6. Shooting Den
In the years 1944 to 1955, from ages 5 and 4, respectively, Den and I grew up in Wilton and Weston Connecticut. We had a mother, but no Dad most of the time. Still, we had woods to roam, kid forts, rivers and swimming holes to cool off in. We had an English Setter named Renny, noble in appearance and character, who would disappear for two and three days at a time hunting and fornicating before returning home, happy and hungry. Houses were rarely locked back then, and hitchhiking was safe. This added to our mobility which was somewhat limited by our single parent status, unusual for Fairfield County in the 1940s and 1950s.
Though Den was a problem at school, he was very much a follower. He was vastly enthusiastic much of the time, happy to be included, willing to compromise. There was a softness about him growing up, a vulnerability and naive sweetness that made him an easy target. I could get him going if I worked at it, and sometimes I did. He was a year older, but I was better at school, better at sports. I made fun of his fat, derided his exaggerated stories, mocked his taste in music though he was into some of the best black R&B of the '50s. "Hey, Bo Diddly, hey, Bo Diddly," I would say, looking at him with a puzzled expression. "What does it mean? Can you just tell me what it means?"
1952. A year or so before the discovery of girls as primal mystery, my raging hormones turned me to thoughts of war. I was twelve and Den, thirteen, and it was a period when we shot each other quite a bit. We shot each other with rubber bands and bows and arrows, water pistols, sling shots, BB guns and whatever else was handy. I started things more often than not, but Den tried to give as good as he got.
One afternoon my friends and I were having a wonderful time in the woods, drinking blackberry brandy and firing off the brass detonator caps from shotgun shells one of the kids had stolen from his father's gun chest. The brandy was stolen too. The kid who brought it said it wouldn't be missed because his parents never drank that shit.
To fire the detonator caps, we cut them from the back of the shotgun shells, placed them on a flat rock and bashed them with another rock. This made a sharp, satisfying explosion, like a pistol shot, and the sound attracted Den, who came by to find out what was going on and, of course, he wanted to do it too. The brandy had made me loose and bold, and I set one of the brass shell bottoms on its side instead of flat, with the detonator cap kind of pointing at Den, and gave it a good bash with a rock. I was half hoping it wouldn't work but it did. It fired and the brass cap hit Den in the arm.
Den began to run around in a little circle with his arm held straight out in front of him, making this high pitched keening noise that sounded like " hee, hee, hee, hee, hee," Tears streamed down his face. I was getting scared and finally I yelled at him to shut up and stand still so I could see how bad it looked and if I could fix it before our mother got home.
There wasn't much blood and you could see where the brass cap entered his arm just above the wrist. From there, a thin bluish bulge extended in a straight line about 3 inches up his arm ending in a hard little knot where the cap stopped under the skin. It was fascinating to look at, but it wasn't anything I could fix with iodine and a Band-Aid, even if I could get him not to tell, which I knew I couldn't.
So I knew I was in deep trouble.
When our mother got home she immediately took Den to the doctor, and of course on the way she got the whole story out of him, and when she got back she smacked me a couple of times, hard. Said I could have put his eye out or maybe killed him. She made me stay in my room (this was before grounding) for two weeks. Even for meals.
That Christmas, my father gave Den and me Daisy air rifles. These were the best BB guns you could buy, with bluing on the barrels and wood stocks and fast pump action, and our mother did not want us to have them at all. She remarked that my father was conveniently absent from the mayhem that would follow.
Our mother made us memorize and repeat and promise to follow a lot of safety rules about using the guns only for target practice and hunting, but I knew for a fact that Mike and Johnny Richardson up the road also got BB guns for Christmas, and that opened up some wonderful possibilities for warfare and heroism.
Mike Richardson was a big happy kid who liked shooting his brother Johnny as much as I liked shooting Den, so we had that in common, and we formed an alliance. Then Den and Johnny Richardson figured they had better form their own alliance, which they did, and we carried our guns on the ready at all times.
One day Mike and I were waiting in ambush for Den and Johnny. We were up on a hillside behind some trees and boulders overlooking the dead end road we lived on, bordered by a stonewall some 50 yards below. Mike had brought a coke bottle filled with some sort of sweet wine, and as we passed it back and forth our boasts of incipient sibling carnage wound to a bloody pitch of enthusiasm. When Den and Johnny appeared on the road below, we opened fire and they took cover behind the stonewall and returned our fire. I was juiced up and mad as hell at Den for something he pulled earlier and I really wanted to get him good. I yelled for Mike to cover me and begin to advance down the hillside, running from tree to tree. My plan was simple. I intended to charge the last few yards, jump over the stonewall, and blast my brother point blank.
I was behind the last tree with about 10 yards of open ground between me and the stonewall. I took a cautious squint around the side of the tree to see if the coast was clear for my final charge and at that moment Den stood up and shot me in the eye.
He shot me right smack in the right eye. I could not believe it. I said "Oh shit, oh shit," and knelt down cupping the eye with both hands. Mike yelled, "truce!" and Mike and Den and Johnny came running.
My eye was swelling up and it hurt like hell. I could not see anything out of it, only a milky green filmy kind of light. Den was sorry and scared, and I told him and Mike and Johnny we had better come up with a pretty good story or we would all lose the BB guns. So we all agreed to say that I tripped in the woods and fell, and a stick jabbed into my eye.
And that seemed to work at first. But things got tricky when the Doctors at the Norwalk Hospital told my mother there was a "foreign body" in my eye and they wanted to operate. I told her it must be a piece of the stick but I figured they would find the BB in there and the game would be up. Then my mother said you don't take any chances as far as eyes are concerned, and she took me to Columbia Presbyterian for a second opinion. They said the "foreign body" was actually a blood clot that would eventually dissolve, so the story held up and we kept the BB guns.
Den and I didn't shoot each other for a while after that. I knew he felt bad about my eye, but I didn't really think it was his fault. He was just defending himself.
I could not see anything out of that eye for about two months. Then one day when I was feeling better I took out the old Daisy, gave it a pump, and muzzle loaded it with a straight pin. I walked up right behind Den and shot him in the ass. That pin must have gone in a good half inch.
He screamed like a girl.