I knew living an ordinary life was not for me when I was seven or eight (or nine, heck I can’t recall exactly) years old and broke Billy McIntyre’s arrow.
Billy was a couple of years older and lived next door. We didn’t go to the same school and weren’t exactly friends but obviously we knew each other. I was a little afraid of him. He was big and had a temper and wasn’t averse to beating someone up.
Back then in the 1950s, at our ages, “beating someone up” meant cuffing them a few times and shoving them down on the ground. You might end up with a few scrapes and a bloody nose. Nobody died and most guys wouldn’t even tell their Mom - as long as they could cover up the evidence - but it still wasn’t much fun being on the receiving end.
At the time, we lived in very modest part of a small working class city. Billy was an only child and probably the kid on our street who came closest to being rich. He never wore hand-me-downs from his cousins and always got really neat stuff for his birthday and Christmas and sometimes just because.
One summer day I went outside to see Billy in his backyard shooting a for-real bow and arrow. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was just like the ones on tv and in Dad’s hunting and fishing magazines. There were no rubber cups on the end of those missiles. The business ends of the arrows were metal, rounded but conical, and with something of a tapered tip.
It would likely bounce off a bear but you could certainly put someone’s eye out with it. My mother would have a fit if she saw me shooting one.
So I had to work fast.
I hopped the fence over to Billy’s yard and starting chatting. I remember acting cool, like it was an everyday thing for me to be talking with someone who was shooting a for-real bow and arrow into a target pinned onto stacked bales of hay.
I watched him for a few minutes and casually asked if I could take a couple of shots. He said maybe later. He had to go in for lunch soon.
I was in agony. Every minute I waited brought my mother a minute closer to seeing what I was up to and forbidding it.
About two eternities later, Billy’s mother finally called him in for lunch. He looked at the bow in his hand and then at me.
“If you wreck it, I’ll kill you.”
I barely heard him. I took the bow and fetched the arrows from the hay. There were only two. That was fine. One would have been perfect.
I walked to the back of Billy’s house, as far from the target as I could get. As I notched the arrow to the bowstring, I was struck by a thought: I wonder how high I can shoot this thing?
I squinted up into cloudless summer blue and decided to find out. I bet it would go three or four times higher than a house.
I drew back the bow and aimed nearly straight up, then fired. I watched, delighted, as the arrow soared skyward, impossibly high, tilted, and began its earthward plummet. It landed, quivering slightly, nearly at the foot of the hay bales at the end of the yard.
I notched the second arrow, pointed skyward, pulled and watched - watched as the arrow followed a similar trajectory to the first. Watched, with mixed horror and delight as it followed the exact trajectory of the first and landed atop it - splitting the first arrow down the middle.
Holy Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints!
I walked over, not quite believing my eyes. Bending down, I marveled at the perfectly bisected arrow.
My amazement was tinged with dread, of course. I had a hunch Billy’s focus might be on the ruined arrow instead of where it belonged -- on the phenomenal circumstance that resulted in the ruination.
Now here we are at the end of the story and I can’t help but feel I’m going to cheat you folks a little. I honestly don’t recall if Billy beat me up or not. It was immaterial, really. What I took from the day is a perfect recollection of that brilliant blue sky and a deep-seated sense that the extraordinary could be just around the next corner.