I went out to the range, the other day. It had been months since I used my bow, and I needed to clear my mind. Besides, I hadn’t actually gone to the range in Huntington, and I knew that I should.
When I got there, I was alone. I’ve always liked to practice by myself, so I was somewhat gratified for this. I started to nock an arrow when I heard another car pull into the parking lot. It wasn’t the engine that notified me of this, but the blaring music. I wondered at who he was trying to impress as I set to loosing my arrow. I got off a few more shots before my new companion walked up and took the spot besides me.
I paused, as I looked at him and wondered briefly whether I was going insane or not. His hair was buzzed short and he was clean shaven. He was decked out in all black, except for his denim jacket, covered in patches and metallic studs that gleamed in the sun. He had a sardonic, almost contemptuous look on his face and a bow that looked like it was salvaged out of a dumpster.
He came up to me, with a swagger to his step and sized me up. “Fancy meeting you here.”
I couldn’t think of what to say. I felt my hand tense up and flex around the grip of my bow. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
“Like this is the weirdest thing that’s happened in your life.” He said, as if he knew so much about me.
“What are you doing here? You didn’t have any real interest in archery. All you ever cared about was…was there anything you cared about?” I didn’t know where this was coming from, the words just seemed to come out of my mouth automatically, almost involuntarily.
He just shrugged a little. “Who knows? Who knows how this is even possible. All I can think of, personally, is how disappointing you look, man. Thirty-one, and this is all I have to show?”
“As if you’re one to talk. You barely graduated high school, and you failed out of community college. You keep dragging me down, even a decade afterwards. You’re like a fucking albatross around my neck!” I seethed with anger at his accusations, at his impertinence.
“Yeah? But at least I’m happy. I’m enjoying my life! Yeah, you’re wading through an ocean of drudgery, but for what? You have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re saddled with more regrets than is even remotely normal.”
“Regrets for shit that you did!” I jabbed my finger in his chest and pushed him back. “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be in the situations that I’m in! If you only actually cared about anything, if you only pushed yourself more and tried to actually accomplish shit, I wouldn’t feel like I’m drowning on a constant basis! It’s YOUR fault!”
“My fault for not being able to read the future? Where do you get off blaming me for everything that you’ve done; as if I’m a different person that you can just load your sins off on. I’m not your sacrificial goat, you pretentious asshole!” His face was turning red with anger, but his voice didn’t quaver like mine does. He was bold and he was strong. Stronger than I am.
Wait. “Your attitude is just a way to protect yourself and you know it. You use your anger as an excuse for everything, and as a means to an end. You don’t actually do anything with your anger, you just seethe and push everyone away from you. No wonder no one wants you around, you’re fucking unpleasant!”
“As if you’re one to talk. Christ, you’ve grown so timid in your age that you lash out in every direction, as if you’re constantly being attacked! Look at this, rather than actually work your way through your difficulties, you just blame me for everything. You’re no better! You’ve just replaced anger with regret as you take on more responsibility than you should. You take the blame for every single wrong that your life has taken, as if that’s somehow a sign of integrity or character. No one’s impressed with your self-flagellation, man!”
“Better that I do that than take no responsibility for anything that you’ve ever done, like you do, you self-centered, cock-sure loudmouth! You talk a big game, but do you actually know anything?!”
He paused for a moment, before looking like he was going to spit in my face. I was angry, but I was still in control. I knew that I had come far since I was him, and that very few of his shots were actually hitting before he let loose two words. “Sell-out.”
He’d drawn blood and he knew it. My face contorted as I dealt with that accusation. I wanted to say something in return. I wanted to hit him as hard as he hit me, but it was only then that I realized I had nothing. I was left grasping for air as he moved in for the kill.
“Yeah. You’re a fucking sell-out and you know it. When you’re not wallowing in misery and attacking yourself for every single little mistake that you’ve made in your entire life, what are you doing with yourself? You’ve resigned yourself to a safe, predictable life because you’re too fucking afraid to actually speak up outside of your social circle. You pat yourself on your back for the brave stances that you make, but you only do it in the safest way possible. You stir up controversy? By telling all of your friends and family about political positions that they already know about? As if you’re so fucking complex.
“You accuse me of not doing anything, but you know what I did do? I devoted myself to two years at RCC after I failed out, and I got the best grades of my life, even better than you got at UWO, because I actually fucking tried! And you know what I was doing when I wasn’t kicking ass at RCC? I was writing, for hours a week, while you basically have to force yourself to write! I was creating, and all you can ever do anymore is think about creating, or bitch on the internet. All you can think about is how productive you used to be, how timid you used to not be and how much reading you used to do. All you can do is criticize me for the ways that I am, instead of realizing that my drive and my impetuousness are part of what’s missing from you.”
He jabbed his finger in my chest and I looked down at it as I realized how right he was. How so many of his qualities are what I’m missing in my life right now. I’d been so dead set on not making his mistakes anymore, on moving away from being that person that I’d forgotten how many good qualities he had. How admirable he was in the way that he just charged into conflict without fear of failure weighing him down.
“You’re so fucking afraid of everything anymore, man and it’s disappointing. It’s hard to bear, and I know it is.” He was right up in my face now. “You’re so afraid of your online world bleeding into your offline world that you curl up into a ball and do nothing. Big fucking deal if you do, you know? As if your family and friends would disown you, or look unkindly upon you if they knew the things that you’re so afraid of them finding out. Here’s a hint, man. Don’t be into anything that you’re ashamed of, and don’t cling so tightly to that fear of being discovered. It only makes it more certain that you will be.”
“So, what’s your advice, Tyler?”
There was that sardonic, slightly contemptuous look again. “My advice is that you stop trying to push me away and accept me. Accept me as a part of who you are and stop being so ashamed of me. Accept that I wasn’t all bad, and try to be more like the best parts of you were. You wouldn’t have the friends that you do right now if it weren’t for me, after all. I wasn’t all bad, and you know it.”
“And I’m not all bad either.” I said slowly, choosing my words carefully. Why are these words so hard to say? Why is it so hard to just take a look at who you are and accept that person, unconditionally? So many other people do that in my every day life, why can’t I just do the same? So many others draw me close without fear of being burnt, why can’t I?
“I love you, man. Even if you are a broke down old man who is so tired of fighting that he wants to be done with it. But the fight doesn’t end. Even unwinnable fights are worth it because of the effects that they spread.”
“I love you, too. Even if you are impetuous, head strong and harsh. Even if you don’t look at the consequences of your actions more deeply because you’re still developing and trying to understand your place in the world.”
And he drew me close. And we embraced as if we were brothers. We held one another until I knew that there wasn’t anyone between my arms. And just like that, I was the only person on the range, again. I turned around and his car was gone, too. I gathered myself up, knowing that I still needed to take the shot. I needed to take risk and let the chips fall where they may. I needed to actually make the effort and push forward. No one else would do it for me.
I stood up at the mark, nocked my arrow and drew it back. I looked down the shaft, my fingers next to my lips as I aligned the arrowhead with the bulls-eye and I loosed.