For those of you who read my story, The Day I was a Hero and No One Even Knew and thought, “Gee, what an amazing young man,” I wanted to take a moment to disabuse you of such an absurd notion by recounting another story that happened not long after that so as to put my existence into perspective and achieve that ever so important concept of universal balance.
I originally wrote this memoir for my first creative writing class and titled it “My Big Bang, A lesson in Gun Control.” I hope you find it as entertaining as they did.
Most people are familiar with the Big Bang. It is the theory that the entire universe was created from a single massive explosion. Many, if not most of us, experience some sort of Big Bang episode in our lives. It is a single event, both awesome and destructive, that leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. This event may have etched itself so permanently in your mind because it created such an incredible happenstance and changed your life for good or ill. But more likely it was remarkable simply because of its unparalleled stupidity. Such is my story.
It was the summer of 1985. It was a beautiful day in my tiny town of Brownsville, Oregon. I should have been outside riding my bike or hanging out with a friend. I was fourteen and certainly could have found better forms of entertainment than planting myself in front of the television, but that is where I found myself this warm summer day.
Dad was spending the weekend at the veteran’s hospital once again. He felt I was responsible enough to be left on my own for a couple of days, so really the incident about to unfold was due as much to his poor judgment as mine.
I was bored. Back then, there were only three television channels, and the midday lineup was about as boring as it got, so I decided to make my viewing process more entertaining. Dad, and I by extension, was an avid sportsman and had several guns in the house. Most were rifles used for hunting and target practice, but he did have one pistol, and that was my tool to having a fun afternoon.
I had grown up around guns all my life, and gun safety had been drilled into my head from the time I could understand human speech. What many parents fail to understand is that the portion of a person’s brain that helps to make intelligent decisions does not fully develop until a person is in their late teens to early twenties. I am certain mine did not fully ripen until well into my thirties and may well still be a bit underdone.
I crept into my dad’s room and saw the pistol laying there atop the dresser as if presenting itself to me as a gift. It begged to be picked up and handled. It was a marvel of human invention, a tool used to forge nations. To simply ignore such a tool was a crime in itself. I looked in wonder and excitement at the faux-pearl handle and its long, black barrel. To most people who knew anything about guns, it looked exactly like what it was—a cheap .22 caliber revolver that when fired, shaved so much lead it felt like someone was throwing sand in your face with every squeeze of the trigger. To me, it was the ultimate symbol of power, and power was fun.
I enjoyed the feel of the cool, plastic handle as I wrapped my fingers around it. The weight of it gave me a sense of security. I bet the bullies at school would not mess with me now, I said to myself. The bullies would have to wait. For now, I would be content with simply shooting the annoying people who flashed across the television screen.
I walked back into the living room of our tiny, rented house. The front door with its small, curtained window in its upper center stood closed to my left. The walls were a horrible, pale green. Almost directly ahead of me and slightly to my left rested the big console television I had grown up with. Less than eight feet in front of the television sat my dad’s old recliner.
I sat down in that seat of power and could smell the stale stench of cigarette smoke. I was alone, the crown prince seated upon the father’s throne with a pistol in my hand. I was the ultimate authority now. I went from being a fourteen-year-old boy to Clint Eastwood, doling out my own form of justice to those people living in my television who offended me, which turned out to be most of them.
Whenever a scene changed and a new face appeared, I whipped the barrel of my Peacemaker up, slapped the hammer back with my left hand, and squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell onto the empty chamber with a satisfying snap. I was the fastest gun in the west. Not one figure escaped my justice.
After about half an hour, the sport began to lose its appeal, so I replaced the tiny cartridges back into the pistol’s cylinder. I decided the game had come to an end and I would put the pistol back where I found it…as soon as the next commercial came on.
Now, those of us with particularly poor reasoning and decision-making skills compensate for those short-comings by memorizing rules and creating patterns by which we live our lives. We make little rituals we repeat over and over in the same way so they become imprinted in our minds. In just thirty minutes or so, I had created a ritual of shooting people in annoying commercials. So, when the commercial came on, instead of getting up and putting away the pistol, I did exactly what I had been doing.
On came the commercial and up came the barrel of the gun. Quick as a wink, my left hand slapped the hammer back and I squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell, but instead of a dry snap came the crack of a discharged round. My ears rang and the air instantly filled with the cloying scent of cordite. The smell completely obliterated the pervasive stench of cigarette smoke and the empty beer cans piled into numerous plastic trash bags in the kitchen. My heart pounded like a troupe performing a riverdance in my chest.
I hurriedly put the pistol back just as I had found it, ensuring I replaced the spent cartridge. I ran back into the living room to survey the damage. The television was still on, which immediately gave me hope. I scanned the pale-green wall behind the television and the nearby window but detected no damage. I took a closer look at the television and my heart dropped.
It was an old set and was as much furniture as it was a television. It was a thirty-six inch screen, enormous by the day’s standards, and encased in a box of real wood polished to a fine finish. Around the thick glass screen was a wide, silver trim made of plastic. The top of the trim near the center now sported a hole about an inch wide, but it looked as expansive as the Grand Canyon to my terrified eyes.
To be continued…