Bow and Arrow Christmas

April 14th, 2014

I had the chance to go back and try to warn my younger self of something, in hopes that I could spare myself some pain and some misery, or some awkwardness or some discomfort. The choice rattled me, as I imagine it would for anyone. How was I supposed to decide a single moment to change, out of all the years that I’ve lived? But after a moment, I knew exactly which younger self I would try to warn, and exactly which moment I would try to escape.

It wasn’t that time when I accidentally touched the stovetop, although that hurt like hell and that burn left a scar on my elbow that I’ll never get rid of. It wasn’t that time when I sneezed (or rather, unleashed,) an explosive sneeze in front of that girl that I had a huge crush on, even though that was the last time she talked to me. And it wasn’t even that time when I got sick for a week and could hardly breath.

It’s the small, delicate moments – the ones that you hold in your fingertips while you run head first down the stairs and hope they don’t shatter like glass – that affect you the most.

I watched my eager nine-year-old self and my siblings run down the stairs, racing to see who could be the first one to the tree on Christmas morning. I could have told my younger self to slow down, but I was too distracted by the pure bliss that gripped this nine-year-old boy.

I watched my eager nine-year-old self get to the tree and cheer with delight and hug my younger brother, even though we’d probably gotten in an argument less than twenty four hours before then, and would probably again less than twenty four hours later. I could have told my younger self to treat my brother with as much joy and community, regardless of my circumstances, but I was too distracted by the elation of seeing presents under the tree.

I watched my eager nine-year-old self hug a less tired and less stressed version of my dad. We eyed the presents together, like a hunter eying a forest or a field ahead of him. He knelt down beside me, pointed, and said: “Just wait until you open that one.”

There’s nothing I would change about that moment.

So I watched my rapturous nine-year-old self joyously tear open present after present, halting only briefly to announce his new gift to the world like a train conductor announcing that a train had just arrived. I could have told my younger self to slow down, but I was too distracted by the anticipation for that big present – the one my dad had just pointed out.

Finally, I got to it. He got to it. My nine-year-old self laid his ruddy fingers on the large box and tore the wrapping paper off to reveal a bright red hunting bow. I could have told my younger self to leave it in the box until tomorrow, but I was too curious, even now.

It wasn’t a large bow, just a little too large for a nine-year-old. I watched my nine-year-old expression slowly shift, and I remembered all of the marvelous dreams I’d had about re-enacting scenes from Robin Hood (the 1970s Disney animated version, of course). I could have told my younger self that Robin Hood only shot his bow outdoors, but that would’ve been a lie, and I wouldn’t have believed it, even if it were true.

I watched my nine-year-old self open the rest of his presents. I watched as my family dispersed to their own Christmas day activities – eating candies or reading new books or playing with new toys. I watched as I got the bow out and pulled the string back, testing it’s strength against mine.

My father received a grand and majestic painting for Christmas that morning, and it sat leaning up against the wall in our living room, framed and matted with a glass cover.

I watched my nine-year-old-self take an arrow and pull the bow back. I could have told my younger self to STOP! And ask him “What the hell are you doing?” but he wouldn’t have heard me, anyway. And even if he had, he wasn’t thinking about why he was doing it. He was thinking about Robin Hood, and about adventures, and about how dad got him the bow so that he could learn to shoot, all by himself.

I launched the arrow into the painting, shattering the glass that was covering the canvas into a thousand tiny shards.

My younger brother looked up from his pile of candy, licking his lips, and squeaked in his inarticulate juvenile voice:

“Good job, Johnny, you shot a hole. Good job!”

I could have told my younger self that it was okay. I could have told my younger self that I shouldn’t be ashamed, and that accidents happen, and that nine-year-olds don’t always know what they are doing. But the truth is that twenty-four-year-olds don’t always know what they are doing, either.

I never shot a bow again, I never got a present like that again, I’m not sure that my dad gave me a hug quite like that again, and I never watched Robin Hood again.

Because it’s the small, delicate moments – the ones that you can only hold in your fingertips while you run head first down the stairs and hope they don’t shatter like glass –that affect you the most.
 
 

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