J u n e   2 0 0 5

Guest Writer

Enough about you
Son of a gun
by Rachel Mendez

'm crouching behind a wall, gun steady in my hands. My pulse is faster than normal, I'm breathing heavily and sweat drips into my eyes. I'm not safe.

They could be anywhere. Most of them are shorter than me, eight years old. They're short, fast and hard to hit. The fog and the darkness don't help.

I can't stay here forever. I need to get out, to shoot some of these kids, score some for my team. I use moves I've seen in movies and on TV. Out from behind the wall I pivot on my heel; I sneak peeks around a corner, my gun barrel pointing at the ceiling, then step out quickly, ready to shoot. I move through the fog. I accidentally shoot members of my own team but keep going, grunting a quick apology as I brush past.

I could do this all day, I think to myself. I could get addicted to this.

But each laser-tag game lasts only 15 minutes. The game-over siren sounds and my gun stops shooting. We return to the "vesting room" to remove our light-up vests, return our guns to their clips and re-enter the world of peace. I want to stay in the battle room, though. I want to climb up to the catwalk and pick off little kids below, or sneak up to a nest of enemies and blow them all away.

If not bloodthirsty, I am at least laser-hungry. I want to shoot these kids. I want to hit the targets on their chests. I want to rack up points and not get hit. (When you get hit, your vest makes an explosion sound and your gun is unable to shoot for 20 excruciatingly impotent seconds.)

How did I end up here with my son's 13th birthday party, playing laser tag against some eight-year-old's birthday party, aiming my gun at small children in the dark and clouds of artificial mist?

When my son was younger, I was one of those sanctimonious pacifist parents you hate. I forbade toy guns of all sorts. Water guns were allowed, but only if in the shape of fish or elephants. When someone gave my son a wooden, rubber-band shooting gun, I hid it from him. When his dad took him to the amusement park and let him play the Wild West target-shooting game, I felt anger and disapproval.

My core values had been betrayed.

Junior, barely five at the time, remembered that incident for a long time – not the target shooting game itself, but how pissed I was at his dad. "Remember when Daddy let me play that gun game and you got mad at him?" he said for years.

While Junior's friends were watching R-rated movies with their older siblings, my son lived in a TV-free household, protected from violence, the objectification of women, the hypnotic siren call of consumerism in all forms.

Divorce, graduate school and a demanding new career wore down my principles. Age softened my stance on toy guns. Junior is now old enough to know why guns are bad, to understand the difference between toys and the real thing.

We can talk rationally about Columbine and then he can go shoot other boys with a Super-Soaker Uzi. He understands that shooting people is wrong. Unless you shoot those people with lights or water. Rubber bands are probably OK, too. Even those potato guns are probably all right.

When my son invited his friends to a laser-tag party, I found myself on the wrong end of the PC gun. Other mothers expressed doubts about letting their boys attend. My son came home from school to report, "Lucas said that Max's mother talked Lucas's mother into not letting Lucas go to laser-tag."

I got a phone message, "I don't really want Nathan to go to laser-tag because we don't do violence in our family, but all the other kids are going, so ..."

"Oh yeah?" I wanted to say. "Well, we do a lot of violence in our family."

In the end, all the kids were allowed to come and be corrupted by me and my son.

But after the party, even more mothers expressed misgivings. One, a sweet gentle soul told me how much she disliked the idea, "especially with what's going on in the world today." I felt dirty. I looked down, expecting to see blood on my hands.

Was I complicit in the war in Iraq? Was my enjoyment of laser tag a tacit approval of all the violence around the globe?

I wanted to apologize. For laser tag. For war. For genocide. I looked over at her son, pacing and ready to leave, embarrassed by our conversation. I wanted to say what a good boy he is, what a gentle soul he clearly has.

But I looked into her sweet, gentle eyes. "I actually really enjoyed it," I said. "And, by the way, your son is an excellent shot!"

Find more from Rachel in our archives.

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