The whole thing happened in less than the snap of a finger, but slow enough that I could process it all happening as it did. It was headed straight for my abdomen. I instinctively lifted my hand to block the potato, but the spud was too fast. My hand got there right after the potato made impact, which was probably a blessing because it likely would have shattered the bones in my hand.
I caught the raw potato in my hand, or at least a few pieces of it. The potato had hit my pudgy gut so hard that it burst into ten or so different pieces, most of which somehow ended up inside of my sweatshirt pocket.
I instantly was blown backwards, or I fell backwards (I’m not sure which), very much aware that I was about to die. I was prostrate in the field, attempting to grasp what had just happened, trying to find the ability to breathe. No breath came for quite some time. If I could sum up how it felt, I’d say it was akin to having a gorilla jump up and down on my stomach as I lay helpless among the awful stickers and sage brush.
Spencer set the cannon down and started sprinting across the field, in riots.
I still was struggling to get a full breath in.
Then I realized that I had no feeling in my legs. And I mean no feeling. This awareness made me even more desperate to breathe.
He got to where I was sprawled out and dying, and continued his horrible laughing charge. “First try!” he exclaimed, far too proud of himself, and completely oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t yet inhaled.
Somewhere in the middle of his glee, I finally was able to suck in a small amount of wind. It was painful, but it was enough to keep me alive. “Dude, something’s wrong.” He was laughing too hard to hear me. I just lay there, barely breathing, grimacing, fighting back the urge to cry. Willing my toes to wiggle.
It was probably more than a minute until I felt sensation start to enter my lower extremities again.
That was an entire minute that I was sure I was going to be paralyzed for life, and let me tell you that the seconds don’t click by very fast when you’re thinking thoughts of wheelchairs and pressure sores.
Within a few minutes I was able to walk. A few minutes after that the pain had mostly subsided and I just felt a dull ache where the tuber had hit me.
“I don’t think this was the best idea,” I said, now laughing at what a completely ridiculous game it had ended up being. Spencer agreed, but only because he didn’t want to be standing back out in that field getting a potato in his own gut.
Out of curiosity, we loaded the cannon once more. I wanted to see the close-range power of it. We stood ten feet from a fire hydrant and let ‘er rip. Shoooonk. Nothing was left of the potato but a wet spot where it made impact.
Spencer and I both looked at the splotch on the fire hydrant and then at each other. “We’re idiots,” I told him. With wide eyes, he nodded in agreement.
I never fired that potato cannon again.
It seems silly to say, “I learned something from that.” I mean, of course I learned something from the potato cannon incident. I learned that friends shouldn’t shoot each other with potatoes.
But I learned something else much more important, too. I learned that when we let pride trap us into stupid situations, we always still have a choice to walk away.
As I looked into the barrel of that cannon, I knew it was a bad idea. I knew I might get really hurt in the moments that followed. But my pride and my testosterone got in the way of me saying, “sorry bro, I’m not going to do this.” I didn’t want to seem like the pussy. I didn’t want to disrespect the way we, as a group of friends, always followed through on our own painful side of the sadomasochistic games we so often played. And I really didn’t want to be laughed at by the others in our bigger group for my cowardice.
Spencer also experienced the same thing I had out in that field. That dude had a third degree black belt, could do backflips, and looked like an underwear model. And still, he told me later that he also realized how stupid an idea it was the moment I swung the cannon in his direction.
I learned that only the bravest people will let themselves be thought weaklings in such moments.
We all find ourselves in self-arrived situations that are stupid or reckless or just plain bad for us from time to time, and as I’ve watched people over the years, I’ve learned that very few people walk away from them, almost always because of pride or testosterone. And in every situation, they could have.
Now I try to recognize those situations, and I try to walk away from them. And yes, it’s usually to the taunting jeers of the people I’m with, but at least I don’t find myself flattened on my back at the foot of a mountain, wondering if I’ll be able to find my next breath.
Dan Pearce, from my book: The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man
Last Chapter: Taking a Baseball Bat to… Myself
Next up: Mom. Grandma.
If you would like to start from the beginning, or catch up on a missed chapter, you’ll find all the chapters I’ve published so far by clicking here.
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