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Posts Tagged ‘Fathers and Sons’

Written August 5, 1990

All I really wanted to say was “I’m sorry.”

I had said some hurtful things to my Father. But he had been dead for three years. How do make amends after they’re gone? It wasn’t perfect, not like him being there, but I was talking to him anyway. Just making up a conversation in my mind, inside my spirit. And answering for him – what I thought he would say. No, that’s not quite true. Some of the things my Dad had said to me, but I could not hear them at the time, or at least, could not receive his words.

My Dad had owned 5 acres of land in the country outside Tulsa that he was planting in pecan trees. We had been out there one time, with me clearing trees and brush while he grafted pecan trees. While we were resting, he’d been telling me stories about the good old days, like he always did. I told him that with any other adult male I would get up and leave if the stories got too much, and so I would with him. God, how that must have hurt.

And now I felt bad about it. I imagined us now out at that land once again, sitting in camp chairs under the large oak trees, resting in the shade. I was saying now what I couldn’t say before.

“Dad, I know it must have hurt you, what I said when we were out here that time; that and some other things I did.”

He answered me. “Yes, son, that did hurt. I never knew you didn’t like my stories. I didn’t know what to say.” He paused. “What other things?”

“Dad, I guess it was mostly me provoking you, arguing with anything you said, rebelling. Putting you down. I did a lot of subtle stuff. I didn’t know why I was so angry with you. I’ve learned more and seen where all that anger was coming from. But that didn’t make it right what I did.” It felt like my words were all rushing out, stumbling over each other, eager to be free. I felt awkward, like I was saying it poorly, now that I had the chance.

He replied. “Yes, it did feel like whatever I did wasn’t good enough for you at times. Almost like I couldn’t live up to your expectations. But Cowboy, I know I hurt you, too, many times. And I think that’s where your anger started. I didn’t ever remember – I was too drunk. But now I know more.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, reflecting.

He spoke again. “It’s real sad, but I guess it happens a lot. My Father was there for me, and then when I was 12, he left. He turned his back on me. I felt hurt, abandoned, and like he didn’t love me any more.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And I can see now that I turned away from you when you were the same age. I began punishing you. I was really proud of your writing, your speaking, your acting. But I made stupid, ugly comments about them all – I can remember now – over here we see things a lot of things more clearly. And I know I hit you, abused you. I guess it was because you were daring to develop your creativeness – and I had never been able to. But that’s no excuse.”

There it was. What I’d always wanted to hear, wanted him to admit – I hadn’t realized it would be this hard to accept. I was having trouble catching my breath. We sat for a long time, not speaking. I spoke again, feeling my words. “Thanks, Dad, for saying that. That’s the way it felt for me, too. But the things I said to you were wrong, no matter what you did to me. I blamed you for all my problems and played victim and all that shit. I have to accept responsibility for what I did after I was grown up. I apologize.”

“Me too, Cowboy. I apologize, too. The sickness and the disease we carry with us makes us do hateful things, things we would not do if we were in our right minds. I never intended to hurt you. I was very proud of you. But when I was in my sickness, I couldn’t always let it show.”

“Thank you, Dad. I do know now that you were proud of me – you told me before, but I couldn’t hear it.” We sat in silence, hearing the breeze whistling through the trees, the birds singing in the upper branches. I drew in a deep breath.

“Dad, there’s something else.”

“I know, son.”

“I have to leave. I have to separate from you, and be me, be Dan. I have lived for 20 years trying to be what I thought you wanted me to be, not who I really was. I hope you understand I mean no disrespect by leaving.”

“No, Dan, I don’t think that way, not at all. I don’t know if you remember, but I encouraged you to go out and be whatever you wanted to be, and I’d support you.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, I meant that. If you want to be a writer, I support you in that. I am glad you are happier being that.”

“Thanks, Dad. But please know this. I will take with me the gifts you have given me.”

“Gifts? Like what?”

