Let me dig into the past and tell a fun story of my youth.
I visited some relatives in Utah again recently, and cleared up a few facts about this story that I hadn’t been remembering correctly. So hopefully this will be one of the more accurate retellings that I’ve done.
I live in Washington state, near Seattle. However, a lot of my relatives are in Utah. Every few years, we take a jaunt over there and say hello to everyone.
A couple decades ago, when I was about nine years old, we had one of our family reunions and took a trip over there. My father and uncle decided it would be a good idea to play around with some of the guns they had. And by “play around” I mean take the guns up into the hills, away from people, and have a big dirt hill backdrop and set up targets. Guns are dangerous things, and it’s important to be professional when playing with them.
My older brother, about a year and a half older than me, was there. But my younger sister stayed back at the house. And as I mentioned, my father and uncle were also there. I remember other figures being there, but I don’t remember any faces or names.
All of the guns that we had were .22’s. At least, all of the guns that they gave the kids were .22’s. I remember both pistols and rifles that we were allowed to play with. The way the cycle went was that the kid would be given a gun. They could expend the magazine*, then they would return the gun to an adult, and be given a new, loaded gun.
The first thing the adults did was to keep the children entertained. They set up some empty pop cans on an old log, then gave the kids loaded guns, ready to fire. Then they went out beyond the pop cans and started setting up more distant targets for the adults. While young, I felt that something was wrong with this picture, and asked if we should be shooting these loaded guns while there were people out beyond the targets. I was told no, that probably wasn’t a good idea. So I waited for them to come back before doing so.
My attempts to shoot the pop cans did not go very well. While a .22 pistol is fairly easy to control in the hands of an adult, I was a nine year old boy, and was a runt compared to much of my family. I also didn’t know the first thing about handling a firearm, and the short crash course I was given wasn’t good enough. I would pull the trigger, and the gun would leap upwards as the bullet was fired, and completely miss the target.
After a while of this, my father took notice and told me to hold the gun still. To not let it jump away from you, but try to control it. How novel! I would try this method instead.
My first attempt at holding the gun still went fantastically. I fired at a pop can and hit it. The bullet went right through the middle of it, leaving a small clean hole, and the pop can didn’t even move. I had expected it to bounce around when it was hit, like with a baseball bat.
I was so excited I wanted to share this with everyone. I pointed the gun towards the ground — I wasn’t interested in shooting anyone by accident — and pointed at the pop can, excitedly trying to tell my dad what I’d just done.
Then the gun went off.
I’m not sure how it happened. Maybe I pointed with one hand and ended up clenching the other. Maybe I jostled my weight, and the gun bounced a bit, and my finger (which was still on the trigger) ended up pulling the trigger as the gun came back down.
However it happened, it wasn’t a problem. I was aiming the gun at the ground. Though apparently the bullet had hit the ground with such force that it sent a vibration up my leg, because it felt kind of weird. I took a look down to try to find the hole in the ground where the bullet went, but noticed a little trickle of blood coming out from under the lip of my shorts.
My memory of the following events isn’t really impaired. But the memory of them is a bit different. Like I was dipped in a vat of freezing water.
My first response, as a nine year old child, was to burst into tears. “Daaad,” I whined. “I shot my leg!”
My dad’s response is priceless, and I share it with you now so you may have the wisdom to respond with something of the same when your child encounters a similar situation. My dad’s reply was, “walk it off.”
The first aid kit was retrieved, and I received a small band aid on the outside of my leg and just below the knee. There was no exit wound, and the entrance wound was as small as the hole on the pop can I had shot just before. I was then loaded up into the car, and made to lie in the back seat. I remember trying to figure out a way to wear a seat belt in such a position — wouldn’t want to get hurt in case the car crashed, and people were a little more excited than normal.
We stopped by the house on the way to the hospital. My mom and sister looked from the doorway. I remember my mom’s expression being horrified. My little sister, just a child, was clinging to her leg. Looking up, she asked, “does this mean we don’t get to go to the water park?”
My next memory was being carried through the walls of the hospital. I was being carried through the air by two people. One was my father, I think the other was my uncle. I remember the walls being uneven, with some support beams every now and then. Twice they ran my injured leg into one of the support beams.
My father was then arrested, because apparently that’s what happens when someone gets shot. My mom waved goodbye to him and stayed with her son.
My uncle is a lawyer of no small fame. I remember one time we visited, and there were a lot of signs around, as he was running for the position of a judge. My father, being my uncle’s brother, shares the same last name, so he wasn’t held for very long. It’s good to have friends in high places.
I stayed in the hospital in Utah for two weeks before I was able to go back home. It was some days before they could do surgery to remove what fragments of the bullet they could. However, they had a Nintendo at the hospital. My parents had never let me get one, and it was so awesome.
Turns out the bullet missed a major nerve center by an inch. I used to have partial numbness on my right foot, though it’s mostly gone now. The bullet had traveled down my leg, shattering both the tibia and the fibula, and stopping about at my ankle. The small hole below my knee on the outside is still visible, and I still have a long scar down by my ankle where they cut me open. When I flex my shin, things visibly bunch up a little funny, too. No pins, no rods, no screws. I was young enough that things eventually healed on their own.
I believe I was in the cast for two months. Eventually it went from a full leg cast to a knee-down cast. And while I never did regain full mobility in my foot (I can’t lift my toes up on the right as far as the left) I blame that on me being lazy and not exercising it after the fact like the doctor told me.
No serious lasting physical effects from all this.
Years later, I believe it was in middle school, one of the teachers shared a statistic with the class. One in thirty people will be shot by the time they’re 20 years old. “That means,” she said, “someone in this classroom will be shot by the time you’re 20.” One of my friends stood up and yelled, “Creighton’s saved us all! He’s already been shot!”
So the moral of the story is: If you’re going to do something stupid, do it while you’re young so you can heal better, and have a good story to tell. Oh, and maybe you’ll get to play some Nintendo, too.
*A common mistake is to call the magazine of a firearm a “clip.” A proper explanation of the two can be found in this article: Clip vs. Magazine: A Lesson in Firearm Terminology