Still crouching stealthily behind my bunker, I cocked the gun and prepared to fire. Paint splattered all around, but every drop of color failed to hit me. Nearby, guns wheezed their final breaths, but mine was fully loaded with air. I was raring to go and knew that I could be an unstoppable machine, even if I had never been paintballing before and had never been particularly skilled at simulated violence either.
My finger squeezed the trigger, but to my horror, it would not budge. Frantically, I pulled the stubborn trigger several more times—but to no avail. I do not believe I have ever felt more exposed and alone. I had completely shot myself in the foot—not literally of course, since being able to shoot at all would have fixed my problem.
It was inevitable that I was going to get hit. And what would be the point of squatting there, a pathetic loser trying to shoot when something had obviously gone wrong? I had blown it, and now there was no way I was going to be a war hero—I was a lone soldier.
Heaving a sigh, I retreated to the callously-named “dead box,” in which those who were hit had to wait until the next game. As I walked the long walk of shame with my hands above my head in surrender, I was sure that it was going to be a long, nerve-racking night. Why was I so incompetent. Most of the other people who were with me were first-timers too, but they were already pro. Suddenly I saw the answer staring me in the face: an orange bar reminding me that the safety on my gun was still on.
Somehow I was able to find it in me to laugh at myself, bewildered at my sheer ridiculousness. At least now that I had overcome my safety, the game would not be too difficult to understand from a rules perspective: It was just a last-team-standing shootout with balls of paint in the guns. Apart from my skills as a player (or lack thereof), the only real issue now was the fact that the guns were filled with mercilessly hard balls of paint.
Back in the days of soccer and baseball, my coaches would always reprimand me for my fear of the ball. “Get out there and show it that you’re the one in charge, Sahil,” they would tell my cowering third-grade self. I felt, however, that fear might be more warranted in an activity where the waiver explicitly stated that Santa Clara Paintball was not responsible if you died—even if a misplaced apostrophe on the release form might be a good legal loophole to allow my parents to sue.
After I met up with the rest of the gang and went out for the next round, it turned out that I did not have to worry. I was shot in the back several times by one particularly sadistic opponent, but as the games went on, sometimes I couldn’t even tell; I would just see some fresh paint on my sweatshirt and figure that I must have been hit. Not everyone was so fortunate though—one person got hit in the head and another got a pretty nasty welt on her arm.
Even if I wasn’t the most talented at sniper on the field either, being wacky with my friends there could make it worthwhile. Trying to nudge a barricade down the field, a friend and I were horrified but somehow in splits when the tube would not stop rolling away, exposing us to mercenaries who would not easily forgive us for encroaching upon their sacred territory.
Even when two of us ran across the field with only 10 bullets each and emitting ferocious war cries all the while, it was incredibly exhilarating. I myself got deep into the enemy camp before someone shot me, only two inches away from rendering me unable to have children. Perhaps I should have worn a cup. Or been like Jon Tran the Yearbook Man and shoved a pillow down my shirt.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the safest thing to do. Maybe it was in a locale that can only be described as sketchy and maybe it was somewhat pricey. But even if it wasn’t something I would do every Friday, it was certainly an adrenaline rush that everyone has to experience at least once. And so as we walked back to the cars, covered in welts (and in my case, gallons of paint), I knew that even though I might be covered in bruises and sores the next morning, I would also arise as a proud and valiant war hero.