I got the call in the late afternoon. It was the health insurance broker, and he was apologetic. I don't want to be a snitch, he said, but I feel like as a good neighbor, you need to know. The insurance broker lives one street away, so he actually is a neighbor. My heart started pounding. The broker continued, I was coaching T and K baseball this morning with my son R, and the twins claimed they'd been shot in the back with a BB gun. They said it had made a mark, and Oliver had done it. I thought you should know. My heart stopped pounding, and now I felt annoyed. A BB gun? I said, We don't own a BB gun. We would never own a BB gun. Those boys are all nuts, I added. Well, that's what they're saying, the broker said, and I thought you should know.
Here's the background. We live in a fantastic neighborhood, right in the middle of Los Angeles, where the kids run free and wild, into and out of each other's houses and yards. The kids all happen to be boys, too, in ages ranging from about three or four (he's not free to run around, but he tries to!) to Henry, who is the oldest at thirteen. I've long since given up the protective watching of their every move in what I call benign neglect -- I can't stand boy games, anyway, or sports -- watching them careen around, wrestling, having nerf gun wars, climbing trees and jumping off of shed roofs is enough to tax the heart in negative ways, so I go inside, one ear cocked for screams that sound bloody. I assured the neighbor that I'd find out what the hell was going on with the BB gun allegations and get back to him.
The first person I called was the twins' mother. One of the twins' mothers, I should say, and emphasize that these mothers are about the coolest ones you could imagine. That they have not one, but two boys that are bruisers in the best sense of the word is highly amusing, and I knew that whatever had happened, they would be cool about it.
So, I understand that one of the twins was hit with a BB gun by Oliver? I asked.
That's what the boys said, she confirmed, but we didn't want to make a big deal out of it. We know how wild they all get.
Well, I just don't know what to say, I said, we absolutely do not have a BB gun, nor would I allow such a thing in my house or in my kids' hands. Are you sure it wasn't a Nerf gun?
It made a mark, the mom replied. Jesus Christ, I thought. And what the hell? I hung up the phone and called Oliver who was at the neighborhood fair with a friend and his father. When the father answered the phone, I asked him if his son (who lives across the street) had a BB gun that could have perhaps been used that morning. NO! he exclaimed and then put Oliver on the phone.
Oliver, did you shoot T with a BB gun this morning? I asked.
It's not a BB gun, Mom, Oliver replied, and he sounded nervous.
Well, what kind of gun was it? I asked. My heart was pounding now, again.
Just a gun. Mom. I bought the gun. Now Oliver's voice is starting to break.
What do you mean you bought it? I asked, my voice rising. Where did you buy it?
I bought it at the park! Oliver is crying a little now.
You bought it at the park? From who? My voice is now completely "risen."
From a MAN, Oliver cried.
A MAN? I shouted, What MAN? The night before I had finished my Breaking Bad marathon, and one of the episodes featured an eleven year old kid who had been hired by drug thugs to assasinate people. It was chilling, to say the least, and I felt for a moment as if my life had truly morphed into Breaking Bad instead of my having the fantasy of breaking bad, it was happening.
The man! The man who sells ice-cream! Oliver is sobbing now. I'm sorry, Mom! I bought it with my own money, I promise. I'm sorry.
Oliver, how much was it? I said, still confused and upset.
A dollar, Mom, it was a dollar! My heart stopped pounding, and I lowered my voice, reassuring Oliver that it was all right. It just scared me. I then told him that he was never to buy anything from anyone without my permission. I told him that he was absolutely not to use the gun, again, and that I was disappointed he'd hidden it from me and then actually hurt someone with it. I asked him where he'd hidden it and told him that I would keep it until he was more responsible. I did all the right parenting things, I guess, and then just shook my head, acknowledging that my influence as a liberal-leaning, pacifist Democrat was probably about as great as the conservative-leaning, patriotic Republican influence of my parents on me.