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The Hunter Dream

by | Jul 1, 2024 | ComLine, Voices of Recovery

From where I’m standing, hidden in a thicket of Pawpaw trees, he can’t see me. He’s walking towards me; unaware he’s being watched. 

He’s carrying a .22-caliber rifle, and he’s scanning the trees. He’s after squirrels. It’s late October 1939, and he turned 9 years old just two weeks ago. He hasn’t returned to school this season like all his friends did; he wasn’t doing well there. He had attention issues. He had anger issues. And little to no self-esteem. His father had explained to him that, since he was “so dumb anyway”, it didn’t matter if he didn’t complete school. His dad worked in Kansas, about 10-12 hours away from the family home in Poinsett County, Arkansas, and got home maybe once a week, sometimes not at all. There wasn’t much he could do about there being no jobs in the area, but convincing his son he was not worthy of an education eased his own guilt for not being there to keep him in school, and he continued to convince his son of his ignorance.

His twin sister Jeannie got the same treatment. Dad seems to think it’s their fault that his wife was institutionalized right after their birth in 1930 and remained so for these 9 years. It’s simply another convenient lie he tells himself at their expense. It de-values them, but they don’t understand that. 

Hunting squirrels is his favorite chore. This is where he finds his value in life. He is supplying the meat for their next meal, and the next, and he’s good at it. This is one of the few times he gets to feel as though he means something; he’s feeding his family.

He notices a blurry disturbance in the Pawpaw trees, and tries to make out what it is, then disregards it.

What he’s noticing is me, but he can’t quite see me. I’m there, but I’m not there. My presence is only hypothetical, foggy and misty at best.

He has no idea, but in 16 years, after his time in the Army serving in Korea, he and a pretty girl he meets on Lakehurst Rd. in Browns Mills, N.J. will have a son…and that boy is me. By that time his alcoholism will be ruling his life and hers, and for a very short time there will be a little love passed from mother to son, but that’s all. In short order, his drinking and subsequent behavior will start to destroy both himself and his young wife, and she will change drastically, beginning her own lifelong descent into multiple addictions, giving birth to 5 more children in the following 9 years, all in an extremely dysfunctional alcoholic home, a sure-fire recipe for extreme abuse. And all the while he still believed every negative thing his father ever said about him, specifically because it was told to him by the one man in the world he thought he had to believe at all costs, the man whose approval he desperately sought. It was only going to get worse.

He detects movement above him. He looks up, shoulders his rifle, and slowly pulls the trigger. A plump squirrel drops almost right at his feet. I look closely and notice it’s a head shot, exactly what’s needed for a supper kill. The meat won’t be damaged, and this is what he is most proud of. Nearly every squirrel he delivers to the family will be head shot. It’s the only thing the family ever praised him for, and he hungers for that praise. If he gets a few more of these, it won’t be boiled beans and bacon grease tonight. This may be the only thing about himself he will ever hold in high regard. He realizes this for a moment, leans his head against the hickory the squirrel fell from, and a tear begins to run down his cheek.
I see this, and I creep out from behind the Pawpaw thicket and quietly walk up behind him, gently wrapping my arms around him, and hug him. His tears began to flow a bit more freely. I’ve no way to let him know that it’s me there, holding him in a vaporous hug from another time that I’m not even sure he can feel. However, I’m certain this isn’t something he gets very much, if ever. The saddest thing is… there’s no way I can give him enough from where I’m at to assure him into his adulthood that he’s not alone, and I know all too well just how he feels, and what it can lead to.

I’ll try again later, Dad.

Thom L.


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