When I was about 11 years old, I used to hang out with a bunch of kids at a decrepit playground close to where we all lived on Fort Eustis, Virginia. The park was secluded in a grove of old trees, so there was always a dense layer of leaves and fallen branches on the ground. There was also a dingy creek that ran along the edge of the park. The shaded area, natural debris, and water source made it a haven for several species of fauna, especially venomous snakes (specifically copperheads and cottonmouths). So, we kids knew the the park as “Snake Park.”
Anyway, I was at Snake Park one day with a large group of kids. As is apt to happen with children, an argument erupted, and one group of kids began throwing rocks and sticks at the other group of kids. Being in “the other group of kids,” I was obligated to join the fray and picked up the closest stick I could find. It was a medium-sized branch that crumbled in mid-flight due to the fact that it had been rotting on the ground for obviously some length of time.
Undaunted, I immediately began looking for another missile to throw towards our foes. I spied a menacing piece of splintered lumber (also known as a 2X4). I grabbed it, cocked back my arm, and hurled the piece of solid wood into the opposing crowd of kids. The 2X4 did not crumble in mid-flight as the branch had done. Instead, it spun majestically through the air in a nice, tight, twirling pattern and landed harmlessly on the ground about 20 feet from the intended target. The reason it had flown off course was not due to my aim. The reason was due to the rusty nail (that I had failed to notice) ripping a nice hole in the fleshy part of my hand right between my thumb and index finger. In that brief fray, I was the only kid to either inflict injury or have an injury inflicted upon them. The only blood drawn that day was drawn from and by my own hand.
The painful and embarrassing lesson that I learned from that small piece of wood has had a broad influence over the way that I throw many things until this very day. As a grown man, I cannot throw a baseball very far or with any real amount of force or velocity. I CAN throw a football in a nice spiral, but like the baseball, the speed and distance are laughable. Frisbees inevitably fly off course, and if it’s a stick of any sort, you might as well just forget it. I wasn’t even allowed to throw a live hand grenade during Army Basic Combat Training. The drill sergeants made us throw practice grenades first, but because of the odd way that I threw those; I was pulled from the range in shame. For the rest of the day, I was forced to sit with the group of regular “Shit Bags” who were used to doing things wrong (it was a new experience for me).
Now, it’s important that I clarify something. The reason that I have trouble throwing things is not because of the injury. It healed with no physical scars. However, I developed a mental scar that always makes me wary whenever I throw most PHYSICAL objects of any substance. I’m just not good at throwing some things. There are things that I AM good at throwing, but we’ll get into that a little bit later.
Unfortunately, learning to throw like a girl (sorry ladies) and always making sure you know what you’re holding in your hands were the only lessons I learned from that fateful day at Snake Park. I wish I could say that it was the first or last time that I had thrown anything in anger. It was not.
The first time that I recall ever throwing any PHYSICAL object in anger was when I was a little bit younger. I was maybe seven or eight years old. My older brother, Jace, and I were playing with our G.I. Joes and we had an elaborate battle set up in his bedroom. For some reason, I became angry because I was not getting my way. I am not sure what it was that he had done, but my brother always had a more even and fair temperament than I did when we were growing up, so I’m sure he was in the right.
Out of frustration, I grabbed a shoe and looked for some way to punish him. I threw the shoe at one of his favorite toy vehicles, the G.I. Joe version of the Cobra Gunship Helicopter (known as the Dragonfly to us kids). I only intended to disrupt our game, and I succeeded. However, I also succeeded in shattering the toy helicopter into a dozen pieces. In a moment of selfish spite, I took something away from someone that I love very much. Due to my anger, my very best childhood friend, who had done nothing wrong, was robbed of something he loved.
My Dad, who we thought could fix anything, assured us he was going to repair the helicopter. In fact, he was going to make it “BIONIC”. It was going to be even better. With a lot of patience, some super glue, model paint, a miniature electrical motor, a few wire leads, and a nine-volt battery, he did just that. It had a rotor that would turn when the battery was connected, it had a cool painted on logo, and it even had a little flashing red light on the tail boom…just like a real helicopter. It was SUPER COOL. Unfortunately, it was also very fragile, and was no longer suitable as a toy.
My brother had to wait for quite some time before my parents were able to get him a new one. In the meantime, I continued to happily play with MY helicopter, and suffered very few consequences…or so I thought. The truth is, playing G.I. Joes with my brother was different after that. In retrospect, I can see that the “Dragonfly Incident” was the beginning of the end of our elaborate G.I. Joe battles. Jace’s interests began to shift to other things. I can’t say that I blame him much; I wouldn’t have wanted to play with me either.
You may recall that earlier I wrote, “I wish I could say that it was the first or LAST time that I had thrown anything in anger.” That shoe was the first PHYSICAL object that I ever remember throwing in anger. I wish that I could tell you that I learned a valuable life lesson from that shoe, but I did not.
