Friday, January 26, 2024

With No One to Tell My Upset To


Walk with me down the streets and trails and memories of my childhood map. We’ll just go out the garage here and head out to the street, Bunnel Road - rural route three, then four and then finally: three, eight, nine, one, four arbitrary numbers for me to learn as a boy. It’s a bright and pale green morning, Spring of nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-two.

We’ll go left on the road up here at the end of the sharp stone drive. There, that’s my friend JB’s house, it’s early in the day and the usual hum of activity from five kids there is yet to begin. Here’s the Childers’ and Dodds’ houses, close to the road, childless now and silent.

Bunnel (sometimes one ‘l’ sometimes two, even on official Union township maps and titles and such, no consistency) dead ends under a tired old STOP sign, the letters cracked and peeling, right into State Route 741. 

Let’s scurry across here - the trucks and cars go fifty, sixty miles an hour and the road drops off both ways and the visibility is limited; hard in a car, too. No dog today so we needn’t worry enough to pick him up and rush him across the street, confused and irritated – the dog that is.

Yes, it is sand. And pebbles and crushed stone. Down the road behind us is a very busy sand-and-gravel company with pits dug in between the fields and meadows, ponds, and streams all around here. The sand especially spills from the rusted, diesel-black-smoke-bellowing dump trucks that rumble past our house back behind us now and race down this state road.

There’s what looks to be a pull-off up ahead and just beyond that is a rutted gravel road. Step carefully, it quickly steepens and snakes right. It’s an abandoned pit they probably had to quit because the road’s so close. 

So, that’s how this works, on a flat, ever-widening floor sits a scoopy sort of crane thing that just tears into the walls around it. Bucket after bucket go into trucks, then to the plant to be washed and separated and crushed on machines we do not play on – way over there, see the dust behind the Barnes’ cornfield? It’s all really massive.

Wait, you are going?

Was it this little rifle in my hand?

No hard feelings. I do need to go on ahead though, thanks for walking with me. Truth is I would’ve had to ask you go soon anyway – sometimes the road is just for one.

This is the pit cleverly known locally as: “The Shootin’ Pit.” Anyone around here would know exactly where you were talking about.

Right, the BB gun. Well, that’s why I am here. It’s fun to shoot the little “bullet balls,” the BBs, into the dirt walls and old paper targets and jumbled, colored glass from bottles shot to pieces. The pump and pop of the gun echoes back sharply.  Everything is sharp - the shards of glass, the brass casings everywhere underfoot, the angle of the sun, even the vaguely lingering taste of cordite, gunpowder, sweat and stone.

I tire of shooting the little gun, a nice Daisey Model 25 with a real wooden stock, a Christmas gift I could not wait to get. I walk up and out of the back of the pit and wander down a rutted trail, used now only occasionally by farmers and dirt bikes.

In the branch of a tree hanging over the dirt road, I spy a female cardinal, grey and red against the new green. I am imagining I am frontiersman – the book having just been finished – and level that rifle, take aim, and…

… I hit the damn thing. It is sheer chance, BB guns are crazily inaccurate. The bird drops to the dirt track with a soft, feathered whump. I run ahead, so mixed up and surprised, briefly proud of my skill and then, when I get closer, I am horrified at what I have done.

It looks like an Audubon illustration whose plates I’d seen in the trusty World Book encyclopedias in the basement. A patch of the dappled sun shines on it, spotlight like, and the detail is insane, three dimensional, quivering in its realness. The sun rainbows and dances on the feathers and a little bead of an eye looks toward nothing.

I was just goofin’, I think to myself, I never thought I’d hit it, I see no wound, but I assume she’s lying on it. Blood, entrails. I know these things happen - I’ve seen the rabbits skinned and deer dressed in the field; the familiar dog hit by these infernal trucks; smashed possums and rotting raccoons; fileted fish rinsed of scales and guts in a rushing stream - I know the cycle, I know the unending circle. But… I’d never killed something.

 I sit down beside it, my mind flies. I am so, so sorry, I think to the little bird. Who was I to do this? This boy-pain sweeps over me – I stopped a life. I feel ashamed both because I hit it and, and… I know that the others would say ‘good shot’ and ‘it’s just a bird’ and, worst, ‘don’t be such a sissy about it.’ My senses are firing. I feel the cold-barrelled Model 25 and set it on the warm earth beside me. I taste a tear. I smell the verdant Spring woods. I see that stupid, fateful bird.

I hear the quick “cheer, cheer, cheer; birdie, birdie, birdie” of another cardinal. I imagine a nest of eggs, bluish brown, speckled. Abandoned.

I begin to sob.

I barely understand why this is so wildly emotional for me. I think of how alone I am. I think of how difficult it seems, how impossible to understand, to explain. I am the most upset I have ever been, and I am suddenly hit with the loneliest thought a boy could have: I cannot tell anyone.

I am so upset, with no one to tell my upset to. I have a feeling this will happen often, which upsets me more.


And then, as God is my witness, that bird trembled its wings, hopped up, shot me a dirty look, chirped angrily and flew away - cursing me for all time to expect a perfect, happy ending.


Later – days, years, decades, scores, tomorrow… yesterday – another story enfolds.

An older dude. A lost set of keys. Phone forgotten. A red truck. A leather bag. Frantic, panicked searching. No way to call. Inside the store. Outside, inside the truck. Anxious and scared.

Tears. Frustration. Shame. Fear, fear, fear. So, so upset.

He is so upset, with no one to tell his upset to. 

Again. Always?

The keys are in the bottom of the leather bag tangled up in a loose inner seam, so they didn’t come out when the bag was dumped. Another happy ending…


One of these memories triggered the other, I am not certain of the order, though.


  1. You had me right with you ! You're so good at that. M.A.

  2. Wonderful detail. Great writing.