It’s true. I was 11. I lived in a fairly citified neighborhood after growing up in the burbs, and I was trying to find my way in the “big” city. Really, Rochester NY is not that big, but when you’re 11 and your main play space is the art gallery park (which was part pavement, part grass, and had this big rock which was popular with the pot-smoking teens), you feel pretty cool.
I was what the other kids called a “tomboy” and I probably still fit that, but at that age it made me nuts when they said it. So I was all into jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts and I could climb a tree faster than most, so what? Gender roles have always confused me.
So at 11 I was still trying to prove… something. The boys in the neighborhood found me amusing I think. They were always challenging me to stuff. And this one day I was out with this slingshot, I have no idea where it came from anymore. I was pretty good with it, but I’d never in a figurative million years aim at an animal if I thought I would actually hit it. But those boys, they told me I was a useless girl and couldn’t hit the broad side of something or other (I mean, I’m paraphrasing because there were no barns anywhere within 20 miles, just asphalt, and I doubt they’d ever actually heard that phrase anyway). Of course I stood up for myself, something clever like “Oh yeah?” I was always coming up with clever things like that.
Then they made the Big Dare. They dared me to hit that squirrel up there in the tree. And by the way, life in the city being what it was, the boys handed me a piece of broken glass to use. We didn’t have much, but we made do, you know? So you know how dares go. You can never win. Walk away and you’re a chicken (bawk bawk), stay and try and you suck. Or, you could take aim and kill a squirrel. Seriously, I was completely sure I would never hit it. But I never used to back down. I’m fairly sure I’m not still like that, but please don’t test me, the results could be fatal.
So I shot, and the squirrel surprised the hell out of all of us by falling out of the tree, dead. I still can’t believe that really happened, but the memories of the sound of it falling, and of all three of us scattering in different directions stays with me. I ran home, threw my slingshot in the garbage and cried for a long time. Then I cried more, vowed never to take up arms again, apologized to everything living and dead. I’d wanted to prove I was powerful and competent, but I didn’t want the power over life and death.
To be fair, the boys were damn impressed. It was a boost to my rep at a time when I needed it, but I couldn’t brag like they wanted me to. I stopped taking dares, probably. I’m not positive really, because we moved away sometime fairly soon after that, to a small town where nobody knew I was a killer. In an ironic twist, I became famous at a retreat once for my dead squirrel jokes. (Why did the squirrel fall out of the tree? It was dead.) Hey, we all cope in our own ways.
I told my kids about it once, when I think my son wanted to shoot squirrels with his airsoft gun, and I was a little freaked out. I was hoping to make a point about the sanctity of life, or maybe not taking stupid dares, but I think what came across was “Mom is a big mushy mess when you remind her that she killed a squirrel, so use it whenever you want to get away with something.” My kids are wicked smart that way.
The last few years, I’ve been working on putting the past behind me in a healthy way. It’s hard because things are constantly being dredged up and I’m challenged to remember every terrible thing I said or did. Some of them I did, and not others, and some I can’t remember or never even knew about. But I’m sorry. Also I killed a squirrel, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve honestly never meant to hurt anyone*, even that poor squirrel in the tree. But I need to try to move on now, because if I carry every bit of guilt I feel, I won’t be able to go to work and feed my family. And trust me, they eat a lot.
*Okay, there was a girl I sort of beat up once, and I meant to at the time, but it felt terrible afterwards, and she never let me get close enough to apologize.