It all started when I was around seven. My father and I didn’t have a great deal in common. I was into GI Joes, and Saturday morning cartoons. He was into hunting and the Benny Hill show. Why anyone would watch TV with half naked women when there were cartoons? One day I found myself in the yard holding a bow and arrow. My father kneeling behind me instructing me to aim, breathe, and release. It may have been my father’s attempt to get me to stop playing with dolls, but there I was.
I was astonished that an adult, with at least ordinary common sense, would let me play with such a dangerous weapon. The arrows and bow were not exactly what I would call kid-friendly, but those were different times. I used to sit on the hump between the seats in the car for cripes sake! I pulled back the string, took a deep breath, pointed the contraption in the direction of a bale of hay, and released. The string snapped me in the nose so hard I thought I might have done irreparable damage to my good looks. The arrow shot limply into the ground.
My father sighed in disappointment and helped me nock the arrow back on the string. “This time, keep your nose out of the way,” he said. “Yeah, I got that,” I thought to myself. My nose stinging, my eyes watering, I couldn’t even see the target anymore. Regardless, I pulled back the string, tilted my head far away from the bow and let go. The arrow flew through the air with the deliberate accuracy of a professional archer and struck dead in the center of the bullseye. My father was ecstatic, and dumbstruck all in the same stroke. “Huh?” He let his astonishment slip out, “Well I will be darned!”
Now, to this day I haven’t told him it was purely dumb luck. In hindsight, I am pretty sure he is aware I misinformed him through omission. That night I heard him on the phone bragging to his best friend Terry, “My boy’s a natural! Yep, a perfect bull’s eye… Yeah, I was surprised too. Well come on over, we will do some target practice, you’ll see.”
I was determined to prove my efficiency with stringed weapons. The only thing I knew for sure; I couldn’t make that shot again with any amount of luck. I toiled over the upcoming exhibition, not wanting to disappoint my father. I practiced with all my free time and free time was something little boys had in abundance. Not being one for time management, though, I often found my mind wandering when I was “practicing”. The results of such wanderings eventually produced a fun game I called Catch the Arrow Before It Hits the Ground. My cousins and I spent hours playing this game before it was banned by my mother.
On the fateful day, I was sitting under an elm tree playing with my GI Joes. Terry turned up the driveway, his four-wheel drive truck adorned with camouflaged paint and mud rumbling to a stop. There was a plethora of weapons hanging on a rack in the rear window. He got out, sipped a cold beer, and began unloading his gear. I ignored his presence and returned to the mission at hand, GI Joe was involved in a risky rescue mission to save my cousin’s Barbie Doll from a perilous pit. My father walked onto the front porch holding his bow, a quiver of arrows and, adding to the dread building in the pit of my stomach, my bow and arrows.
Before I knew it, I was standing between them on the practice range. The two men took turns launching arrows into the hay bale. My mind began to wander. Robin Hood had been an excellent shot with a bow. His devil-may-care attitude and lackadaisical approach to safety were eclipsed by his efficiency with the weapon. I honestly believed I might have gained the same level of skill through a process I learned about on Captain Kangaroo called osmosis. I watched Robin Hood shoot an apple from the head of his squire to impress a fair maiden and another apple as it flew through the air. Robin Hood’s most impressive shot was splitting an arrow right down the middle, winning the hand of said fair maiden. Certainly there was no better way to impress my father than splitting an arrow at fifty paces…unless it was splitting an arrow at fifty paces with an arrow fired between two unsuspecting human beings as they walked haplessly towards the target. I could see it now, the arrow leaving the string, whizzing between my father and his friend and splitting another arrow right down the middle. There would be cheering; they would raise me up on their shoulders and declare me the best shot in all the kingdom. They might even give me a sip of beer.
I selected an arrow, licked my thumb, gave the point a little flick, smoothed the feathers and nocked the arrow. This was going to be an amazing shot. I pulled the string back, leaned my head away from the bow, and released. I had forgotten to breathe! Breathing seemed like a minor formality - after all, I hadn’t seen Robin Hood breathe during any of his shots. My dad was going to be so impressed. I found my arrow arcing gracefully through the air and tracked its course, pride swelling my chest. My dad was probably going to buy me a new bow after this shot. The arrow began to wobble, maybe I shouldn’t have fired it without giving a warning. My little-boy mind couldn’t calculate the flawed trajectory. It was going to miss the mark! I yelled, FOUR!- a term used in golf to alert unsuspecting humans of an impending concussion; but this wasn’t golf. The arrow embedded in Dad’s left buttock with a thud. He lurched forward with a squeal, grabbing his back side. Then my father did something very uncharacteristic, he took off running. He spewed an incoherent string of words as he ran in circles - one of which I caught, “spanking”. Yep, I was in trouble for sure. I pled, “I forgot to breathe!” Terry chased after dad and when the dust cleared, an inspection revealed the arrow had only pierced half way through my father’s wallet. “Bulls Eye!” Terry said as he extracted the arrow. My dad sent me to the house. As I walked down the road crying Terry yelled in my direction, “Heads up, next time, not four.”