Child two is a killer. Well, not really. But he, like many boys his age, has a penchant for guns and martial arts and first person shooter video games and all things violent. He does karate three days a week. He’s a purple belt and works with a bowstaff. And every Sunday, Child Two plays a vicious day-long game of paintball at a place called “Field of Fire”. Field of Fire lives just off the I-5 near places like Magic Mountain and that horrid place the boy had his birthday party with bad pizza and worse ice cream and lots of video games and go-carts. But Field of Fire is not a place of kiddie parties and ice cream cones. Real men go there. Real men who drive real trucks and come to the game fully loaded with gear and guns and team t-shirts that say things like “Hitmen” and “Hellfire”. And Child Two loves its.
Child Two, in his Monday through Saturday life, is the same gentle, sweet boy he always was. Nothing has changed in his general persona. He is still kind. He is still thoughtful. He is still smarter than the average bear. And he is still a wee bit socially awkward. He’s a little shy really. And sort of dreamy. When he was a very small boy he would stand on the soccer field mid-game and sort of stare into the sky. Zoning out? Maybe. But Ex-Wife and I preferred to think he was thinking Deep Thoughts. Now that he’s older he spends his weekdays diligently attending to homework and engaging in his Hebrew studies.
But on Sundays he transforms. On Sundays, he becomes a well-armed, well-prepared soldier on the battlefield of paintball strategy. On Sundays, he becomes “Nate Dog.” I didn’t know about “Nate Dog” until I did drop off a few Sundays ago. Ex-Wife has bourne the burden of drop-off for the past few months but there was a day she was unavailable and so Child Two asked, albeit sheepishly, about whether I could take him. “I know you don’t approve,” he started, “but would you consider taking me to paintball this weekend?” SO sweet was the request, so innocent and wide eyed that I could do nothing but agree to ferry the sweet boy to his favorite weekend activity.
Sunday morning arrived, boy geared up and we hopped in the car and headed north. We arrived at the land of paint and honey bright and early. The theme from “Deliverance” popped into my head and involuntarily out of my mouth as we swung onto the dirt road leading to the parking lot. Child Two chided me and shook his head. “It isn’t a redneck sport,” he said, although I’m not sure he knows what that means. I pulled up between two rugged Ford trucks and Child Two hopped quickly out of the car, grabbed his bags of gear and ammo, and sauntered immediately off in the general direction of the slowly gathering crowd.
I noticed he wasn’t particularly interesting in me hanging around – in fact, he was sort of ignoring me. And I noticed that rather than place his bags of gear on the tables set up for gamers, he swung them onto the back of a bright yellow truck made dim by mud and gave a nod of greeting to the man – the grown man – who was clearly the truck’s owner and was, in that moment, seriously engaged in donning pads and protective gear and cleaning his guns and laying out ammo for the day’s battles. “Hey Nate-Dog,” the man nodded, “wassup?” Child Two – whom I had never heard referred to as “Nate” and is most certainly NOT a Nate-Dog in my book – merely nodded a “hey” and proceeded to join the man in his war prep efforts.
I walked over to the shack to sign waivers that release the battlefield purveyors of any liability and then went over to say goodbye. “Bye,” he said, barely looking up. He didn’t want me to stay. He didn’t really want to acknowledge that he’d been dropped off by a parent at all. He didn’t need me. My heart, in that moment, cracked a tiny bit and soared all at the same time. Child Two was growing up. Child Two would no longer be the boy who needed a parent around all the time. Child Two was becoming a young man who had figured out a place for himself in a world of men – a strange world of men but a world, nonetheless. I drove off, humming the tune from Deliverance and smiling to myself ever so slightly.
Last weekend I dropped the boy off again, this time with two of his friends. They’re teenagers, older than Child Two by a few grades and awkward in the way adolescent boys on the brink of manhood are. The teenagers were greeted by the burly crowd with a “look there, the girls are back in town.” But my boy got a nod of respect, a rub of the head and a “Hey Nate-Dog, wassup?”
We tease Child Two that he's in training to become a soldier of fortune. That paintball and karate will combine to provide a skillset most useful to a mercenary. Not a bad business, perhaps, in this modern world. The irony, of course, is that his sister is thinking of majoring in human rights. Sig Other and I fantasize about a future where brother and sister meet on the battlefield – Child Two the strategic leader of men fighting to protect an oppressed people, and Child One as an aide worker or war correspondent covering the event. They will reunite and hug and laugh as they did as small children, and then go on to continue the fight – each in their own way.