It was early afternoon on a sunny Friday in the summer holidays.
My dad had taken some time off work to look after me and my brother while mum was at work.
We were shooting a pellet gun in the back garden. We laughed and cheered as each target became riddled with holes. Some flipped backwards, some sideways, some forwards. One, nailed to the fence, refused to budge. It didn't matter. We still shot it to pieces.
We ducked down from pretend return fire and reloaded.
Then, like a fully-automatic jack-in-the-box, we popped up and began the onslaught again. When all the targets had fallen, my dad looked at me and nodded towards the garden. I smiled and raced out the back door.
I began picking up the targets and placing them in new positions. Harder to hit positions. I was nearly done. Suddenly there was a sting in my back. I winced. Then another, in my arm. Then one more in my back. I started to panic. Was it bees? Or wasps?
Then I heard laughter.
I turned to see my dad hanging out the window grinning, waving the gun at me. He took aim again. I darted into the hedge, burst into tears and pleaded with him to stop.
I stayed there, hidden, with my head buried in my knees, arms cradling my legs. After a while, I heard my mother calling for me, but I didn't rush out. I waited until she found me.
"Come on love. It's ok."
I shook my head and sniffed.
"He won't shoot you again. I promise."
I wiped my face with my t-shirt and edged towards her. I took a quick look to the right, to see if he was there. He wasn't. I leaped into her arms. She carried me back to the house. I hugged her tightly and buried my head into her shoulder.
I didn't understand what had happened. Neither did she. We didn't talk about it either. We buried it in silence.
Fast forward thirty years.
We haven't spoken for a year, because I told him I wouldn't until I was ready, but I'm dialing his number now. Ready. All I wanted was to ask him one question, one word. The phone rang twice and he picked up.
Strange. The man I had loved and feared for most of my life, sounded nervous.
"How are you dad?"
"I'm ok thanks. How are you?"
I didn't hesitate.
"I'm ok thanks. I know we haven't spoken in a while, but there's something I wanted to ask."
I took aim.
"Yeah. It's about something that happened a long time ago."
I paused, expecting him to interject, but he didn't.
I opened fire.
"Do you remember when you shot me with a pistol in the back garden?"
I'd never heard him sound so full of fear.
"Well I guess I want to know why."
I waited for a reply.
"It doesn't matter if you don't know. Really it doesn't. This isn't a guilt trip. I'm not out for revenge. I'm asking because I want to understand. And it's ok if you don't remember either. It was a long time ago."
If he didn't answer, I wouldn't care. If he hung up, I wouldn't care. I would have said my piece. I would have dealt with it. And I don't mean I wouldn't have cared in a spiteful sense. I mean, a lack of an answer wouldn't have mattered.
There may be "an" answer for everything in life, but that doesn't mean it is "the" answer. For me, calling and asking the question had bought me my freedom. If he had an answer, that would be a bonus. If it made sense, even better.
He took a deep breath and began to speak.
"I remember. And it's something I've thought about a lot over the years... but the truth is, I don't know."
He took another breath.
"I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't stop myself."
And then came something I was not expecting.
"I know it hurt you and I'm sorry."
No lies. No tears. No anger. No fear. No excuses. Just the truth.
My reply was simple.
"It's ok. As odd as it might sound, I thought you'd say something like that. I don't hate you for it. I just wanted to ask you so I could let it go."
And now I have.