I started choking up. “Well, like when I saw you have the courage to come home and put our family back together after you sobered up. And even though it took 10 years, you got back your old job. And the guts to stick to it, even though it would have been easier to leave. Staying sober for 20 years. You modeled for me perseverance. And courage. You gave me my love of literature, of reading. My writing ability came from you. You know, I’ve always been real proud of you. But in my sickness, I couldn’t tell you either.”

“Thank you, son.” We sat quietly for a time. “So can we be at peace with each other?” my Father asked.

“Yes, Dad. At peace. I am a man, now, and I want to shake your hand – man to man.”

We shook hands, solemnly, firmly, slowly. “You certainly are a man, Dan. And a very remarkable one. Go for it. All the way. Let your writing go as far as it will – and that’s a long way!”

“Thank you, Ben. I will. I will remember you always, treasure all you gave me. You are part of the story I have to tell. You are one of the greatest men I have ever known.” I paused. “I’ll check with you along the way. Goodbye, Ben.”

“You do that, Cowboy. Goodbye. Vaya Con Dios. Go With God.”

———

Several years after I wrote this piece, when I felt I was ready, I went back out to the land with the pecan trees and read this piece out loud. I made a ritual out of it, read the conversation very deliberately and with a solemn sense of ceremony – because I knew that at the land he loved so much, he would hear it. I also knew the words would become more real for me as well, as part of saying goodbye to Dad.

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For many years, I would have told you that yes, there was drinking in my house while I was growing up, but I got out just fine, and it didn’t really affect me.  Then when I was in my early ‘30s, I started to see signs that such was not the case.

I worked for a time with a prison ministry, where we would go into Texas prison units and spend most of a weekend talking with the inmates.  Something odd happened – the inmates treated me with a certain respect and awareness that I couldn’t understand.  I realized later that they could tell I was intimately acquainted with violence.  I had that killer look.

My three sisters all married violent alcoholics.

Somehow I knew I carried a time bomb in me, but I couldn’t identify what it was.  I felt tightly wrapped, like I would explode if I ever let go.

One time I became suicidal.  I also carried around a darkness in my soul that I could not explain.

Finally it all broke through and I began attending meetings for people who had grown up around alcoholism. I started to get to the bottom of how much alcoholism had affected my life.  I was in so much pain I went to the first meeting on my birthday.  I began to remember incidents from my childhood – an escalating level of violence from my Dad.  I watched the movies “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” because something about them felt familiar.

By 1987, when the events in my book “Freedom’s Just Another Word” were taking place, my world was falling apart.  I had sabotaged my successful career for no reason I could explain. I had realized I was walking around with most of  the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet I had no traumatic event I could point to.  I had an incident where I was suicidal, and got closer than I ever had – an alarming wakeup call.

Then my Dad died.  He had been sober and in recovery for 20 years, but something still plagued him.  It was my belief he was still suffering because he was eating his anger.  He had his first heart attack when he was 44, open heart surgery at 47, a colostomy at 51, and died of a stroke at 59.  I knew if I didn’t get to the bottom of what plagued me, I was headed down the same road.

In an incredible and I believe spiritually guided sequence of events, I remembered the most violent incident with my Dad – which had happened on my birthday.  It involved guns, and violence, and imminent threats of death.  Suddenly the current events of my world began to fall into place and make sense.  Yet in a way, it was only the beginning – I knew what had happened, but now what to do about it?  Several weeks later, I had a dream.

Excerpt from Freedom’s Just Another Word:

I dreamed I was inside a house, and watching it for someone—I wasn’t sure who.  It was a long, low rambling house away from other houses, very isolated.  There was a pet tiger in the house.  The owner, an unidentified male, said the tiger wouldn’t bite, but the tiger became startled and started chewing my arm.  I would feel the size of his teeth, the strength of his jaw.  I was very scared.  The owner left, and put me in charge of the house, and of the tiger.

