A popular Christmas movie, A Christmas Story, has a humorous repeating theme. “You’ll shoot your eye out.” I always thought I didn’t like the movie for its stupid leg lamp or the way it makes parents look like idiots, but a memory from my childhood revealed to me that my animosity goes deeper than fishnet stockings on the end table. Looking at it through a kid’s eye reveals much.
Victorville, California. 1979. My parents bought a piece of land with a tiny and dilapidated cinder brick house on it. Dad and I spent hours out there, removing trash, sweeping rubble—working, okay? We worked and man, it was hot and miserable. Victorville is to hot as North Pole is to cold (continuing with the whole Christmas theme here).
Being in the desert also includes things like scorpions (squish them suckers), rattlesnakes (shoot them slitherers), and the constant appearance of a red hourglass on the underbelly of a black spider. Can’t tell you how many of those things tried to make my mom one. Yes, that’s poetic license. Contrary to their reputation, black widows aren’t nearly as poisonous as people think. I didn’t know that then. This is important information right here.
I had a pellet gun.
So, when not working, I’d line up Dad’s beer cans on a log outside. Don’t ask how a log appeared in a place with no trees. These things defy explanation sometimes. I had a pretty good aim. Could hit a can, every time, at quite a distance. Dad often had to run to the store for something. Looking back, it was probably more beer so I’d have more cans to shoot.
Well, that would have been my excuse anyway.
I was supposed to leave things alone while he was gone. That way, if I got bit by something, he’d be there to cut off the offending limb. Yes, that’s how I imagined it as a kid. Knowing my dad, it’s not that far from reality. I can see him with a carving knife, waving it over a blazing fire to cauterize the wound he’d make as he sliced off a snake-bitten hand. I digress.
So, I’d shoot cans while he was gone—shoot ‘em until there wasn’t much left to shoot.
Again, the whole thing through a kid’s eye.
Look, I’d been given all the safety lessons that kids of the ’70s got. I knew not to point a gun at people, at my foot, or too close to a solid object. Back then, we didn’t wear earplugs or goggles. We’d have laughed if anyone suggested it. I mean, I rode in the back of our ’63 Ford Ranchero pickup from home to this place…on the wheel well! It’s how we rolled—literally.
But, because I’m me, eventually it happened.
Temptation to stupid behavior. I bit. A black widow crawled across that log. I aimed. Why I didn’t just step forward and smash that sucker with my foot, only God knows. It paused. I stepped closer—just to make sure I wouldn’t miss, you understand. Nice and close—only about 3 feet away.
In the split second between the moment I pulled the trigger and the moment the pellet whizzed past my eye close enough to leave a friction burn, I realized the stupidity of my action. I clutched my face, feeling the burn, and raced for water. No blood. Not through this kid’s eye… not this time.
I returned a minute later. Only a bent, spindly leg remained of the critter who had nearly cost me an eye.
I never did tell Dad about that. Yeah. Those parents in that stupid movie had it just about right.