The next PHYSICAL object that I recall throwing out of anger was an empty beer mug that, coincidentally, had a picture of a Cobra Gunship Helicopter on it. It was several years past the Snake Park incident, and I was well into my angry teenage years. My brother and several of our friends were in the front yard of our house in Tennessee after school one day. We were wrestling and horsing around the way that teenage boys do when one of my brother’s friends accidentally knocked my glasses off of my face. As a teenager, I had a hair-trigger temper that was legendary. I became enraged that my glasses had been knocked off of my face, and turned our friendly wrestling into a full-blown fight. My brother’s friend was a little older, taller, and stronger than me, but did not want to fight. He tried to calm me down, but I kept going after him.
Jace intervened to break up the fight. This only succeeded in distracting my attention away from his friend, and I was soon focusing my anger on him. He quickly got the better of me, and backed away and told me to calm down. Just like the “Dragonfly Incident”, Jace was in the right, and just like the “Dragonfly Incident,” I looked for a way to punish him for it. He had been drinking iced tea from the Cobra Helicopter Beer Mug (we always drank our tea in them), and had left it sitting on the steps of the porch.
I walked over to it…
I picked it up…
I turned around…
…and blinded by my rage, I launched it directly at his face.
I wish I could tell you that the beer mug “spun majestically through the air in a nice, tight, twirling pattern and landed harmlessly on the ground about 20 feet from the intended target” like the 2X4 at Snake Park had done. It did not.
My brother was quick enough to lower his head, which saved his face and perhaps his life. However, the beer mug shattered against the top of his skull. It was the second time in my life that throwing something had drawn blood from someone, and this time it wasn’t me.
I was so enraged, that I yelled, “SEE? LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!” I knew immediately that it was wrong to blame him for my actions, but I tried anyway. The rage quickly gave way to panic, remorse, and a genuine self-loathing that I still carry to this day.
I rushed into the house and called my mother at work. “Mom, I think I killed Jace,” I said into the phone. My mother skipped RAGE and immediately went into PANIC. She told me to call a family friend, who rushed him to the hospital. My mother left work and met them there. My brother suffered through quite a few stitches, a heck of a lot of pain, and the embarrassment of shaved spots on his head. Other than that, there were no long-term physical effects, except for a scar hidden under his hair. Also, I am not sure if he’s had a haircut since that day…I don’t think he has.
I was a teenager, just a few short years from adulthood, but nowhere close to possessing the wisdom and self-control that is required to call oneself a Man. My brother suffered no long-term effects, but I cannot say the same thing. That incident is not the only thing in my life that I regret. However, it is the only regret that I have not learned to accept. If my brother has not forgiven me, he’s never shown it outwardly, though I wouldn’t blame him if he hasn’t. I know that I haven’t forgiven me for it. I’m not sure that I ever will. Every time I think of that day, I cannot remember what the rage felt like, but the panic, remorse, and genuine self-loathing are as real and strong in my mind as if I was still standing in front of him watching him bleed.
Unlike the shoe, I did learn several lessons from the beer mug. The first lesson I learned is that you should never throw objects out of anger. I would like to say that I haven’t thrown anything in anger since, but it would be a flat out lie. However, since that day I have never thrown an object at another human being in anger, and I NEVER will. The second lesson I learned is probably the most valuable lesson that anyone can ever learn. That lesson is: “No matter how bad it hurts when someone you love hurts you, it never hurts as bad as it does when you hurt someone that you love.”
You may have noticed that earlier I had underlined the word “physical” when talking about throwing things. I have learned not to throw physical objects. However, I still struggle with throwing things in anger. Often times when I am angry, I find myself throwing tantrums, fits, pity parties, stones within my glass house, and the baby out with the bath water. Over the years, I have grown to realize that these things can be just as destructive as shoes or beer mugs. I hope some day that I will possess the wisdom and self-control that is required to avoid doing these things. ONLY THEN will I be able to call myself a Man.
Now, I have covered a lot of serious ground in this post, and I do not want to detract from the severity and sincerity of what I have written. However, at the beginning, I promised to tell you of some things that I AM good at throwing (other than tantrums, fits, etc.). So, here you go…
The list of things that the 2×4 at Snake Park did not prevent me from throwing well:
- Darts (I’m a pretty good dart thrower)
- My hat (I’ve got really good aim with it)
- My car keys (Maybe some day I’ll tell you the story about the squirrel)
- Napkins into trash cans (My friends at O’s might disagree, but I hit about 75% of the time)
- Caution into the Wind (Sometimes this is just liberating and necessary and can be really good for me)
- My back out (Throwing my back out isn’t GOOD, but I’m apparently GOOD at it)
What kind of things do you throw in anger?