Suddenly, Rebecca was there, a woman I knew from ACA.  I felt like she was a stranger—like she didn’t know who I was any longer.  I invited her into the house, and she didn’t know her way around.  I showed her to the bathroom.  Suddenly I remembered that strangers startled the tiger.  Then the tiger was there and he was chewing on my arm, and I feared he wouldn’t stop until he ate me.  And then I knew—the tiger was my rage.

****************

The tiger dream disturbed me deeply, and I knew that I had a deep rage within me that would eventually destroy me.  I feared it so much that I buried it deeply and only rarely did it surface enough to confirm that it was there.  But I could tell.  It was the legacy of anger my Dad left me.  Threatening to devour all who entered—and me.  Uncontrollable.  I knew then that I was dangerous—to myself and others.

So there it was – the time bomb that had to be defused!  It was no longer about my Dad – it was about me; and it was something that was my responsibility to deal with.  Working through that anger and deep rage became my commitment over the next several years.  I got backed into a corner where my anger had to be dealt with (the topic of a future book, “The Tiger Unveiled”) and it became a life or death issue for me – there was still the specter of my Dad’s early death, and I knew it was still dangerously close for me.  I made a commitment and signed it in front of witnesses – an Anger Contract. In it I stated how I would and would not express my anger.  I committed to work on releasing that anger in safe ways, while restricting myself so that I would not hurt anyone while I was so angry.

I did so, and eventually bled off the anger, to the point where I could heal and be at peace with my Dad. I had come to realize that he had been blacked out drunk when the violence occurred, and he didn’t know any more than I did what had happened between us.  We were both harmed by the effects of the alcoholism.  It put a wall between us we never could understand in his lifetime. I wrote a short work called “A Conversation With Dad,” an imagined talk where we made peace with each other.  It worked!

Yet on the other side of the scale from the alcoholism and violence, it was a powerful symbolism for me to realize that the Dad who abused me when he was drinking was the same Dad who illuminated my path to healing and recovery by his example of perseverance in sobriety.

I feel very blessed!

 

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(Written August 8, 1990)

It was June of 1969.  I had just come home from my freshman year at Texas Tech.  I had not declared a major except for General Studies.  I liked my psychology and sociology courses, and thought about going that direction for a major.

We lived in Fort Worth, and during the school year a lot had changed.  My Dad had moved back in with Mom, and they had moved in to another house – on Spurgeon Street.  I was leery of this arrangement – too many unresolved hurts and angers, and a deep mistrust of my Dad, even though he had stopped drinking.  I didn’t know why consciously, because I didn’t remember much of the hell of the last four years of his drinking.

Subconsciously I did not want him there.  Yet waging war against that – the internal proddings of my inner child who was screaming “this man is dangerous, get him away from here,” – was the deep seated need to have his blessing, win his approval, do something or be something that he could be satisfied with.

So I took the protective course, though I didn’t know why. There was a large attic with a partially finished room in our new house.  I made that my bedroom and moved up there, to be as far as possible from him and to have what felt like an island of safety.  He couldn’t just walk in on my like he used to do – drunkenly heaping abuse on me.  I could at least hear him coming.

So I began my summer job, and warily explored his renewed presence in my life.  I was bonded to him by the abuse, and though I didn’t know it, he had a total power over my life.

I had begun taking Russian classes the previous spring, to satisfy my language requirement for general studies.  The previous Christmas he had suggested he’d always wanted to take Russian; that was enough for me, so I ended up in Russian class.

Now I was taking the second semester by correspondence over the summer, to be able to take the second year on schedule.  It was rough sledding, trying to find time and motivation to study, while working and hanging around with my friend during off hours.

I was studying in the living room one night, trying to finish the first lesson.  He came in and asked what I was doing.  I told him, and gave my reasons.

“So what are you going to major in?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet.  I really liked psychology and sociology, and I’m thinking about going into one or the other.”  I said it almost with a query in my voice, seeking his approval.

He thought for a minute.  He seemed to be in one of his ugly moods – reminiscent of the drinking days.  I knew the signs, but didn’t know what to do about them.

“You know,” he said, somewhat reflectively, “if you had any sense, you’d get a business degree.  You can do more with it, get better jobs.”

