I was young and stupid. I needed to learn a lesson, any lesson. There is a point at which you learn the consequences of your adventurous naïve curiosity. I hit that point while digging a hole in the woods.
Mac lived on Town Hill Road. That’s where the rich folk of my hometown live, or at least that is how it seemed to me at the time. The winding streets that snake off of Town Hill Road, which connects the homes perched above the so-called city, all end in cul de sacs, not dead ends. Tennis courts and two car garages and finished basements with track lighting and pool tables and riding mowers and American flags and perfectly placed, ornately ornamented Christmas trees are common trophies for most of the houses. It was the summer of who really-knows-what-year and I found myself on Town Hill Road. Mac was there. So was his brother, a straight-out-of-high-school Marine on leave, who loomed over us like a wall of muscle and chin bone. There was the three of us and an air rifle; the kind with an air pump on the barrel. The more you pump it, the more force the BB has.
“If you're gonna shoot someone, only pump it once. After five pumps, you will break the skin and we will have to dig the BB out.” There was more said than just this; some jokes about something I didn't get, some swear words I hadn't heard yet about parts of a girl I hadn't seen yet, some brotherly advice spattered in between. There was more said between all of us than, "we will have to dig the BB out," but I remember being pretty quite.
"If you're gonna shoot someone..." No one said don’t shoot anyone. No one said don't shoot your brother as we were hurriedly tromping out of the house, rifle slug over the shoulder, to hunt down a way to fill the summer afternoon. No one said don't shoot the kid who just biked all the way up Town Hill Road to hang out in woods. I figured that as long as no BBs were being dug out of any part of me, we were going to be just fine. I wore glasses so I knew I wouldn’t lose and eye. Safety first. No one said don't shoot your friend with glasses. I wondered what BB stood for. I still do.
Everyone lives close to the woods in my hometown. There are trees and fields and slate quarries and sledding hills and bonfire pits a minute’s walk out of anyone’s door. “Protected by a wall of wood” is how I describe my hometown to this day. “Nothing gets in or out that doesn’t wear an I’m-Not-A-Deer-Orange hunting vest.” Even the cheese is wrapped up in plaid.
Mac, his brick and bone brother, and I went into the woods with an air rifle and a milk carton of BBs. The barrel makes a “pock” sound when you pull the trigger. After pumping the rifle ten times, my arms were sore and my adolescent muscles shook. I hit a can from 20 feet away. The BB broke through one side of it and rattled around at the bottom when I picked it up. Pretty damn cool.
“Shoot it,” someone said. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was Mac. Maybe no one said it but we all thought it. “Shoot it.” The wall had the rifle nestled behind his chin, pointed up to the trees. Pock.
“It’s not dead. What should we do?” Chickadee. Upside down. Back on the ground. Flapping. Still. Then flapping again. No sound. “Pump it more. We can’t leave it like that.” “Yeah. I guess not.” Pock. Nothing. I feel cold looking down at the bird. We start to walk away.
I say, “I’m digging a hole for it.”
“Why? Something will eat it. That’s how it goes.”
“Cause I feel like we took it away.”
No one felt good after playing in the woods that day. Lesson learned.