Nonfiction by Jesse Bartel
Sleepovers are a strange event we experience at a young age. They usually are with a bunch of similar minded, same-sex friends. In my case, we would play video games or watch violent movies after the parents went to bed. In a sense, sleepovers were these weird sexless orgies that involved the culmination of pre-teen hormones, smelly feet, and total ignorance of the homoerotic atmosphere that was created. I can only assume that girl sleepovers were identical, but what do I know? In my older year, sleepovers still exist, but for entirely different reasons. Now, while there still might be the large chance of violent movies and video games, these “sleepovers” are not planned. It usually happens when I realize (or don’t) that I have drank too much. At this point, I am not fit to drive and end up sleeping on some couch or guest bed.
During those prepubescent sleepovers, there was always the chance that something magical would happen. Like, maybe we would sneak out and go explore the woods in the middle of the night, or we would finally be able to access porn from someone’s sister’s computer. It was all small stuff, but every once and awhile, an event would tattoo our brain with rich pathos.
As much as I love violent, well, everything (in the fictional sense, of course), I do not love firearms. No, I don’t dream of owning my personal murder cannon or look forward to going on hunting trips with people I don’t care about. I just let people who like that stuff, continue to like it and I’ll just mind my own business. My father, though, is a strong supporter of keeping guns (legal ones) in the house. Ever since I was tiny, he would point to his shotgun and say in the most serious of voices, “That is only for self-defense.” Sure, there aren’t that many home invasions on Long Island, but he is my dad, so I’d trust his judgment. He would also like to show me shotgun bullets and explain the differences between them.
“This one is a Slug, and it is a solid bullet that will pass through one part of the body.” He would then grab another and push it into my hand, “This one will spray bullets causing it to rip apart wherever it hits.” I would shake my head nervously.
Guns were something that I grew up around and never took a liking to. I know what guns can do to people. I have a very good imagination.
During one of those sexless orgies, our dog at the time ran after something in the backyard, chased him in a circle and managed to bite whatever it was he was after. This was quite late at night, and my friends and I were startled from our sleep. We ran outside to see what the commotion was all about and in the middle of the yard we spotted something lying on the ground. The outdoor floodlight illuminated most of the backyard, but not enough to give away all the details. I started getting excited. No matter how gruesome it is, any time your dog manages to maul a creature, you always feel a sense of pride. You can turn to the nearest person at the time of the mauling or you speak of it later on at a social event by saying, “Look at what my fucking dog did!” You haven’t done anything. Your dog has mangled an innocent creature, yet you are compelled to puff your chest with pride. We were all mesmerized by the dying thing that was lying on the ground and bleeding in the dark. My father came out with a flashlight and shined it on the lump. It was a raccoon whose back leg was bloodied and broken. My dog, who was the violent doer of this deed, was slinking off behind us. He was feeling empathic towards this little, masked creature. I can assume he did not mean to harm the raccoon, but in his excitement to play tag with the fellow mammal in the late hours of the night, he did irreversible harm. My father shook his head at the situation, knowing what had to be done. Of course, we had no idea what was about to happen. He told my friends and me that he would be right back. We looked at each other wondering if we should go back in. It was cold enough out to see our breath, so some time pretending to smoke distracted us from the trauma at hand. A few minutes later my father comes out of the house with something long in his hand. Once he got close to us, I realized that he brought the shotgun out. Without a word or warning, my father pulled the butt of the gun to his chest, pointed the barrel at the head of the raccoon and pulled the trigger. The head was immediately vaporized. All that was left was a tiny body and smoke drifted from the top of it. We all stared hoping that it was just a momentary lapse of reality. That we had stepped into the 4th dimension briefly and somehow the fabric of reality burst apart. It wasn’t, though. My father just exploded an animal right before our eyes. My dad went and got a plastic bag and a shovel; he scooped up the limp body, placed in the bag, and put it in the outside trash. Inside he washed his hands several times, told us “goodnight,” and went back to sleep. After that existential awakening, we went inside, turned off the lights, and wished that all that mattered in the world were movies and video games.
Jesse Bartel is currently enrolled in the Creative Nonfiction program at Sarah Lawrence College. Jesse has a Bachelors in Literature from SUNY Purchase where, in his last year, wrote a thesis on H.P. Lovecraft. When he finally gets his Masters from SLC, he hopes he can live the fantasy life of being a writer and never having to leave the house. Jesse currently resides in Southampton, NY, with his beautiful girlfriend, Gabrielle, and their collection of stuffed animals.