I just sat there, stunned.  I took it in, but once more my inner child quailed and screamed inside me: “No, I don’t want that.  I hate business.  That’s your path.  I want something else!”  The something else I wanted was English, writing, but he had taken that away five years ago and I could not even bring that thought to the level of conscious awareness.

He sat for a few more minutes, then picked up his coffee cup, and went into the kitchen.  But he had left the seed.  By this time, in my mind, it was like a royal decree – I hated the thought, but could not ignore it.  It had total power over me – just like he did.

It stewed inside me for a week or better.  He made no other comments – he did not need to.  I dropped the Russian course and changed my major to business.  I told myself it was because the Russian was hard, and business curriculum had no language requirement.  that was not the real reason, though I didn’t know.

I decided to go into marketing.  He was a salesman, and through my freshman year the one thing I didn’t want was business school, especially nothing dealing with sales.

So I was doing the thing I hated.  I hated it all the way through getting my degree.  I took a literature course once, as an elective, my inner child yelling for sustenance, but I could not break free of the path which had been ordained for me.

I was afraid to get a job – he had threatened to kill me if I thought I was better than him for getting a job, at a time when his drinking had bottomed out and he was about to lose his own job.  So I went to graduate school in business, stifled and hating every minute of it.

His comment was to determine my path for the next 20 years as I tried to fit into the businessman mold.  I was successful, but each time I began feeling the success, I tripped myself so not to threaten him and thereby threaten my existence.

I was trapped, imprisoned in chains clamped on me by a chance remark of someone in a bad mood, covering his pain and hurt by inflicting some on me.

I hated him with a passion that had begun when I was 12, and which by now had blossomed into an obsessive hatred – linking my destiny even more firmly to his.  But unaware, always unaware.  Unable to hear the roarings of my inner child over the conscious awareness of the simple line: “If you had any sense, you’d get a business degree.”

So I sold my soul – so as not to appear stupid.

 

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Note: This was written in June 1992, Brandon, Colorado.  I was working on a wheat harvest crew to Explore my Dad’s story – to “walk in his shoes”, if you will.  This was an allegory about my experience, that helped me see what was going on.  My old boots, like the ones my Dad wore, had physically worn out, and I needed to buy new ones.

——

Once upon a time a Young Warrior was commanded by his King to go on a Vision Quest, to see what he could see, to learn new truths and see reality more clearly.  The King was concerned because the Young Warrior, though a very brave and fine lad, knew not of his own strengths and powers.  The King felt that by venturing out on his own, the Young Warrior would discover his true self, and be better able to undertake some very bold adventures the King had in mind for him.

But the Young Warrior could not see himself as he really was because he was trying to follow in his Father’s footsteps, to gain his Father’s approval.  He did not feel he had measured up in his Father’s eyes, and this was the cause of his blindness about himself.

So when the Young Warrior prepared for his Vision Quest, he thought to himself that it would be a fine thing to follow the path that his Father had taken many years before in his own Vision Quest.  With that end in mind, he decided to wear the boots that he had acquired many years before, boots that were the same style as the ones his Father had worn.  The boots were now quite old, and since he had first gotten them, had never fit properly, being too loose fitting.  They were of heavy construction, with steel in the toes, and not really very comfortable.

But he wore them anyway, on the first phase of his Vision Quest.  As he turned toward home he noticed a nail that protruded through the sole and pricked his heel.  He took tools and pushed the nail down, but it kept popping up and bothering him.  The boots had grown quite worn from the heavy use during his Quest.  So he put them in the closet for the winter, as he meditated upon what he had learned on his journey.

It had been a very long and tiring road for the Young Warrior, and to the King it was evident that the lad had claimed his true self, but the young man saw it not.  The King, being old and wise, knew this was possible, and so had prepared the lad to take the trail once again, to let the lesson sink in.  The King also knew of the strength of the expectations in the young man’s mind that he must live up to his Father’s standards.  The King had also watched the Father’s Vision Quest, and knew that the young man had the ability to far transcend what his Father had accomplished.  But to do this the Young Warrior would have to lift his eyes from his Father’s path and seek his own way.  So the King’s preparation in sending the Young Warrior out a second time was fitting and wise, thought the young lad could not see it, and did not understand the need for a second Quest.

