(A macabre tale of life and death… and a slice of pie.)
It was a day unlike any other day…isn’t that how you’re supposed to begin a tale wrought with tragedy and misfortune? The boy was eleven years old. It didn’t matter to him if the weather outside was delightful or if it was tepid for a mid-spring day. Regardless of the actual temperature, it was sunny outside and the boy had decided to venture out into the front yard to bask in the resplendent rays. So there he was in the lush green grass, the dandelions were sprouting everywhere and bending slightly to the warming spring breeze. The smells of new life, new chances and the warmth of hope was in the air.
What does any eleven year old do on such a day? He pretends to be a cowboy in the wild, Wild West. He climbs the tree in the front that has the perfect bow to perch in. He lies in the strands of grass that are too long and makes grass angels, scuffing up pants and cleanly laundered shirts with tattoos of green. While later, not now, he will hear the indictments from his mother as she discovers his spring mirth, grass aerobics and branch torn pocket. Then when these motion pictures of the imagination are over, he pursues other things, more sinister things, like burning ants with a bit of glass in place of a magnifying glass. Don’t judge, he was only eleven.
When the fried ants had lost the boy’s attention, he considers what else there is to do. The lazed Saturday afternoon hummed along in a duet of sound with the whirls and horns of the passing traffic up the street. Glancing over, past the charred remains of the small insects, the boy sees his next event for the afternoon. It’s less sinister than the last, but little does he know that the events of the next half hour will lead to murder. He walks over to the swinging gate that leads to the backyard and scoops up a small wooden golf club that is lying precariously in the tall grass. “There is a bright yellow tennis ball in the front yard which will make a perfect companion on this golf course for one;” He thinks to himself. Retrieving the tennis ball and then dropping it onto the imaginary tee the boy is now transformed into a famous golfer with awful plaid pants and socks pulled up too high that he has seen on the small television his father was watching. With golf club clutched in his pudgy, still very much a boy, hands he looks off into the distance judging just how far the ball will carry in the spring breeze. He imagines his strength will have to be tempered in order to keep from striking the ball too hard causing it to soar out into space. “I better go easy”, he thinks to himself. Taking a few practice swings, the boy steps up to the tee, no one will notice that the last “practice swing” was actually a very bad miss. This time, with a serious look of concentration on his face, the boy pulls the club back around behind his head, and with all of the force he can muster retraces the backward swing with an intense forward strike…the ball flies across the yard and into the bush beside the wooden fence.
“So far so good”, the boy thinks to himself. The yard is now gone and in its place is a finely smoothed out plain of green that is the golf course from the broadcast on the television that Dad was watching inside. Walking over to the bush, he notices the hint of yellow behind some particular jagged branches and leaves. Reaching down he plucks the ball from its hiding place and tosses it slightly away from the hazards of shrubbery and the neighbor’s fence. He then strikes the pose he has seen on the TV, all the while lining up the club to the back end of the ball and then he waits. He doesn’t know what he is waiting for. Perhaps he waits for the breeze to change directions or the silence of the crowd that has gathered invisibly around him. He looks up and out into the distance and then returns his gaze and study of the tennis ball at his feet. “It’s now or never” he pretends he hears the sports announcer say to his colleague in the press booth. The boy winds himself up, golf club in hand and ready for the most powerful shot by a golfer the world has ever seen. Without looking this time back at the ball, he winds himself up with all of the power that his eleven year old frame, (still a boy not quite a man) can muster…and then he strikes.
The macabre problem herein begins. Why is it possible that such a vivid moment in a young child’s life resounds more clearly than the most effective teacher in a class room ever could? This was the case for that boy on that infamous spring day when he was just eleven years old. He didn’t strike the ball very well. In fact, he didn’t strike the ball at all. There would be no cheer exploding from the invisible stands by make believe crowds in awe of this boy’s great and mighty athleticism. His exploits would not make the cover of sports illustrated or even in folk tales of victory around the neighborhood. No, because what happened next, was not some heroic event of a would be golfer, but rather the tragic epoch of horror and great sadness. It would be an involuntary life lesson in the fragility of the mortal world.
The club, destined for this great imaginary golf victory, did not strike its intended victim of the bright fuzzy yellow tennis ball variety. But rather fatally struck the unintended victim of the feline and furry variety…the house cat. Who, had been cautiously, stealthily stalking the rolling yellow ball in the tall green grass. There was nothing to be done. The boy, in full swing and visions of golfing victory, could not pull back, rewind, or halt what was to transpire and eventually expire. It all happened too quickly. Faster than the blink of his human eyes he would bear witness to this brutal lesson of life. All things end. Some abruptly. Some viscerally. And still others, yet to be learned, will end with but a faint whisper or an exhaled breath in unwanted beds.
The cat, mortally wounded, would later be mercifully put to sleep at the local veterinarian’s office. The boy whose cheeks, flushed with regret and soaked with salty bitter tears would not be spanked that day. Although, truth be told, He felt like he deserved such a punishment…or worse. But his punishment would be that sight, forever etched into his brain of a flailing house pet whose life had quickly been spent at the hands of a simple wood-shaft golfing putter. His reconciliatory prize that day was not a golfing trophy or a tongue lashing from his parents, but rather a family excursion to Pizza hut to eat the guilt riddled soul of an eleven year old child away in triangled slices of piping hot cheesy goodness.
Isn’t it ironically funny how life is like that? We learn at the behest of the instructed and disciplinary knee of life experiences. Too often our choices carry farther reaching consequences than we would rather admit or want. That boy on that spring day has never forgotten his lesson. He, still to this day, has never so mourned an animal more than when fate or circumstances stepped in, shattered childish preconceptions of life, and replaced it with reality – harsh and visceral. Yet I will never forget how good that pizza tasted. It was a small slice of heaven in the midst of my own personal hell. Lesson learned; never play golf with a crouching cat.