“Sometimes you’re shooting broken arrows in the dark . . .”
Avicii, “Stories” Album 2015
After Curt remembered the song lyrics his next thought was; well it’s not quite as bad as shooting arrows in the dark, but the situation is getting tenuous. He waited quietly, not moving and almost invisible. They would be coming again. He had set his sight on the wood line where the trees began. That is where they would be coming from. The laser range finder he used said the distance to the first trees was 150 meters. He adjusted his scope for that distance, and waited. There were long periods like this; he made tactical plans, he prepared to execute those plans and then he waited. It gave him lots of time to think.
This time was different. He was injured, low on ammunition and very, very tired. He would have to dig deep. He thought of his father at times like this, not that there had been many times quite like this, but he had been in plenty of tight spots before and each time he thought of his father.
Once when he was young, bullies jumped him in the alley behind his house. It was a “thing” back then. It got dark early in Minnesota. In the middle of winter it happened before you finished your walk home. It also got slushy from new snow that may have fallen during the day so parents had their kids come in the back door. Many back doors in Minnesota had an adjacent “mud room” for boots and hanging coats. To get to the back door you generally had to walk the alley behind the house and go through the garage. The houses all had fences, most wooden. So this made a great place for kids to do whatever it was they felt like doing.
Most of the time it was setting up tag football games or street hockey. Sometimes it was bullying someone. This particular time the kids were a year older and decided it was Curt they wanted to beat up on. Curt was a little bigger than normal for his grade and he suspected they simply wanted to make sure he knew his place.
This fight started like any other, name calling as a pretense to begin the physical stuff. They were quick to circle him and begin the pushing. In no time he was taking punches and trying to land a few back. He started really taking some hard hits to the face and head as he fell.
What happened next was a blur — it was a kids version of shock and awe. A figure came out of the corner from the side of a garage swinging something. Two things actually, one in each hand. He connected, repeatedly, with each of the older kids. Curt watched with his mouth open, wondering what was happening. Whatever was being swung whipped around fast; it was long and had to be hard as hell on the end. This was evident based on the sounds the kids made each time one of these ends landed. But they weren’t long enough to be bats or golf clubs. They were shorter and seemed to have a lot of flex in them as they arced through their paths.
The older kids quickly ran, some with significant limps, some hanging on to injured arms, down the street and away.
It took a moment for Curt to understand he was just saved. It took a second moment to realize that his savior was his dad. His dad reached down to give him a hand. He reached up, speechless.
His father said, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Curt replied.
His father looked thoughtful. He rubbed his chin and with no judgement in his voice quietly asked, “What do you think you are going to do about this?”
“Learn to protect myself,” said Curt, simply.
An almost imperceptible nod of approval was his father’s response. Later his final words on the incident came with a very serious look. He rarely used this look, but when he did Curt understood it was important. He knew he needed to listen and remember what he was about to hear.
“You know son, if you ever need me, you know I’ll be there for you.”
He spoke with a gentle and caring tone, but Curt could tell from his father’s eyes that he had just made explicit what Curt had always known to be true. His words were a commitment Curt’s father took very seriously.
Curt took his father’s oath seriously as well. He rarely needed to ask for help, but he always knew his father was there for him.
That evening as Curt was going to sleep, his father slipped in and placed a few things on the floor just inside the door. In the morning, Curt found his socks stretched beyond recognition and two lacrosse balls laying next to them. One of the socks looked like it had a small amount of blood on it.
Now, Curt couldn’t call his dad. His dad had passed away five years ago. He would have to rely on himself today.
He had a few things going for him; he could live on the land, they could not. He did not need to make fires, they did. He knew where his arms and ammunition were stashed and there were lots of stashes. They, on the other hand, needed to resupply . . . and re-man. Most importantly, he had planned for this years in advance. He was glad his father had taught him to play chess and he had learned to play it well.