As the young man once again prepared to go out, he knew that the previous year’s journey had changed him in some fashion, but he could not see what had occurred, because the road had been too tiring.

The young man felt it was time to let go of the old boots and purchase some new ones, but he was not quite ready to do so, for some reason he could not quite explain to himself.  So he went to a cobbler and had the heels repaired, to mend the nail that had kept pricking his heel.  The cobbler assured him that the problem was solved.

As the young man ventured back out onto the trail of a year ago, he was startled to see how bold his previous venture had been, and how brave and fine a lad he truly was.  This was as the King had intended, and upon hearing reports of the Young Warrior, he was well pleased.

After a short time the young man also saw how different was his path from that of his Father.  He could not explain how he knew this, but it was so.  He grew more and more confident in his steps, and began to fully feel the powers he had been given, but which had lain dormant while his eyes were fixed upon his Father.

About this time the cobbler’s work failed.  Several nails started popping up and pricking his heel, and try as he would, he could not fix them.  He grew frustrated because the cobbler was now many miles away to the South.  The Young Warrior grew dissatisfied with the boots that were like his Father’s.  They were still heavy and cumbersome, fit poorly, and of course, there were the nails.

So one day, being close to another cobbler’s shop, he ventured in, and saw a new pair of boots which he liked greatly.  The were lightweight, of newer and improved construction, they fit his feet well, and were just the right type for the path he walked.  He purchased them.

Like a flash of lightning, as he put on the new boots and put the old ones back in acorner out of the way, it came to him that he had worn the old boots to be like his Father, but that they did not fit and did not suit because he was different from his Father.

At that moment, he truly became the Bold Warrior, and struck out on the Vision Quest path to see what he could see, not to see what his Father had seen.  The new boots became the symbol of the new man that the Young Warrior had become, and he knew he was comfortable with the change, and felt ready for the bold adventures he sensed the King had been preparing him for.

The Young Warrior felt grateful for the wisdom and insight of the King, and turning to look back at the old boots and bid them goodbye, he set out on his true path.

Photo Credit:

“Work boot” by Bigbadvoo @ flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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Written October 17, 1988

I was out in the back yard shooting baskets with some of the boys from the neighborhood.  It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, sweatshirt weather, and I was feeling great about life.  I had finally gotten the knack of the jump shot, and was really proud of myself.

The back door open, my Dad called out, “Son, come here a minute.”

I walked over to him, breathing hard from the exertion.

“Get your jacket, we’re going down to the Y.”

“The Y? How come?”

“I’ve signed you up for boxing lessons,” he said, in that tone like when it was time for me to get a haircut; no more talk, this is just the way it is, just do it!”

So I said nothing and went along, puzzled.  I was 11, in the 5th grade, but I hadn’t been in trouble or getting in fights or anything.  But boxing was important to my Dad, I knew that.  A ritual at our house was to watch the Gillette Friday Night at the Fights.  Dad had boxed in the Marine Corps while he was stationed in Hawaii.  But I had never particularly gotten off to the idea of getting hit; volunteering for it seemed especially bizarre.

So I started taking boxing lessons at the local YMCA.  Twice a week, after school, my Dad would drive me down and hang around watching me for an hour, while I went through a rudimentary boxing workout – sparring, heavy bag, and a little, very little, coaching.  It only confirmed that I didn’t like being hit, so one day in the car, I asked him about it.

“Dad,” I asked, “why am I doing this boxing stuff, you know, taking these lessons and all?”

He looked awkward and embarrassed, the way he did when talking about anything more personal than the World Series.  “Son, knowing how to defend yourself is something a man needs to know.  I thought it was time you learned it, and that this was the best way to do it.”  He patted me clumsily on the shoulder.

