What if one fall night, as you’ve done on many other nights, you and your child decide to take a walk around your neighborhood. What if nothing happens but just fun memories and bonding time over discussions of chicken nuggets and the most recent episode of PJ Masks. But what if … something does happen?
This past October, my son, Peter, and I decided to take a night walk to spend some quality time together. We wanted to see the Halloween decorations outside the houses in our Queens neighborhood of Glendale. Our neighborhood is usually very quiet with the exception of local traffic but, on that night, I sensed something was off.
On our way home, I heard a car screeching down the street. Then I heard a pop.
Immediately, my left side under the shoulder blade started burning.
I had been shot.
I grabbed Peter, and ducked behind a car for protection. In pure panic, taking off my fleece jacket, I asked him, “Am I bleeding?”
Peter replied, “No, Daddy.”
I did notice a little bit of paint on my jacket, and thought that was odd.
We heard the car screech around the corner again. Terrified, we hid behind a van as they slowed down and then sped off again.
We walked home five blocks, moving very fast because we were both afraid. We didn’t know if our assailants were going to pass by for a third time. We were terrified.
We later found out that two young adults, ages 19 and 22 — out of boredom — were firing frozen paintball pellets at random people. The police caught them but not before they hit 10 victims, including a 2-year-old boy. Two people were badly injured: one who was hit in the head, resulting in a concussion, and one who was hit in the neck.
The next day, the night’s terror really hit me hard.
“What if?” I keep asking myself.
What if I was hit in the head and dropped to the ground unconscious or dead, my son screaming, “Daddy, Daddy!” Would he know to pick up my cell phone and dial 911 or my wife?
What if they hit my son, injuring or killing him? Would I forgive myself for taking him out that night or would I be able to live life without him?
What if we were both knocked to the ground? Would I be able to keep calm for the both of us?
What if it was a real gun with real bullets?
There are a few things I think about constantly, even before this incident, where I ask myself, “What if?”
What if I was not as involved in my son’s life as I am? What if I didn’t discipline my son? What if I didn’t teach my son to respect others or show my son lots of love? Would he turn out to be like these two guys who shot me?
One thing I learned from this experience is that I am not as prepared for an emergency as I thought I was. I panicked, and that made my son panic. I blame myself for this even though I know no one really knows how they are going to react in a situation like that one. Another thing I learned, most importantly, is that I really do cherish every single moment I have with my son. This feeling grows stronger daily because of that frightening situation.
As parents, we will always have “what if” moments, but in this case, I learned how to better react. My son and I have recovered, and our father-and-son bond couldn’t be stronger because he knows I love him and he loves me.
Longtime NYC Dads Group member Larry Interrante lives in Queens. A version of this first appeared on his blog Life with PC.