Just before New Year’s Eve in 1992 I spent the night a my friend Neil’s house in Kentucky. We planned to enjoy some hunting and target shooting before coming back to Clarksville. What we didn’t plan was the trip to the Emergency Room.
The ground was damp from rain the night before when we gathered a few of Neil’s long guns. We carried them to an area he often used to target shoot and set up paper targets. We worked our way from the least to most powerful, starting with a .22 rifle, a muzzle loader in the middle (which was extremely satisfying to shoot), and ending on his Remington .270. It was a beautiful rifle set with a scope.
I crouched down and nestled the stock against my shoulder. I used a tree for support to help steady my aim and carefully sighted the target we set up about a 100 yards away through the scope. I exhaled and gently squeezed the trigger. Then came a moment of blinding pain in my forehead just above my right eye.
The crack of the rifle firing still echoed off the ridges as I stood, slightly unsteady. “Neil, could you take this, please?” I said in a strangely calm voice as I held the rifle vertically and extended my arm toward Neil, who looked at me with great concern.
“Leighton? Are you all right?” He stared above my eyes as he spoke.
“I think so.”
“I think we might need to run you to the hospital.”
“Don’t be silly. Let’s see how I shot.” But we didn’t see how I shot because the world went red. Blood covered half my face. I slammed my hand against the wound and felt the blood slip through my fingers and watched it splatter on the ground.
I thought about a fight I witnessed on the bus when I was a freshman in high school. To kids got into it and one ended up hunched over as his face got repeatedly kicked. A small cut opened in his forehead and I remember being horrified at how quickly the blood came and how it looked as if someone turned on a faucet because it poured so quickly. Then I realized something similar was happening to me.
“Okay, maybe we should go inside for a minute,” I said.
“I think we should head for the hospital.”
“No, it probably looks a lot worse than it is. Let’s just get me cleaned up inside.”
We went back to the house where we finally stemmed the blood with large amounts of cold water and a few towels. My face was pale, but I felt better except for the dull ache in my head.
Neil still looked greatly concerned and said, “I really think we should run you by the hospital, just to be safe.”
“Nah, it’s barely bleeding now and I want to see how I shot.” Then I moved the most recent towel. A perfect, graceful arc a little over an inch sliced through my skin from the corner of my right eyebrow. Something caught my eye and I moved closer to the mirror.
“Neil?” I asked as I gently probed the wound.
“Is that my skull?”
“I think so.”
“Maybe we should go to the hospital.”
“Finally! I’ll get you another shirt.”
“We should see how I shot before we go though.” I was really interested in how I did.
Neil of course didn’t allow it and we went to the Emergency room of Jenny Stuart Medical Center. It was a slow day for them and we didn’t have to wait long. A doctor examined me and pronounced that I needed stitches. This was second time I needed them in my life (but far less traumatizing than the first).
“Couldn’t you just go ahead and sew me up without that?” I asked as the doctor readied a syringe.
“No, it’ll be less painful for you this way.”
“Well, it’s a needle either way and I hate being numb.”
“This is better.” He inserted the needle with the numbing agent six times in spots around the gash. I winced each time, especially at the burn of the numbing agent.
“So what happened exactly?” he asked. We told him and his next question was, “So how’d you shoot?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, “Someone wouldn’t let me check before we came here.”
“Hey,” Neil piped up, “Clearly someone needs to look after you.”
“Or at least keep him away from guns with scopes,” the doctor added helpfully.
“Actually, he was set correctly. I don’t know if he slipped on the wet ground just as he shot or what.” It’s a good friend that offers explanations for your own stupidity.
We enjoyed our banter as the doctor completed my five stitches. He told me to come back in about a week to have them removed. I didn’t though, because I have access to people with scissors and tweezers.
The worst of the ordeal came after of course as I had to endure endless questions about what happened. I worked in the mall at a small software store at the time so the worst came from customers. I finally started telling people it was a fencing scar. Initially, I thought that explanation would beg more questions, but people quit asking after it for some reason.
The questions came less often after we took the stitches out and dwindled to nothing over the years as the scar became less prominent. I still notice it, of course, and occasionally trace it with my finger. Few people notice it now, but for me it’s a memory carved in my features and I’m okay with that story written upon me.
Oh, the target? I nailed that sucker near the center of the ten ring.