I Am Sancho
And we're tilting at windmills in the living room.
When Don Quixote presented my plumed helm to me, I held it aloft in awe.
“Try it on! I must see how you look in it!” he cried.
The armor of a knight of the Legion is hot and heavy, but incredibly important. I’m proud that he let me wear it. It’s not just a symbol of our loyalty to the One True Quest; it’s the embodiment of our freedom.
I ran to gird myself in the noble gear. I donned the pauldrons and greaves. I strapped on the massive leather belt and crammed the helm down upon my so-far unwashed and uncombed hair.
“Oh my gosh!” he beamed, clapping his hands, “You look amazing!”
“It’s a little big—“ I started.
It’s entirely too big, I kept to myself.
“Nonsense!” cried valiant Don Quixote, “You look fantastic! Besides you haven’t earned anything better and armor is expensive. It’s wrong to take spoils and loot and slaves, so you have to wait until we find something better.”
I shrug. It is not my job to question the will of Don Quixote. The Impossible Dream is not about to die so Sancho can preserve their self-esteem. Besides, I had to prepare for the next day’s incredibly important battle. I was assured it was a turning point that would lead us to victory. It was also my job to make sure my friend, proud and regal Don Quixote, was well stocked with a sweet, frozen treat to keep up his strength. I couldn’t help but sigh and shake my head when it turned his tongue and teeth red.
That was yesterday. Today, a hot wind rustles the plume of my new helm and flutters the pinions. A bugle calls in the distance. The two armies are arrayed across the battlefield.
He removes his helm and glances down at me, a triumphant glint to his brown eyes.
“They’ll give up now, Sancho. They’ve got nowhere to go.”
I glance up at him, squinting through my visor. He cuts such a handsome figure on his stallion. Freckles splash his nose and cheeks; his hair is turning lighter from his time in the sun.
He might be dangerously perched on a horse that’s too big for him, and that sword is sharper than I care to think about, but he’s having such a good time. I don’t have the heart to point out that the enemy has the entire flat plain to flee from us. That won’t happen anyway. He laid it out for me before we took the field, his frozen treat in one hand and the carven figure of a war horse in the other. They will not flee. They will fight to the last man.
I’m sitting astride a mule--whom I’ve named Leon--diminutive in armor that is far too big. I will probably die in this battle. I am not Don Quixote de la Mancha! The plume of his helm is long and black. His sword is a two-handed beast of a weapon. He won it from the dreaded Red-Eyed Were-Bear of the North. We went six whole rounds with that thing before we could raid its treasure horde. He came back with the sword dangling from his belt and tossed me a pair of torn leather breeches. I opened my mouth to protest, but promptly shut it again. He would only throw his arms across his chest and lower his head angrily. I didn’t want him to storm away to some other quest, one that didn’t involve me.
The bugle calls again. He draws his sword and holds it aloft—with one hand, I note. I reach for my short sword.
“No, my friend!” he shouts, grabbing my arm, “It is too dangerous. I will go and fight the enemy.”
“But what shall I do, Don Quixote?” I wail.
“Why, you get to stand right here and hold the banner. It’s very important, Sancho! It’s the most important job in the whole army!”
I replace my small sword and take up our banner in both hands, holding it tight and high so that the enemy can see it and know fear. It’s not a big deal if I don’t ride into battle with him. At least if I sit here and hold the banner, I can still sip from my “flask”. It’s tea with ginger root. I’ve been careful not to let it show, but I’ve been sick for days.
Waving his sword aloft, he gives the order to attack, and each of the armies converges on the middle plain. Blood sprays as spears and shields collide. I, alone at the top of the hill—well out of harm’s way—stand our ground, holding our banner.
The battle is gruesome, but mercifully short. No barbarians survive to ride, or crawl, or be dragged away. Our men climb wearily back up to the foothills from the middle plain, exhausted, their uniforms bloodied. There are the Lego men, their hair turned sideways over their eyes, missing arms and hands; over there are the army men, their pith helmets dented and askew. I note their company was cut down by half by the enemy’s cavalry, against which, with their feet planted firmly in green plastic, they were no match. I watch them all trudge back to higher ground, waiting patiently for our glorious leader. Standing in Leon’s stirrups and looking around, I drop my arms to my sides.
“Where oh where could brave Don Quixote have gone?” I call to the empty air.
And then, there he is! He crawls into view from the hallway. He clutches his wounded arm, then stands and staggers to my side where I am seated by our IKEA desk. He falls into my lap heavily, armor and all. I catch him and hug him. He stares up at me with a wide grin. I grin back down at him.
One more windmill down, and it’s not even snack time yet.
Yes, I’m very proud of my knight. I am proud to say that I am Sancho. I’m his squire. I’m his friend.
