As you might expect in keeping with our superior status, Dean--my brother, two years younger--and I had our own private empire. We were the oldest of seven boys, and our territory was strictly off limits to our brothers, under threat of serious pain.
We were poor growing up. Money was hard to come by, but we were resourceful, and Dean and I had accumulated a small arsenal of rifles, pistols, and other assorted weaponry in the room we shared. I was, at the time, in junior high school, probably seventh or eighth grade.
I hesitate to say we actually lived in a room, because in fact we lived in the attic. It was not a "room in the attic," just an unfinished attic, with an area of floor so we didn't fall through the ceiling of the room below. It was above the insulation level, so it was very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter. In fact, one winter morning we woke up to find our turtle, who lived in a fishbowl, had overnight been frozen in a block of ice.
Our closet was a pipe hung from the open rafters by wire. We had a bed for Dean, a mattress on the floor for me, and a desk. I think perhaps we had a small chest of drawers, too. For summer ventilation, we opened the window by twisting a couple nails aside. They held the window in the opening in the wall, and we pulled the entire window out placed it on the floor, leaving a framed hole in the wall. Nice ventilation.
For heat in winter, we... well, the truth is, we were cold a lot. We did not live in luxury, but we liked it, because it was our place, and nobody bothered us.
The reason is evident: To get there, we had to go into my parents' bedroom, into their closet, and climb up a vertical ladder through a trap door into the attic. This door was fairly large, about 3 feet by 4 feet, fairly heavy, and hinged on one side. It stayed open, propped against a post at the foot of Dean's bed. Usually.
One time we were up there, Dean tinkering with something, and me laying on his bed, reading a book. We heard a noise in the closet below, too stealthy to be Mom or Dad. After a moment, I reached out with my foot and quietly gave the trap door a shove. BAM! There was a very loud noise when it slammed shut. As it turned out, the BAM! occurred just above the head of another brother, Tom, who was sneaking up to explore. I think he had to go change his pants.
Perhaps my most vivid memory of that place was the evening Dean shot at me.
Before you think badly of him, I assure you it was not his intent to shoot me. He scared the pee out of both of us--we both thought at first that I was on my way to the happy hunting ground--but he didn't do it maliciously. Let me explain.
I was at the desk by the window, reading, and Dean was sitting on his bed, just feet behind me, messing around with his collection of old rifle cartridges. He had picked them up individually in our frequent wandering in the mountains. We were in what we called "the hills" a lot, camping, shooting, skinny dipping, and generally messing around. And of course, when we came across something interesting, like an old knife or a cartridge, we picked it up and brought it home. It joined our collection of useless but cool objects. Boys are required to have such a collection.
For some reason that must have made sense to him then, he was taking the cartridges one at a time, putting them in a 22-caliber, single-shot rifle, and pulling the trigger. Normally, one would expect a certain and predictable result from these actions, including a loud bang followed by some potentially unpleasant consequences, especially if one was indoors. Our parents had, in fact, strongly discouraged such practices.
But Dean had tested each of the cartridges many times outside, so he was just going through the motions, just messing around. He knew they wouldn't fire, and so did I. I am not sure to this day why he was even doing it.
So I was caught up in my book, paying no attention to him when, suddenly, very close behind me and to my left, BANG!
Simultaneously, I became aware that my right arm hurt and I saw that it had a red liquid substance on it. I looked over my shoulder, and Dean was sitting there with his mouth agape and his eyes bugged out. His old cartridge - misfiring on perhaps 10 tries before - had fired, and the bullet missed my head by perhaps the width of my hand.
We sat silently, waiting for our pulse rates to drop below a thousand, and for the inevitable stampede of my parents up the ladder. We knew what would happen. "What's going on up there? What was that noise?" And then, it would become a very bad day.
But there was no stampede. Silence. Nothing. Turns out the entire family was in the basement, watching television, and heard nothing. Whew! There is a God in heaven, and he really does love us!
As we surveyed the situation, I realized the pain I felt in my right arm was real enough, but was caused by an array of small pieces of glass, not a bullet. The blood was real and mine, but it was mixed with a considerable amount of red liquid shoe polish. It seems that there was a bottle of such polish on the window sill, and the bullet had flown through it, shattering it, before striking a nail and shattering itself.
So I had some glass in my arm, nothing serious, but it hurt and looked like a real wound. I had to do something, and so when I was sure the coast was clear, I quietly went down to the bathroom and washed my arm off with soap and water. The glass came out and the bleeding stopped, and I considered that was all the medical help I needed, since anything more would involve my parents. For a while I wore only long-sleeved shirts, until the cuts healed, and I thought of a plausible explanation of the scabs for Mom.
Dean and I were shaken, but we recovered fast, and began to think it was a little funny, too. Knowing I was going to live, and more importantly that we were undiscovered, considerably brightened our mood. So we began to figure out how to get all of our "good" shirts cleaned, because the shattered bottle had also sprayed red polish on one side of our clothes--shirts, mostly--hanging from the pipe.
We solved the problem by wearing two shirts to school. One--the "bloody" one--we dropped off at the dry cleaners, and paid for it with our lunch money. This lasted for some weeks.
Dean and I were very good at keeping secrets, especially when our wellbeing was involved, and nobody in the family found out, until about 30 years later.
We were all together then, my brothers and I, gathered for some family occasion. Mom was there, too, enjoying her now grown boys. I think she was also enjoying a far more sane and simple life since we were no longer living in her house.
Dean and I were in the kitchen, alone, laughing and talking about the shooting. It was much funnier after 30 years. Mom heard us, came in and asked what was so funny. We looked at each other, shrugged, and said, "Sit down, Mom. We want to tell you a story." And with great mirth and merriment, we told her about the shooting.
She sat silently for a moment afterwards, then said, without a smile, "If you know any other stories like that, I don't want to hear them." And she left the room.
Well, Mom, we thought, if you can't stand the answer, don't ask the question! But we never told her more stories. She died years later in her old age, blissfully unaware of the real world of her boys.