Approaching mid-winter. Shoveling the driveway to shoot hoops with frozen hands. Can’t bend your wrist, ball won’t bounce. That’s cold.

Next day, friends—well, not really friends—annoy me until I agree to go hunting with them. Varmints: woodchucks, muskrats. But not in winter; just rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, crows. Even milk cows if things get desperate…

I’m 14 & not a hunter. But they see it differently, tromping thru fallow fields, howling with anticipation – blood and carnage.

I admit I’ve retrieved woodchucks they’ve shot. Like a hunting dog. But then on that September day Gary took a shot at me—as a joke. They laughed and laughed…until they fell to their knees. The fear is: these are the only tears they will ever shed. Ever. I never retrieved another kill after that.

Eventually, it always became my turn: steady shoulder, aim slightly below target. FIRE! Determined to make a hunter, a little soldier, out of me yet. But I miss by a mile. Always miss by a mile.

They see it as ineptitiude, weakness, faggotry. Not even sure what a “faggot” is—someone who can’t shoot straight? Then they smack me on the side of the head —to improve my aim.

To admit I missed intentionally would have been even worse as a betrayal of all that makes us men and boys.

I thought: why’m I doing this? It’s no fun. It’s cold. Where’s the humor in Gary stirring his forefinger in a bloody wound, licking his finger, howling at a hidden moon?

I walk away, abandon them despite threats, despite pleading, despite turning around to see them aiming their .22 rifles at me. Despite everything, I walk out of the farm field & into the woods.

A blind, a tight plot of pines on a hill overlooking our lazy-laned subdivision, my some-time refuge. My Adirondacks, Alaska, Black Forest. A million miles from home, a half-mile from home.

On a quiet, windless winter day, I retreat into its center—fold. I’m struck by a sudden calm. Hear my own breathing, nose running, sniffing. But now I must be quiet…to hear me tromping through boot-high snow to feel mind, breath and breeze mingle until there’s nothing left in between.

I sight a rabbit trail. Paw prints leave a sharp indent. Droppings soft, warm in my removed-glove touch. I imagine left behind so I can follow. A game. Rabbit rested here, ate pine needles. Powder-puff tail. I’m 14 & suddenly nowhere but here, sitting in a dry bed of needles under pine branches sagging with thick snow.

Following the trail, I lose the I of myself, singing nonsense lyrics, snatches of Peter Cottontail…Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin’ down the bunny trail, hippity hoppity, pippity poppity, skippity skoppity…

I address her or him or them. Reassure them: I mean no harm. The goal is to catch a glimpse of bunny rabbit, say hello, apologize: not all humans are bad. I dream that they’re paying attention to me, are nudging closer. We’re now sitting side by side.

…Look at him stop, listen to him say: “Try to do the things you should…in this thick old whispery wood… ”

And finally, looking at the watch my mother made me wear: I’m late for dinner. Again. Goodbye Mr. & Mrs. Bunny. Goodbye pines. Goodbye hideaway.

I run home. Elaborate excuses invented. And there…arriving home, on our rubber doormat…a blood-dead bunny stretched out, revealing the gory gaping wound.

Gary & loyal follower Doug—who only ever laughed if Gary laughed—get more revenge on the school bus. Make gunshot sounds—Boom! Boom! Finger pistols aimed at my face. Gary’s fist rockets into my chest. “Imagine a bullet,” he says.

Everything: school, animals, & girls—everything has been invented to fuck them over. Royally. Not a single girl in the world good enough for them. They narrate tortures of me and all girls.  Electrodes hooked to nipples…smearing a bloody pelt across naked bodies. Gary cackles insanely—Doug echoes those cackles…what they’d do to Lisa’s dog if she didn’t show her tits.

My girlfriend Megan, not actually my girlfriend at all, but definitely an A student, once invited me in to listen to her father’s records in a front room full of books.

Years later, in college, she sent me a cassette copy of an original pressing of Gene Autry’s “Peter Cottontail” [10” Columbia, 1950] from her father’s collection. The note was short: Do you remember listening to this at my house? I have learned in my studies of the belligerence of certain boys: they are lost to every part of themselves. And the knowledge that they will never find it is what kills them inside.

I lost the envelope with her return address and so never wrote back.