I sensed that fighting was the proving ground – the entrance test to manhood.  But from what I saw of the kids at school who fought a lot, if you won, the good feeling lasted a minute, if you lost, the defeat burned deep.  It looked like a neverending test.

After about two months of lessons I found out that Dad had entered me in Fight Night – an amateur fight card held one Friday night a month at the YMCA.  I knew there was no way in hell I wanted to do that.  When he told me, my mouth fell open, my eyes widened, and I started to say something.  I looked at him and saw the determined set of his jaw and the knitted brow – his “because I say so” look.  So I said nothing.

————–

Friday afternoon.  The afternoon of Fight Night.  My mouth was so dry I couldn’t swallow – somehow it had just become real that I was going to go through with it.  Dad brought home my equipment – bright red trunks, baggy on my skinny frame, a red silk T-shirt, mouthpiece, and a jock strap.  It was my first experience of a jock strap, and it increased my dread – if you needed to protect yourself “down there,” the whole business took on a deadly air.

I don’t even remember driving to the Y.  The first thing I remember was sitting in the locker room – mingled smells of sweat, analgesic, and an aura of fear.  I could hardly look at the other boys sitting around on benches, each of us in similar gear.  The shiny new red boxing gloves I wore looked huge and ominous as I stared down at them.

I could hear the murmur of the crowd outside, periodic bells, clapping and cheering.  My Dad was not around, but I knew he was out there, in the crowd, watching.  I had never been to Fight Night; I had no idea what to expect.

It came my turn; I felt numb.  I walked out of the locker room.  The gym was darkened, except for the bright band of yellow, musty light shining down from the ceiling on to the ring.  The ring was fenced with ropes, elevated, separated from the crowd.

I walked mechanically down the long darkened aisle, the crowd a looming yet physical presence on either side of me.  I climbed up the steps, ducked through the ropes and into the ring.  My opponent stood shaking his arms in the blue corner, but I could not meet his eyes.

I felt exposed, vulnerable.  I could see no one outside the circle of light, but heard the rumble, could feel the people, most of all could sense my Father, expectant.

We were to fight 3 two minute rounds.  The referee called us to the center of the ring, and we stood, two young boys, one in red, one in blue, facing each other – and the test.  We touched gloves and went back to our corners.

The bell rang and I moved slowly toward him.  He lunged at me and began hitting me in the face and stomach.  I stood numbly and took it, hardly throwing punches, forgetting all I’d learned, too scared to move, hating the pain, feeling the hurt.  It felt interminable, yet suddenly a bell rang and I was on a stool in the corner.  I wiped my nose on my glove and horrified, saw a dark smear of blood.

The bell rang and it started again.  I began crying; I just wanted it to stop.  Suddenly the hitting stopped and I became dimly aware that I was standing alone under the bright lights, crying.  The referee was holding up the other boy’s arm.  He had won.  I was a loser twice over, for losing the fight, and for crying.  I had failed the test.

I cried and cried, I could not stop.  Someone wiped my nose on a white towel and it came away red.  I staggered back out of the ring and started the endless walk back down the darkened aisle, my head hanging, sniffing and sobbing.  My Dad was not around – part of me was glad; part of my soul silently cried out for him.  I wanted to run, to hide; to hide from my Dad, to hide from my shame.

 

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(Written September 20, 1988)

We were in a house trailer just outside the Lindreth trading post, in northwest New Mexico. There were six of us on the hunt that year: My Dad and I; Morris – Dad’s best friend, and his son Brad; Don – who owned the trailer and was to be our guide, and his son Chris.

I had watched my Dad leave to go hunting each fall since I could remember, had seen the freezer filled with venison after he returned. Hunting was the time when the men gathered together. Brad and I were 12, and this was our first time to go along, even though we weren’t to carry guns.

Now as I lay in the lower bunk late at night – Brad was in the upper, the noise level from the dining room was rising. Our bedroom door was open, and light filtered down the hall, hazy with smoke. I heard cards shuffling, chairs scraping, ice tinkling in glasses, the long monotone of the joke then the raucous laughter at the bawdy punch line.

