Friday, March 17, 2006


With gunshots and love, what they say is, you’ll just know.

I was in security training for my old job, and we were learning pointlessly cool stuff like how to get safely out of a minefield, how to spot two-way mirrors, that kind of thing. One of the trainers, a former cop, was in the middle of explaining evasive maneuvers during gunfire, when he paused and asked us all if we’d ever heard the sound of gunfire. Could we tell it from a car backfiring? I could not. I’d been rattled awake a time or two in DC and wondered, “maybe?” but no, I didn’t know. How can you tell when it’s a gun, and not a car after all? When it’s the real thing, he told me, you just know.

For a Texas girl, I’m sure no great shakes with the guns. My uncles, and even both aunts, are licensed concealed handgun owners. I remember happy childhood afternoons sitting cross-legged on the carpet, dizzying myself from the acrid, oily fumes of the cleaner my dad used to regularly swab down rifle parts. Reaching 14, my brother got a rifle of his own, and a membership to the NRA, a hearty backslapping welcome into the fraternity of Texas men.

But me, I have neither held nor shot a firearm, nor been in the vicinity of any sharpshooters. Against guns, I say, and against them for all the proper and responsible reasons. But I’m not, not really. I am afraid, a little bit, that I would like them very much. Remembering the unexpected power high I got from a few boxing lessons, I can foresee that a little cold steel in my grip might not scare me as much as it ought to. Might feel kind of nice.

Well, anyway, they’re right about the gunshots.

My busy street is host to all sorts of shouts and rumbles and bangs and barks, but when I heard this shot, so loud I vibrated, it just as they tell you: I knew. By the time I got to my window, the neighbors were already coming out of doors, leaning out windows, angling for a peek. A young man was hobbling, gripping his leg, and screaming something that started with “your mother” and surely didn’t end politely. A girl next to him was on her phone, voice frantic and shaking, looking very scared. He was hobbling and cursing and trying to hide himself from view. Somehow he was bundled into a car and I saw him in the passenger seat giving into pain with a look of luxurious abandon that resembled relief, as if having to act brave and stoic on the street had been the worst part.

And I never know what’s happening in this country. I can’t join the neighborly post-shooting conference on this boy, and the undoubtedly well-documented theories as to how he brought this on himself and his poor mother. I can only sit in my window and marvel at how unperturbed they all seem. I have seen neighbors back home get more hysterical over electricity outages.

I’m back to feeling uncomfortable about guns. And Mother comes to visit in three weeks. Georgia! Listen up! Put a comb in your hair, put a mint in your mouth, and for the love of God, lock up the firearms!


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