Week 5: Shoot a Gun

My younger sister and I have a nine-year age difference, so I had more than enough time to adopt the only child mindset.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I became interested in theatre shortly after she was born.  And as any only child would know, your best friend quickly becomes your imagination.  I thought up elaborate action movies in the comfort of the basement, utilizing stuffed animals and plot lines that could only make sense to a seven-year old.

I idolized and mimicked my favorite TV shows and movies.  I became obsessed with MacGyver and would jump around the couch, diving away from imaginary bullet fire and making makeshift bombs out of crumpled looseleaf paper and rubber bands.  I called myself “PuhGyver.”  In retrospect, I wish I had taken a little bit more time with that name, but there were nuclear warheads to disable, for goodness sake.  I didn’t have all day.

I had more Nerf guns and Super Soakers than were reasonable for a kid that played mostly by himself.  I had ball bazookas and orange electronic guns that would play the car alarm sound and Duck Hunt on the Nintendo with the Zapper Light Gun.   I used to cheat by holding the Zapper inches from the television screen, but it was a necessary evil considering the alternative: missing the ducks and seeing that stupid dog laugh his stupid laugh again.

duck hunt dog

One day, I got bored with my multitude of toys and snuck into the back room of the basement, where the Christmas ornaments and power tools lived.  I needed the perfect prop for whatever Cold War mission PuhGyver had been thrust into that day and found a utility knife on my Dad’s work table.  I started thrusting the knife in every direction, fending off those pesky make-believe Ruskies and doing a bang-up job at it too.  But however far I had traversed into my imagination, the need to be a good kid never subsided, and I knew that my Mom would freak if she saw me playing around with a knife.  At the very least, the blade shouldn’t be out and exposed.  I could hurt myself!  So I retracted the blade back into the base of the knife by sliding the prong all the way down, without realizing that this utility knife had two openings, one on the top and one on the bottom.  I pushed the blade down into the base of the knife, only for it to come out the other end and slice my ring finger.  I screamed bloody murder.

As my Mom tended to my wound, she didn’t have to make explicit her warning for me in the future.  I had been punished by my own hand and heard her reprimand loud and clear, playing in my head over and over like a test for the emergency broadcast system: WEAPONS AREN’T TOYS.  I REPEAT, WEAPONS AREN’T TOYS.  I took the words to heart and never again set foot in the back room with the intent of arming PuhGyver.  PuhGyver, like MacGyver, would start using his wits over firepower.

Fast forward about twenty years and I’m about to walk over to Ryan’s house so he can show me how to use a handgun.  Ryan lives two doors down from my parents’ house in Northern Virginia and was the first person I met when we moved into the neighborhood.  What began as a shared love of quoting the Chris Farley movie Tommy Boy has blossomed into my longest friendship.

Ryan enlisted in the Army in 2006 and spent about four years with them, shipping off to Iraq to repair remote controlled surveillance aircrafts.  I remember being real proud of him when I heard he was among the top shots in one particular weapons training exercise.  His parents attributed that to all the first person shooter video games we used to play, but when I talk to Ryan now, he says the video games didn’t actually help that much.  They might have made him a little bit more familiar with the weapons, he admits, but if his supervisors had just given him his M2 rifle and let him loose, he would have been pretty lost.

Before I leave for Ryan’s house, I call Q, mentioning that I forgot to pack body wash and resorted to using my sister’s Winter Candy Apple Shower Gel.  I’m worried that the fruity smell combined with the v-neck sweater and button down I’ve laid out for myself will make me a pariah at the gun range, and I need her to tell me I’m being ridiculous.  As I change into a simpler long sleeved tee, Q warns me to be careful and never aim the gun at anything I don’t intend to shoot.  An NYPD officer overhears the conversation on her end and adds that I shouldn’t put my finger on the trigger until I intend to shoot.  I hang up and wonder if Q has been put on some sort of watch list.

Want to read more? You’ve reached the end of the preview, but the full text of this entry and many more can be found in my book, BE A MAN: How I Spent One Year Drinking, Shaving, Farming, and Fathering My Way Toward Masculinity.

Click on the book to the left and you’ll find more information on how you can purchase the book in paperback and e-reader versions.