There’s a favorite story in my family that’s only three words long. Remember the darts?
Everyone remembers, so we all have a laugh and enjoy the story without anybody needing to tell it.
We had just hung up a kid-style dart board in the basement. The kind where the darts have rubber suctions cups on the end instead of lethal points. It had the usual concentric rings, and also four extra bulls eyes, one in each corner.
I was little, and all the neighborhood kids were big. They had been playing games with each other since before I was alive, so they already had plenty of time to get good at them. When team captains picked teams for baseball or Red Rover, they argued over who would pick first because that determined whose team was going to end up with me on it.
The darts had promise. The big kids weren’t good at it yet. All it would take was practice. So one night, after my siblings had tired and gone upstairs, I put myself to the task.
Every dart had to land somewhere. If I stayed down there throwing darts long enough, sooner or later I would hit the board. Eventually 4 darts would be stuck to the 4 bulls eyes in the corners. It would be like heads or tails with pennies. If you always say “heads,” eventually you win. I threw the darts.
Time stretches out awfully long when you are small and alone and the basement is getting colder. They were putting on jammies upstairs, the water pipes clunking and gushing with teeth brushing-and toilet-flushing. Soon the basement would be the province of the monster that didn’t exist who lived behind the furnace. I gathered errant darts from under the stationary tubs and kept on throwing.
I had to find a chair to stand on in order to stick the four darts onto the four bulls eyes. I wasn’t cheating. I was just showing myself—and the darts—how it was going to look when it was all done. It looked wonderful. It didn’t seem unreasonable to skip ahead in time to the moment when the darts really landed that way. When you write down the answer in arithmetic without showing your work, it’s still the answer.
When I called them all to come and see, they were neither amazed nor delighted. “Do it again and we’ll believe it happened the first time.” That’s not what they say when you guess “heads” and that’s now the penny comes up. That’s not what they said to Jesus after the Loaves and Fishes or when he raised up Lazarus. It was probably a good idea to have stuck the darts up there. It would have been really hard to hit those bulls eyes twice. I kept throwing the darts.
They came down to check on me now and again, the siblings exchanging smirks the way they do when you are In Trouble and they are not, the parents saying, “Well…” and offering me a chance to admit that I’d lied.
I threw the darts. If I quit, there would be nothing ahead but bowing in confession, hearing what a disappointment I was, and accepting my punishment. If I persisted for as long as it took, the triumphant thing would happen and everyone would be glad.
I don’t remember giving up. I recall histrionics and lots of snot. When you tell a story in only three words, nobody minds the gaps.
Remember the darts? When someone says that, we all have a laugh and remember our favorite parts of a family story. For me, it’s a story about how I hadn’t yet worked out the interplay between hard work, ability, and chance.
I like to think that evening taught me something about being a parent. I know it taught me to be a better liar.