When I was in high school, I used to pilfer cigarettes from my grandmother’s pack—Lark filters—and sneak off into the woods to smoke them one after the other.
In my New England hometown forested lands were vast and still are, now protected by private land trusts. As kids, we played in the woods with abandon. We were sure of our safety, though acutely aware of our surroundings and the possibility of bears, fisher cats, and hunters. We wore bright clothing and screeched and roared along the trails. We scouted for terrarium plants: winterberry, princess pine, and small White Oak saplings we could prune like bonsai. We explored the ponds and streams searching for spotted salamanders and crayfish. And we peed in the woods whenever possible. Consequences were of little concern. We were invincible, and the allure was too great.
But on that long ago September day, my foray was surreptitious. I did not want to be heard or seen. I stood off the trail and sucked that tobacco smoke into my lungs, savoring the heady feeling. When I had snuffed out the butts and dropped them into the stream, I headed out onto the wider dirt road toward home. I didn’t want to be gone too long.
But I was not alone out there, and I was not safe, either. An older boy from my high school, an upper classman I recognized, was out there, as well. He was behind me and off the road. He tracked me, a BB gun slung from his shoulder, and soon aimed and fired at me.
He missed. I screamed and ran.
He followed, firing more pellets. I demanded he stop. He didn’t. The pellets whizzed by me, ripping leaves, thudded into tree trunks, but never hit me. My heart raced, my adrenaline pumped. I
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