Michael’s body shuddered from the recoil of the semi-automatic pistol he had just fired into a nearby tree. He had never shot a gun before, let alone a high caliber handgun, so he was surprised by the concussion when the cartridge exploded, driving the weapon back into his outstretched hand.
He heard the roar even as it reverberated in his chest and bent the air against his face, an arm’s length away from the now silent weapon. His nostrils caught the scent of gunpowder as his ears rang from the thunder clap in his hand.
A deep silence settled on the forest at the noise. Every creature paused, waiting to learn what the crash might portend. Even the wind held its breath until it could be sure nothing had been harmed. Michael held his breath, too.
Michael was 14. He was tall and slender with wavy black hair and periwinkle blue eyes. A boy’s beard barely outlined his jaw and his cheeks were dotted with teenage acne. But even with that passing blemish he could be seen as handsome; no, perhaps pretty.
He leaned back against the trunk of a sprawling beech tree that had long been his private hideaway when life became too difficult – which lately happened more and more as his divorcing parents fought for custody of his younger siblings but not for him. Neither parent wanted him. It was a rebuff like none he had ever experienced and Michael had known deep rejection early and often.
Moments before shooting the innocent tree he’d held the weapon in his mouth. He could still taste the gun cleaner that his father used to prevent rust and keep the blued metal shiny and clean.
Michael noticed that the thousand degree blaze that roared forth from the weapon had baked a bit of his spittle onto the barrel of the gun. He recalled his surprise at the foot-long flame that lasted but a second, driving the bullet to supersonic speed on its way to the tree.
“That could have been me,” he thought in wonderment. “My finger froze,” he explained to himself in a whisper. “I don’t understand. I could pull the trigger aimed at a tree but not at me.” Thin tears welled in his eyes as he thought about all the reasons he had come to this place on this morning.
At 14 his life had been a torment almost from birth. His father lost no opportunity to express his chagrin at having a “sissy” son. Throughout his school years he had been tormented by classmates and others. His religion called him anathema and his mother’s misguided effort at solace was a wailed, “What did I do to deserve this?”
His teenage hormones had been raging for two years. His self loathing, finely honed by his own forbidden desires, made him hate his every waking hour and fear the onset of night dreams that felt so right while he slept but sickened him when he awoke. And now his parents were fighting over who had to take him. Who would be burdened with this unwanted child?
Michael’s body shuddered from the recoil of the semi-automatic pistol he had just fired. He heard no sound and he never felt the thousand degree flame as it blasted its hundred gram payload through his last thought into the hideaway tree.
Donald Cavanaugh is a long-time activist and advocate using words to fight for equality for everyone with particular focus on LGBT issues.