ceremony. It was also Evan’s way of expressing how much he valued our friendship. From the moment we met, we were inseparable, and we shepherded each other through countless ups and downs. He was the one friend I could count on without fail, and without debate I pulled my survival knife from its green leather scabbard. Concerned that I might talk myself out of it, I nicked my palm quickly and watched a bead of blood roll down.

Using his Marine KA-BAR knife, Evan sliced his palm, and we grasped hands as if we were preparing to arm wrestle. As I pressed my hand to his, I winced and sweat poured down a face that was grimy and black with charred cork. In my mind, I heard the lyrics to “Bobby Jean”—“We were the wildest, the wildest things we’d ever seen.”

As I reflect on that moment from so many years ago, I’m watching golden leaves shudder in the November wind. It’s hard to believe that 15 years ago today we buried Evan in a cemetery on the edge of town. At the age of 29, he died in an automobile accident, and just like that, I would never walk another mile with my closest friend.

His death was devastating, but by grace and mercy, my pain subsided, and I learned to focus on the million hilarious moments we shared. Along with the memories, I also carried a love of adventure that was born in the hills during long summer days.

I don’t know what actually happens physically when two people slice their hands and mix their blood. But, I can say for a fact that some part of Evan still runs through my veins.

 

Evan's Grave

 

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