Early in high school, a friend of mine asked if I would like to shoot soda cans and bottles in his back yard. Having been born with a heterogametic chromosome configuration but into a world without the sanitized war of Halo (1-4) or Call of Duty (1-10) or Battlefield (1-11, plus 12 expansion packs), I said yes. My friend had a pneumatic, pump BB gun. We walked into the woods where he had obviously done this before, based on the aluminum debris littering the area and various shards of different colored, broken glass beside a fallen tree. We lined up cans and bottles (sometimes only the bottoms of bottles whose tops had been shattered) on the fallen tree. Because there was only one gun, we took turns shooting at the cans and bottles. And while every boy considers himself an expert marksman, fashioned after the likes of John Wayne or Dirty Harry, actually hitting the can or bottle proved a little more difficult, no matter the distance we stood from the targets. Real life is funny.
We laid down on a bed of dead tree leaves, twigs and the odd clumps of grass determined to grow despite the lack of sunlight and peat-like soil. Lying prostrate on the ground improved our aim a little and I actually hit a can or two. It was while we were on the ground that, beyond the fallen tree holding our targets, we saw a rabbit emerge from behind a thin, switch-like pine. My friend, holding the gun, quietly loaded and pumped the gun, giggled and took aim at the rabbit. Instantly, my stomach went to ice. Time slowed down as my eyes locked on to the little rabbit and competing thoughts fought to make it to my paralyzed tongue. Should I yell at my friend not to shoot, or scream at the rabbit to run? I jumped when the shot went off, and so too did the rabbit. Unlike the movies where bad guy falls instantly dead, the little rabbit jumped repeatedly into the air, never making a sound, but wounded and in extreme pain. To this day, writing this, the events are before me in Technicolor. My friend, equally silent, watched the wounded rabbit, smiled, got up, reloaded the gun, walked over to the panting, confused, bleeding and exhausted rabbit and shot it again, killing it. Real life.
I could go on and on about how America is awash in guns, desensitized by violence and more knowledgeable about the Kardashian’s and sports than Orwell or Shakespeare, but that’s for another day. Suffice it to say that it seems bravado and showmanship have eclipsed education and empathy in America.
I share all of this because I am again haunted. Driving home from the supermarket Sunday, I was in the left lane of a four lane divided road. In front of me and in the right lane (having just passed me on the right) was an enormous white Suburban. Ahead of us, on the grassy median strip was a small squirrel. Apparently frightened by the sounds of the oncoming vehicles, the squirrel attempted to seek shelter in the trees across the street. Again, time slowed down and I will forever have it in Technicolor horror. The squirrel darted across my path about thirty feet in front of me as I slowed down, somehow knowing the squirrel’s intentions. The Suburban, oblivious and in a hurry did not. The squirrel somehow managed to cross under the truck after the front left wheel and before the left rear wheel. There, it momentarily froze under the train car-length automobile, pulling in its bushy tail and almost holding its front and rear paws together in an attempt to make itself smaller. I can imagine the thunderous noise in the animal’s ears. Unfortunately, this life saving maneuver was held only fleetingly. The squirrel tried to make it to the curb, grass and trees barely two feet away, only to be hit by the right rear tire. As if hitting play on a long paused nightmare, the squirrel jumped repeatedly into the air, grievously wounded, then it hit the ground one last time, fell on its side and moved no more; the rabbit’s death years ago drowning my thoughts. Screaming and swearing, I made my way home, parked in the garage and cried. Real life hurts.
Real life is neither a movie, nor a video game. And while it can be beautiful, inspirational and compassionate, sometimes it is ugly, painful, unfair and hurts.