It was the summer of ’89, when Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight up” were the songs all the girls on our block wouldn’t stop singing. It was the summer my friend Devin beat up the neighborhood bum we called The Sunshine Man with a baseball bat, and the summer my older brother Eddie shot Old Dan on the front porch of his run-down house.
It wasn’t like it was planned or anything. It just sort of happened. Eddie and I were hired by a few of the ladies in our neighborhood to kill the snails that ate their vegetable gardens and after a few hours of smashing their tiny shells, Eddie decided that a more productive way to kill them would be to shoot them with the BB gun Mom bought for us to share. So, like usual, I followed along.
Now I can’t remember exactly how we got to walking up the dirt road that lead to Old Dan’s. Perhaps it was because shooting snails was not very exciting after the first five minutes. Perhaps it was because we wanted to go hunting for squirrels and birds on Old Dan’s overgrown property. I think the most likely reason was the excitement of entering enemy lines. Old Dan hated kids, especially wild kids like us who had no father, no money, and were left to run about like animals. Whenever he’d see us coming he’d spit in our direction and mumble cruses. He’d sometimes yell out that boys like us would be one of two things: faggots or felons, maybe even both.
Whatever the reason for heading up that dusty road on that particular day, we knew at the time that anything was more fun than being inside the house with Mom, watching reruns of Knots Landing while she ate Twinkie after Twinkie without ever tasting one. Mom always told us that we’d never be big like her, that we had our father’s genes. Then she’d go on to tell us that hopefully we only inherited his thin genes and not his criminal ones. She’d say things like, “A good man is hard to find,” or “Dogs always bark,” or “You can’t train stupid,” and we’d just stand there and nod, hoping she could make this rambling short so we could go outside and play. She was always rambling at us.
So Eddie and I climbed the steep dirt road that lead to Old Dan’s house. When we reached the top, we both froze. There was Old Dan, sitting on the front porch, staring out at us. I looked over at Eddie and saw how wide his eyes were.
“Let’s go back,” I said, “We should finish killing the snails.”
Eddie stayed quiet for what felt like five minutes. He just stared at Old Dan’s face.
“No,” he said right as I felt the overwhelming urge to run back down the road towards home.
He started walking towards Old Dan.
“Eddie,” I whispered.
Eddie kept walking. Reluctantly, I began to follow. He stopped in front of the porch and stared at Old Dan’s expressionless face. I couldn’t help but feel like the old man was trying to scare us. Like he would jump up and scream, “Boo!” when we got close enough.
“Eddie,” I whispered and stopped a few feet away from his back.
Eddie stared at Old Dan’s face and Old Dan stared back. Eddie leaned down and picked up a rock just a little bit larger than a pebble. “What are you staring at?” Eddie said in a low, growling voice I barely recognized.
“Eddie,” I whispered, “Let’s go.” I never took my eyes off of Old Dan. I wasn’t going to let him scare me.
Eddie threw the rock at Old Dan’s face. The rock hit him right on the forehead. The old man never flinched. Eddie lifted up the BB gun and pointed it at him.
“No Eddie,” I whispered, now staring at my older brother and noticing how angry he looked. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him look so mean, so wicked.
As Eddie fired the gun I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I saw Old Dan still sitting in the same spot looking out at us, but with only one eye. Eddie had shot his eye out. The mangled, fleshy socket where an eye once resided still seemed to stare at me.
My ears must have been ringing because I couldn’t hear a thing. I was frozen, staring at the empty socket. I felt Eddie shake my shoulder and turned to watch as he dropped the gun and ran back down the road. I looked back at Old Dan. Even with a missing eye and a locked expression he seemed disapproving of my very presence in front of him. Even a dead old man with a missing eye seemed stronger than I was at that moment. I picked up the BB gun and fired five times into his face, then ran back down the road.