"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin
Thursday, July 31, 2014
It was the kind of Saturday I would generally spend at the beach: sunny, mid 80’s, clear blue skies. Perfect.
Instead, I was wearing camouflage, driving a car full of teenagers, listening to Tenacious D and heading for a paintball facility an hour north of any place where the surf laps at the sand.
Ms. Peace-Love-Harmony-and-Kate Spade.
This was a deal I’d been suckered into by The Sibs. I’m the oldest of seven kids. Five of us are “adults.” We’ve got spouses and kids. We’re a wild, crazy, diverse bunch, and we’ve been known to undertake a wild, crazy and diverse assortment of activities.
The paintball outing had been suggested by the brother-in-law we affectionately call Dodo. (His real name is Dylan. And yes, now you know something about how affection works in my family.) My son - a/k/a The Boy - leaves for college next month, and Dylan suggested a paintball outing might be a fun activity for a few of the guys and The Boy before his departure. My sisters and I bristled at the implicit exclusion of us females. After all, this was an opportunity to purchase cute camo outfits and strike Charlie’s Angels poses, no? We were IN!
We arrived at P&L Paintball ready to roll. Dylan had made a special tee shirt for The Boy: neon yellow with a red bullseye on both the front and back. The Boy good-naturedly put it on. We paid the fee, claimed massive boxes of paintballs, and headed out to the field where we’d collect our weapons and helmets.
This was when it became clear we were in over our heads.
The place was massive. Acres of sprawling fields and woods full of elaborate gaming areas lay before us. There was a Wild West-style ghost town, a dystopian arrangement of towers and satellite dishes and even the remnants of an airplane, a stark field full of paint splattered cable spools.
And then there were the people. For starters, there were so damn many of them! Far more paintball enthusiasts than I ever would have imagined existed in one small corner of Massachusetts. And holy crap, the gear they had! Fancy camouflage suits and vests. Helmets with skulls on them. Shiny, space-age-looking paintball guns. They had teams and strategies. One guy was roughly the size of Andre the Giant. He was dressed in full camouflage and combat boots and looked as though he took it all very, very seriously.
We hadn’t even started the game, and we’d accomplished the family-bonding mission. We all moved closer to one another.
"I think we made a mistake," one of my sisters-in-law said.
"What did they say the fee was for us to play as our own group?" I asked quietly. "You know - where they keep us away from the, um…general population? I’ll pay the fee."
"Don’t be a wuss," my brother Mo said.
No one calls me a wuss.
And so it was game on.
The first game was played in the dystopian landscape. I quickly realized I had nothing to fear where paintball hits were concerned. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and a helmet - all while toting a surprisingly heavy paintball gun and running in the blazing sun from the cover of one shelter to the next - I was sweating so profusely you’d have thought I’d jumped in a swimming pool. Clearly I was going to pass out before anyone shot me.
And then I was hit.
When you’re loading paintballs into a gun, they look kind of cute and fun, sort of like squishy little marbles. They’re deceptive. Let me tell you: those little fuckers sting.
The first one hit me on my right wrist. While I was shaking my arm and cursing, completely oblivious to the game, I took a paintball to the ribs.
"Get down," someone said firmly, and I obediently dropped behind a barricade just as a barrage of paintball fire hit.
I looked over. It was the Giant.
From there on out, I tried to stick with him. If nothing else, I figured he made a great human shield.
In time, though, I realized I was having fun. I liked the challenge of trying to advance on the course, running and diving instead of hiding at the back of the pack. The paintballs didn’t seem to sting quite so much after the first few hits (though the welts I’d have later would tell a different story).
In our final game, I was huddled behind a cable spool, trying to figure out if I could make it safely to the next shelter.
"Excuse me, ma’am?" a voice said. It was one of the team-and-strategy guys who’d impressed me all afternoon. "There’s only one shooter in the tower now. If you want to advance, I’ve got you covered."
I DID want to advance! And how about that? A hardcore paintball guy had me covered! They were letting me play their reindeer games!
I ran, dove for cover.
When it was game over, my family and I all chatted away with the folks around us as we shed our gear, took pictures, showed off battle scars. I was sweaty, filthy and sore.
I was also asking the Giant where I could get a paintball gun and vest like his.