Shotgun Over His Shoulder

Looking back, I guess you could say it all might have been for nothing. This dream that I could grow up and do anything I wanted. I think that might have been the first time when my mother lied to me, at least the earliest I can remember. I might grow old in that town one day, like my father and his father. I might be lucky enough to die in that town. I might tell my teenage self a thing or two. Work a job where I have calluses, and dirt under my nails.

It was the coldest I had ever been. It was also the first time when I had a remembrance and significance with the property of death. My hand warmers stopped warming an hour ago, and the felt lining on the inside of my camo jacket pockets weren’t doing my boney nine-year-old hands any justice. My ears rang from the barrage of 12 gauge blasts fired into the seven a.m. sky. I watched those geese turn over in mid flight and slam the frozen January dirt. My father’s boots stepped up the ladder and out of the five-foot trench covered by cornstalks and brush. Those big rubber boots crunching the ice as he walked. I could see the snow was stained red. I always wondered if those thirty or so feet from that blind seemed as long for my father as it did for me… standing there, supported by a step stool dug in the floor of dirt. My hands still freezing in that blue January morning… still gripping my hand warmers as hard as I could as if I was trying to break them open for any ounce of life still trapped inside. Shotgun over his shoulder he wrapped his hand around a survivor’s long neck and swung… like a kid swinging a jump rope. The walk back to the blind, the earth crunched twice as loud as it did on the walk out… my hands covered in grit and black powder.

My ears rang with the telephone at one in the morning when he told me he was dead. It had to be around two weeks ago. I mostly thought about his mother. I had no way to get to him. My body was about thirteen hours away but my heart that night was in Northeastern PA. Speaking, crying, free on the phone. I didn’t look at things the same way. I wanted to reach for pockets I didn’t have. He laid there frozen and blue like those January mornings. I lived my life like a race. The older I get the younger I want to be. I have lived a number of life times it felt. I would have done anything to give him one of those. A do-over. His nails were dirty, and his hands were callused.