The day my father gave me a BB gun was my twelfth birthday, and I almost couldn't help jumping up and down when I saw what it was.
BB GunM. Stanley Bubien
With a smile, he put his hand on my shoulder and led me outside. He set up cans and showed me how to shoot---first loading the gun, pumping it a few times, aiming, and, finally, firing.
It was strange how that bird landed on top of the middle can. Holding the gun, I glanced at Dad, eyes filled with mischievous questioning.
"No," he intoned. "I don't ever want to see you killing anything. That's not why I bought you this gun." He frowned grimly, but when the bird flew away, he squeezed my arm and nodded toward the cans.
I think he was afraid that I'd learn what real power felt like.
Whatever. It was okay with me because I figured I'd find plenty of other targets.
"Hey, Mike!" I yelled to my friend upon making one of my greatest discoveries. "Check this out." I aimed at the top of the telephone pole.
"What're you doin'?" he asked.
I fired, and the BB smacked the top of the pole, hitting that little ceramic cylinder that the phone lines are hooked to, and causing a loud "DING" to ring out.
"Cool!" Mike said.
I smiled like the king of the world---a smile that grew even wider when Mike couldn't hit the same target. The neat thing was that no matter how many times you shot those things they never broke. Then again, maybe that's why it got boring.
A few months later, I found myself walking down the street, gun in hand, searching for new targets. I stopped by a telephone pole, popping off a few shots with nothing better to do.
Suddenly, a bird swooped down and landed on the wire. It was a pigeon, and it cooed and shuffled its footing, completely oblivious to my watchful eye.
Here I was, a bored kid, holding a BB gun, and a bird standing right there in front of me---and no one around to tell my dad. It was so perfect, I figured it was a sign from God.
I aimed straight at the pigeon, held my breath, and squeezed slowly upon the trigger. But I hesitated. I was about to kill a bird, a concept that felt at one moment queazy, at another exciting.
The exciting part won.
I fired. The bird dropped like a rock, one wing flopping behind as it fell. The bushes obscured its impact, but I heard it thump into the dirt.
Before lowering the gun, I realized what I'd done---I'd killed my first animal. I should've ran to my friend Mike's house and dragged him back to see the dead pigeon. But instead I whispered, "Oh no," and charged into the brush.
My stomach was tied in knots, and I prayed, "Oh God, please don't let it be dead."
The pigeon lay there with blood streaming from its beak, feathers large and small scattered about. I poked it with the gun barrel but it remained still. Reluctantly, I reached out and rolled it over, but its head drooped lifelessly to the side.
After burying it, I hurried home, stashed my BB gun in the closet and went to hide in my room.
When my dad got home that evening, I forced myself to go downstairs so he wouldn't think anything was wrong, but, the instant he looked at me, I'd have sworn he knew. Yet he put an arm around me and said, "Hey son, how was your day?"
"Um, okay." I told him.
"That's all," he frowned, "just okay?"
I could feel my face tingling. "Yeah, just okay." And, trying to make it at least halfway believable, I shrugged.
He nodded, hand still resting on my shoulder. "Well," he said, "it's almost dinner time. Let's go set the table."
I was dead silent as I laid the plates out. I felt as though every time I turned around, Dad was looking at me, but whenever I stole a glance in his direction, he seemed simply to be paying attention to collecting forks and arranging glasses.
After Dad poured me some milk, I barely uttered a "thank you" as he took his seat. Watching him, I figured if I could just make it through dinner, I'd be okay.
Mom gave us each a potato and uncovered the main dish in the center of the table. It was chicken.
I almost barfed on my plate.
"Son," Dad began, "do you want to say grace?"
I looked at my mom, then at my dad, and, just before bursting into tears, I pushed my chair back and ran to my room.
I had my head buried in my pillow when I felt Dad rubbing my back. My tears slowly faded, and I was able to lift my head. He didn't say anything, but just rested his hand upon me and waited with a soft look in his eye.
"I..." my voice cracked and I cleared my throat. "I shot a bird today."
"Oh?" my father replied, his expression unchanging.
"Yeah. It was a pigeon. On the telephone line. I killed it."
Dad paused before asking, "And how did it feel?"
"It felt... Awful," I answered and looked down.
"I'm sure it did. That's one of the reasons I said you shouldn't shoot birds."
I glanced at him, "Are you gonna punish me?"
"Hmm," he replied with his finger on his lips. "You misused your BB gun, and you disobeyed me. What you need is to always remember how bad it felt to kill that poor bird."
I turned my head down again, but he put a finger on my chin and lifted until I met his gaze. "Somehow," he told me. "I think you will." And, slapping me on the rear, he said, "Now lets go get dinner."
Little did I know as I slid from the bed that my father was right---I would remember killing that bird---along with a lot of other things---the rest of my life.
Copyright ©1997 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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