My Woodpecker

I've heard it said that some people have a little person who sits on one shoulder or the other, whispering good advice when the going gets tough. This being is generally referred to as a conscience, although the name seems to vary. But regardless of what this little character is called, its purpose is always the same: in times of doubt and confusion, or perhaps a momentary lapse of reason, this individual can be counted on to provide gentle but sound guidance. If you have such an entity on your shoulder, I envy you, because I do not. I have a woodpecker.

I don't remember exactly when my woodpecker first arrived, but it was during my adolescent years. Those years are tough for many of us; it's a time of madness, and hormone-driven folly. Certain things should never be available to someone in this condition, such as a BB gun. One day I decided that a good target for my BB gun would be one of the large windows at the elementary school up the street. But as I approached the school, my woodpecker began pecking the side of my head with its pointed beak. Fortunately, the BB gun was a rifle, not a pistol, so the option of shooting the woodpecker wasn't available to me. I cocked the rifle, which initiated a full-out attack against the left side of my face. As I aimed and fired, the drilling became unbearable, so I wasn't able to fully complete my mission. As it was, I did enough damage to the window that my BB gun was confiscated, and my mother regarded me with anger and suspicion for a long time. But looking back at it now, I'm thankful the woodpecker attacked me when it did, because I didn't wind up in juvenile hall.

Since that time, my woodpecker has been always on my shoulder, guiding me through the hard times with brutal attacks to my head. The larger wounds are scars now, mostly; I'm not as impetuous as I once was, and require only the occasional bloodied ear or perforated cheek to bring me to my senses before I cross the line. My woodpecker spends most of his time sleeping; he isn’t as young as he used to be, and he needs his rest. He's a kinder, gentler woodpecker, and I'm older, too. But every so often I get the urge to post something defamatory about someone I particularly dislike, or maybe a sarcastic tirade guaranteed to alienate reasonable people. When my woodpecker senses this, he opens one eye. These days, that's usually enough to keep me in line.


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