I have been there for every one of his windmills. The dreaded Red-Eyed Were-Bear is an old Valentine I cut the little heart pillow off of. Our hideous Sea Monster is a blue fish-thing with big, plastic eyes that we bought at that thrift store in Iowa. Then there’s Megatron. I found Megatron at the Salvation Army. Best ten cents I ever spent.
We took him to see all three Hobbit films at the dollar theater. When we got home from The Battle of the Five Armies, he wanted to play Dwarves. He doesn’t remember all of the films. He’s never gone an entire trip to the theater without falling asleep, so Dwarves looked a lot like Desolation of Smaug. He took up his Lego man—the only one with a beard—and gave him a stick from the yard to use as his oaken shield. I was there when the five armies met at the gates of Erebor. He was Thorin! I got to be Killi—loyal, sweet, incompetent Killi. I would have at least liked to have been Filli. He was prepared to stay with Killi despite Thorin’s insistence that he join his fellow dwarves as they retook their homeland. But no, I laid on the kitchen floor most of the time, periodically checking the crock pot. I was careful to be in my place when he ran back into the room. I had to be saved from the orc’s poison. There was no Tariel. He’s still not sure about girls. It was Thorin who had to come back to save Killi and heal him with the herb. He did this by chewing up grass from the lawn and spitting it onto the gaping “wound” in my leg. I was too stunned to even be angry.
Once, we took him to an exhibit on Edo period Japanese woodcut prints at the museum. Samurai warriors in dragon and Oni masks paraded across wall tiles in stunning armor. His Coca-Cola-colored eyes were set to “bulge” for the entire exhibit. When we got home, he wanted to become a Samurai. Naturally, I was there when the Tokugawa descended on the feudal upstarts who threatened their reign. They rode at us with upraised pikes, three hundred battle-hardened Samurai against three hundred of our own! We fought on the verdant fields beneath towering Fuji, fields my family had worked for centuries. Were we wrong to challenge the sitting Shogunate? I did not know, for I was but a country soldier, given the gift of the Katana by my friend, and wherever Meiji rode, I would follow.
I was there in the shadows watching the Joker have his last laugh over the broken body of Barbara Gordon. I was Oswald Cobblepot. He likes the old Batman where the Penguin is squat and ugly. I cheered my insane friend on as he jeered and screeched at his prey before turning on the commissioner, but when he spat on “Barbara”—a sort of pillow thing with the face of a girl—I abruptly ended it. I went into his room and took The Killing Joke off the shelf and actually read it. I shredded that, binding and all, in my hands before his eyes, forestalling any protest or tantrum he might have attempted. I slung the tatters into the trash can and suggested he find something else to do.
I was there when Gus lost his leg, but refused to lose the other. He got to be Woodrow Call, but I was not Augustus McCrae. He put a cowboy hat on Peter Cottontail, and Peter got to be Gus. They rode all over the house, chasing Jake Spoon and Dan Suggs. I was Pea Eye Parker—sweet, well-meaning, harmless Pea Eye. And Gus, brave Gus, took that arrowhead to the knee as we fled the Sioux. I would have liked to have been Gus, or Deets. Deets was loyal, and he never shirked a task. Perhaps playing Pea Eye is meant to be humbling.
Woodrow, Gus, and I buried Deets in the dining room. At the end, Call strapped Gus to his red wagon and tied it to his hobby horse. We watched our legendary captain as he rode south on the Montana plains. Call had to take his fallen comrade back to Texas, but by Gawd we’d be waiting here for him when he got back. I may not have gotten to be Gus, but it could have been a lot worse. I might have been stuck as July Johnson. That man couldn’t fight his way out of a bath towel.
The game shifts after a smoothie break. Now that Don Quixote has triumphed again, we’re wiping out pawns of the Republic, mewling deacons of diplomacy and their Jedi bodyguards. Next we’ll move on to the planet of Tatooine—slightly out of order, since we’ll be fighting the Trade Federation under the command of Maul. He gets to be The New Darth Vader. I think he means Kylo Ren. I bought him Kylo Ren’s mask and lightsaber for his birthday. He puts the mask on and breathes heavily into it. Close enough.
I probably won’t get to be anyone cool, like Darth Maul or Qui Gon Jinn. He only really remembers Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Obi Kenobi, and Jar-Jar Binks.
“It’s Obi Wan Kenobi,” I correct him again.
“Nooooo!” he sneers at me, plunking his hands on his hips, “That’s stupid.”
I sigh. It’s not worth the fight.
“Who do I get to be?” I ask, “Can I be Han Solo or Princess Leia?”
“No, Peter Cottontail is Han Solo,” he says, referring to the stuffed rabbit on the coffee table, “And Fluffkins is Leia.”