I was wide awake, thrashing around, had a knot in my stomach and a strong sensation something was not right. I hadn’t known this partying was part of hunting and was not sure I wanted to be here. But I worshipped the tall man who was in there drinking and needed desperately to be a man in his eyes. He was my hero. I couldn’t talk about the tension and my misgivings – you just didn’t do that – but this felt strange.

On top of it all, earlier that day I had seen my first dead man. He was lying in the back of an ambulance outside the general store but the sheet didn’t cover his head; Chris and I stared in horrified curiosity, saw his vacant stare, the dark line of dried blood across his forehead and running down between his empty eyes. We stood gawking until a man came up and shooed us away. We lingered and heard talk that he had been coming back from hunting, driving too fast in his pickup. He topped a rise on the gravel roads and ran head on into another pickup. He was killed instantly.

I got out of bed, went out into the smoky pall of the dining room, and told Dad my stomach was upset. He looked at me with eyes slightly blurry, told me to go outside if I had to be sick, and went back to the cards. That felt odd. I wanted to say more, but couldn’t. I went out into the bitter cold night, a startling blackness. I voided my stomach of the steak and all the apple cider from dinner, but the tension remained.

I shivered. It didn’t make sense. Those men were in no condition to be safe and tomorrow they would all have loaded rifles. The whole thing felt insane. I wanted to go home. I went inside, down the hall; I glanced at Chris asleep in the top bunk; I wondered what he thought of all this. I got back in bed and finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

9 A.M. I thought deer came out at dawn. Why were we sleeping so late? I got up and began dressing, pulling my blue jeans over my long johns, lacing the boots. I went to the front of the trailer. The men moved stiffly, slowly, gingerly. They looked like hell. I knew why. Last night seemed like a bad dream but the heavy smell of smoke said it wasn’t and there were the empty bottles and cards scattered on the breakfast table.

Grouchily the men downed gallons of coffee and made preparations, checking rifles and knives, speaking little; no one fixed any breakfast. I didn’t want to do what we were about to do – but I had no choice. God help us.

We loaded into the pickup, the three men in the cab with their rifles. Chris, Brad and I climbed into the bed of the truck and huddled against the cab, out of the biting wind. We were road hunting – driving along dirt roads through the hills, scanning the sagebrush and scattered woods. It was a grey, cloudy, bitter cold day, with a forecast of snow. Chris, who was 17, mature and worldly to Brad and me, began cursing the cold and the fathers in a low monotone. I was shocked by his language, but as I grew colder I mentally began to cheer him on. It felt like we had been in the back of the truck forever, I was freezing, didn’t they know how cold it was, didn’t they care?

From the front of the pickup there was laughter as the fathers scouted the hills, with the heater on high, safe and warm. I looked through the rear window and saw them passing a bottle. I turned back around and curled up in a ball, my stomach churned.

The stopped for a few minutes, got out, let us get in the cab to warm up. Then things happened so fast they blurred. Morris, who had the sharpest eyes, spotted two bucks up on a ridge, raised his rifle and fired. A hit, one buck staggered and limped into a draw. Don yelled that we couldn’t let the buck get across that fence down the road – it was Indian reservation, illegal to hunt there, and we had to head him off.

Dad started running down the road with Morris right behind him, guns held in front of them, chest high. Brad and I got out of the truck and stood uncertainly. I was terrified – be careful with the guns! Suddenly I had a vivid mental image of Morris tripping, falling, shooting my Dad in the back. It was a crystal clear picture; it felt real.

I stood frozen, shivering, nauseous. This was too much. I wanted to go home. Please, just let me go home.

The buck rose from the brush. Morris fired, the buck fell and everyone was yelling and talking excitedly.

I felt a sinking sensation as I began to realize that we’d have to do this whole thing over again next fall. It was ritual.

But that was then. These days I don’t go hunting at all.

I’ve seen enough killing.

 

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