BY AARON BURCH
Vernon “Ernie” Cervid turned five years old.
By the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Ox. Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as president.
Coca-Cola changed its formula and released New Coke. “We Are the World” was released to raise money for African famine relief.
The Cervid’s neighbor—the corner house, across the street and at the other end of the block—Mr. Shafer, brought home a goat.
Sally Field, winning Best Actress at the 57th Academy Awards for her role in Places of the Heart, famously exclaimed, “You like me, you really like me!” Only, what she really said was, “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like you, right now, you like me!” Amadeus won Best Picture.
Down the freeway from the Cervid’s and Shafer’s, in Auburn, WA, a Unabomber bomb that had been sent to Boeing was diffused. Ernie never heard anything about it, though he would have a number of friends over the years whose fathers worked for Boeing. By the end of the year, the owner of a computer store in California would become the Unabomber’s first casualty, though Ernie never heard of that either.
Route 66 was officially decommissioned. Back to the Future was the highest grossing film of the year. The second highest: Rambo: First Blood Part II. Third? Rocky IV.
Ernie, everyday, longed and begged to go down the block to the Shafer’s, to visit and pet Pony the donkey, kept on a leash connected to a wire strung between two trees until Mr. Shafer could build a proper pen. He’d named her Pony as an anniversary gift for his wife, Emma, who’d wanted a pony when she was little. From the time she was Ernie’s age, maybe even.
The first WrestleMania was held at Madison Square Garden.
Moonlighting debuted. Also: Windows 1.0, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and Calvin & Hobbes.
Ernie started Kindergarten. Some days, after school, his parents would let him walk to Mr. Shafer’s on his own, letting him believe in his first act of independence, though they’d carefully watch from the window until Mr. Shafer raised his arm, hello to Ernie, he got here OK to Ernie’s parents.
E.B. White passed away. So, too, Rock Hudson, Orson Welles, Roger Maris, and, mere days after a televised match with Rowdy Roddy Piper, WWF star “Quick Draw” Rick McGraw. The Quick Draw McGraw Show, featuring the anthropomorphic title character horse—red cowboy hat, blue cowboy scarf—aired from 1959-1962. “Tug” McGraw pitched the last game of this career the previous year, September 25, 1984.
Speaking of 1984, that year Ernie’s father, Leonard (Lenny to his friends; Roy to his wife, who liked the sound and simplicity of his middle name, using it at first in jest, and then always, without giving it a second thought, jest becoming the norm) received a promotion and, with it, a substantial pay raise. By ’85, the family talked of moving but, instead, converted the garage into a TV room and added a glassed-in sunroom, with sliding glass doors, onto the back of the house.
New Coke failed and Coca Cola returned to their “original formula.”
Tetris was released in Russia the year before, in 1984, and in the U.S. the year after, in ’86. It didn’t, however, reach its full popularity potential until paired with Nintendo’s Game Boy at the end of the decade.
Ernie would later remember the family decision to stay put instead of move as being related to his personal, boyhood connection to Pony, though that would seem less likely each year he grew older and made his own life and family decisions. He’ll stop short of ever asking his parents, more okay with doubting his memory than the possibility of fully negating the possibility. He’ll also remember Mrs. Shafer as both “Pony’s mom” and as already being gone by the time Pony was brought home, Pony as companion for Mr. Shafter during the depression of post-divorce loneliness.
Cyndi Lauper was queen—she participated in “We Are the World” and won the Grammy for Best New Artist. (She was also nominated for, but didn’t win, both Album and Record of the Year.) She was the musical director for Steven Speilberg’s The Goonies, and made numerous appearances at WWF events, including Wrestlemania, as Wendi Richter’s manager.
(The Goonies was the ninth highest grossing movie of the year. It starred, among others, Corey Feldman, who had been in Gremlins the year before, and would be in Stand By Me the year after, all movies that Ernie was too young to see at the time but would become favorites in later years, Stand By Me especially, Jerry O’Connell’s Vern Tessio convincing him to always be Ernie, never Vern, notwithstanding.)
By the end of the year, Mr. Shafer had moved—the house left vacant, the pen seeming even lonelier than the house itself and also entirely out-of-place without Pony to give it context. Ernie never knew where they moved, what happened to Pony. He’d often wonder, years later, did Mr. Shafer take her with him? Build a new pen? Sell her? What happens to a goat when no longer wanted as a pet?
Mike Tyson knocked out Hector Mercedes in the first round of his first pro fight. Super Punch-Out!! was released as an arcade game. Two years later, Nintendo would release the game for their home system with Mike Tyson’s name attached and his likeness as the World Heavyweight Champion, the final fighter you must fight to beat the game. The special guest referee tag-team of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndoff main event match at that first Wrestlamania was Muhammad Ali. The next year, at only 20, Tyson would break Ali’s record as the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion.
Ernie continued to visit even after Mr. Shafer had sold the house and moved—out of habit, forgetting Pony was gone; or hopeful, wanting to visit the empty pen, a place now of sadness but also one of memories of joy. As if the site had become a memorial, church-like, though these weren’t the terms or depth of thought he’d consciously connect to the place until years, decades, later. Until he grew up, moved out and away to college. Until he dropped out of college to wrestle as an amateur, training for the WWF, and then WWE, after the World Wide Fund for Nature sued and the wrestling foundation had to change names and acronyms. Until he spent years perfecting his persona as “the Bison,” in part in honor of his favorite animal, in part after the Street Fighter villain, first introduced to Nintendo in 1992 via Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo. Until he met Holly in St. Louis, on the road for a match, and they hit it off, dated long distance; until they “gave it a go” and he moved to Missouri for her; until they got engaged, and married, and he finally gave up trying to become a professional wrestler because it was too dangerous, too long of a shot, too much time on the road, away from his wife and home, though Holly was always supportive. Until they had a son, who Ernie immediately wanted to give only the best, wanted to give everything, wanted to recreate the greatest aspects of his own childhood, wanted to build a personal, independent, church-like sanctuary for him to believe in.
Aaron Burch is the author of the story collection, Backswing (Queen's Ferry Press), and author of HOBART: another literary journal. This short piece is either an excerpt from or notes for, the novel he's currently trying to work on.