The summer I was eleven I was shot at, twice. One sunny day my friends and I were playing in one of the many gulches in our neighborhood. This particular gulch was the scarier one because there was a giant storm drain at one end, and if you hiked far enough up the other way, eventually you would come across the pair of very old abandoned cars. In case you’re wondering what in the hell our parents were thinking, letting us play in a gulch, all I can say is that every kid in the neighborhood played in the gulches. Even my mom, who got regular lectures from the pediatrician, school teachers, and other parents about being “overprotective”, let us play in the gulches.
What we didn’t realize is that the truly scary thing in the gulch was the high school kid with the rifle. He yelled something about trespassing (it was all city land) and then started taking pot shots at us. As we scrambled up the gulch wall, a bullet slammed in the dirt right between my outstretched fingers. This kid was not playing.
My dad had words with the shooter’s dad. Rumor has it those words were: “If your kid shoots anybody, I’ll kill him and bury his body out deep on the Reservation somewhere that white people have never seen.” That was my dad, tiny but mighty. No telling whether he was playing. Or not.
We were told to stay out of that particular gulch, and the older kid got his gun taken away (until hunting season). We confined the bulk of our adventures to the open prairies and the adjacent gulch. And then one day our arch-nemeses of gulch play, a couple of boys near our own age who often pelted us with rocks and rotten vegetables, came running our way, screaming with fear.
“RUN!” they yelled, dragging us along with them.
We ended up at the nemeses incredibly swanky dirt fort with the shooter kid in hot pursuit, this time with a bow armed with deer points. The fort was a deep hole in the ground covered by a sheet of old plywood that the nemeses had carefully buried under loads of dirt.
The entry hole was too small for a high school boy of adult size, so we listened to him scream with rage and stomp around outside for a while. First he tried digging us out, but he didn’t have a shovel and the nemeses had outdone themselves with their dirt coverage. Then he shot half a dozen arrows or so into the roof of the dirt fort. Two of them lodged in the plywood deeply enough that he couldn’t get them out. It started to rain, and finally he left.
We sat for a long time listening to the rain, talking and waiting to make sure that shooter kid was actually gone. Luckily for us the dirt fort was relatively water tight and it was a gentle rain, not a gully-washer. Eventually we crawled out and went home, but not before digging out the remaining deer points. The deer points seemed much scarier to my eleven year old self than the bullets, but truth is either one of them could have killed us.
That was the first and last moment of detente with the arch-nemeses, who went back to hurling rotten vegetables at us as soon as fall brought a new bounty of discarded garden produce. The shooter kid was sent to live with an uncle in another town. I suspect my dad might have upped his threat to include scalping and torture before anonymous burial.
But my dad also lifted the scary gulch ban, other than to warn us off the abandoned cars (for fear of tetanus). Though he was furious about the kid shooting deer points at us, he was enchanted by the story of the siege of the dirt fort. He decided that for the most part, we seemed to know how to take care of ourselves and each other. One of the other parents, however, found the dirt fort as horrifying as the deer points. A squad of dads was dispatched to dig it up and fill it in.
Ten years later, the whole gulch was leveled and a beautiful city park got installed to top it off. I still miss that the dirt fort.