He points to the dime-store dog from 1970 slumped over on the end table. I assume I won’t be Chewy, since a ten-inch figure of him is standing protectively next to Peter Cottontail.
He hands me a yellow plastic water gun, “You can be a storm trooper.”
I shrug and sip my cold coffee. I might not be making history with my faulty blaster and clunky armor, but I’ll be there anyway when we close ranks with those meddling Jedi.
And when we’re done on the battlefield, and the Sith emerge victorious, we’ll return to the shuttle and congratulate our glorious leader, The New Darth Vader. I’ll make him a good lunch, which he’ll refuse because I put diced tomatoes in it. I’ll take those damn tomatoes out one by one because he hates them. He’ll want bread and butter, and I’ll give it to him even though I need him to eat his peas.
Because I am Sancho. Yes, I am Sancho. I’m his Squire. I’m his friend.
I pick him up, battered and broken, from one seemingly hopeless encounter after another. I ran to his side today when he fell over his hobby horse and bumped his head on the coffee table. At dinner, when it looks like he might fall asleep in his plate, I lift him out of his booster chair and lead him to his bath, which he will fuss most of the way through until I sit back on the floor and hand him his boats. Captain Jack sails again, taking the Black Pearl to the depths of Davy Jones Locker and back. He sings the theme song to himself. Duh-DUH-duh-duh-duh-duh-na!
After a bath, he’s finished. His strength deserts him. I drape one of his arms across my shoulder and lead him back to his pavilion, and his tent.
He climbs into his bed. I lay his dented, scratched armor across his well-worn bench. I will have it polished and shining by morning. His dinosaur pajamas are no less dignified—and soaked because he squeals when I try to dry his hair.
He sips water out of one of his grandmother’s old goose mugs. He settles back amongst cushions embroidered with the finest Wal-Mart cotton thread, but if he asks, we bought them off of Kajit on our last foray into the Burning Sands. I tousle his brown locks, and he smiles up at me; his two front teeth fell out like little partners in crime, and I can tell he’s been messing with the bottom one. His freckled cheeks, tanned from Saturdays at the pool, are dimpled in the yellow lamp light.
General Hoth joins us in the nighttime ritual. He’s a firm man with a ready smile, his jaw set in determination beneath long black hair and sharp eyes. He’s been at work since two o’clock, but if he asks, Daddy was off fighting the growing hordes along our southern-most border. His job is dirty and fraught with peril, but he embraces it daily with squared shoulders.
I hand the knight his Peter Cottontail—no, it’s not just “Peter”, and we’re not to call him that. I kiss his forehead. General Hoth ruffles his hair and nuzzles his cheek. He rolls over, asleep before we even lift the tent flap and step out into the cold night, lit only by one bulb in the hallway.
I sigh as I wipe sleepiness from my eyes. I glance around my disheveled apartment, ready to take my silent vigil to the balcony terrace. A fire blazes in the grate behind me. I try not to glance into my bedroom as I pass, for that is where the laundry is. I gain the balustrade and regard the rank and file of dinged-up sedans arrayed across a filthy parking lot.
I’m not sure the battle against the Tokugawa Shoguns went down the way he said it did. I will Google that in a second, but right now my consort, is bringing me tea. Despite the cold north wind shrieking down from the mountains, there we stand, surveying the sum total of our situation in life.
The car insurance is late again, and our little hero has a flu-shot tomorrow at noon. Woe to the pediatrician. It occurs to me that I have ten dollars in my bank account and my consort does not get paid until next week.
I sip my tea and lean on the balustrade, its railing loose in the stucco.
I have lived a thousand lives.
I have been Moonglum alongside Elric, fighting the forces of Entropy, and if my hero asks, we’re still standing guard in peaceful Tanelorn. He likes all the monster fighting even less than Elric, and in Tanelorn, there are no late fees and past due notices.
I have been Robin beside Batman. I have to admit that I liked being the Penguin better.
I have been Patroclus beside Achilles, but he’s not as familiar with that story as Don Quixote. I prefer to keep it that way for now.
The night is blessedly quiet. All of the day’s dragons have been slain. Their paper corpses litter my living room floor. All of today’s demons are tamed; they populate the dank cell block of the deep, lurid dungeon that we don’t speak of--they're vending machine finger puppets under the sink, standing in about a quarter inch of putrid water that I have been sucking out with the shop vac until Maintenance comes to replace the disposal.
The prisoner is prepped for questioning, a cheap figurine of Han Solo detained beneath the living room couch.
Where is the Rebel base? Talk!
In a minute, I’ll go clean the kitchen, and tomorrow Sancho and the valiant knight will ride into glory once more.
For now, I am Mother, and this is my finest hour.