I'm back in Florida and I've digressed back to being so young. So many memories there, I'll have to bounce out every now and then just to keep the variety going in these memory posts. When you're 5 years old, which is how old I was when we left Florida, every day is a lifetime. Every moment I experienced at that age seemed so vital. They seem clearer than my memories of last week.
My second dad was in Nam. He went a little crazy and turned to the bottle for sanity or for a good time. My mother was still, at this time, also enjoying the needed drink or two but working hard to quit. She has now been sober over 25 years. I'm proud of my mom.
Anyway, I'm out in a field with step dad #1 and he has his rifle. He's teaching me all about how to use it and how to behave around people with guns. I'm around 4 years old. The gun looks about as mysterious as the wheat field, which I'm still not used to seeing.
This is the same field where I had previously narrowly missed stepping on a cottonmouth snake, saved only by my mother grabbing my arm and telling me briskly 'HALT!' I hovered, my right foot stuck in the air, over the black viper. The snake then curved and wove itself back into the wheat, unaware that I was lingering above it. I resumed walking, unaware that my life could have ended. My mother was a little more shaken.
So, Nam Dad is pointing his gun to the lightly clouded blue mass that he calls 'sky', aiming at the clouds. "Bet you I can punch a hole right through one of those clouds." He says. I hesitate to disagree and decide that he probably can. "Stand behind me! Always stand behind someone who is firing a gun." I rush behind him, edging out only a little to view the cloud, as I expect it will burst in a flare of white smoke and vanish on impact. He holds the rifle out high and looks around back at me, so low by his feet. He shuffles in circles, making me scurry to stay behind him. He laughs.
Then he shoots.
The echo is intense. I don't even see the cloud he was aiming for anymore, I'm so dizzied by the bang of the rifle. The world spins chaotically for an instant and I steady myself, checking to make sure I'm still behind him. He could fire again. But he brings the gun down, looks down at me and laughs. We start to head back along the path. Several steps later he stops me and points to the ground. "You see that?"
I look down on the edge of the path and see a lizard. Not an especially large one but, to my childish eyes, it looks big enough to get me concerned by what my dad is pointing out.
The lizard is dead. Not just dead, but dead with a bullet lodged in it's head.
It lays there as if it had been casually scurrying back into the wheat when an unexpected bullet fell from the sky and landed right in it's cranium. Squish. Pinned to the ground. Dead.
I look up at Nam Dad. He raises his eyes to the sky and back down at me. Then he raises his finger up in the air. "Don't you ever fire a gun straight into the air."
Needless to say, I'm convinced of the danger that gravity poses when mixed with small, heavy, fast moving cylinders of lead. I stay there, squatted to the ground, with the lizard for a second, examining it, covered in dust. A little bit of blood has leaked from it's head and merged with the dusty path. The lizard is a little skinny; a little emaciated; a little too dead.
How much earlier in the day had my dad come out here and stuck that bullet in the lizard's head before taking me out to this field? Did he kill the lizard himself or just find it dead and get the idea to teach me about Newton in his own way? I imagine him, pistol in one hand and a squirmy lizard in the other, pinning the creature to ground, digging the barrel into it's forehead. No, he must have used a hammer to put the bullet in, or pushed it in by hand. These things puzzled me for a while on the silent walk back to the house.
To this day, I tell myself that this event was staged. But I still don't think that was a blank he fired straight into the air.