Do you ever wonder why children aren’t completely insane by the time they’re adults?
Consider an incident from my own childhood. I’m about five years old, at a 1960s-era theme park ride on a train, and killing Indians. When I fire my cap gun, feathered men scream, fall, and die before my eyes. Adults are screaming too. "Hurry, boys! There’s some on this side of the train. Shoot them!" Imagine the mayhem as kids salivate for another kill, and real, war-painted bodies tumble to the ground outside half-opened windows. Most adults probably saw the train ride as the cliché-ridden tourist trap it was, but to a little kid it was a terrifying reality. Our lives were in danger, and by defending the passengers, some of us killed enough Indians to earn silver bullets — handed out by the conductor himself. We were heroes, he said. And it was all real…to us.
Later that evening, I began to wonder about all those people we’d killed. Despite television’s insistent messages, I knew Indians were still God‘s children. That’s what we learned in church: "Red and yellow, black and white…they are precious in His sight…" Well, how many precious red children had we killed on the train ride? I asked my folks if the Indians we shot were condemned prisoners. I assumed the park had an arrangement with a prison system somewhere: "Do you want to die by the electric chair, or the theme-park train ride?" And I was certain those men had died. We had aimed and fired. They had tumbled to the ground. We were heroes. We were killers. I was nauseous.
My parents said that they weren’t prisoners. "They were just actors." I was surprised people hated actors enough to let us kill them for sport, but that didn’t ease my guilt. "No. You don’t understand. You didn’t kill anyone. They were pretending to die. Those men were acting. It’s all part of the show." I looked at my silver bullet as my guilt faded. It was a show? Like on TV? I wasn’t a hero after all? OK, but I wasn’t a killer, either. And I could still sing "Red and yellow, black and white…" And maybe actors and condemned prisoners were included somewhere in a verse of that song, but I no longer cared. My conscious was clear, and I had just noticed that my silver bullet was nothing but cheap, painted plastic.
David McCoy, a notorious storyteller and proud Yellow Jacket, lives in Conyers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.