On the way up my driveway last Monday, I was checking my pumpkin patch. My daughter’s pumpkin was ready and I was admiring it as I halfheartedly looked forward to the chaos of Halloween. I had just dropped the kids off at school, and I was turning over writing ideas. Then, I caught sight of something metallic and shiny. As I approached, my brain tried to make sense of what I was seeing. It was a gun. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, it was loaded.
I ran inside to tell my husband, my heart racing and my mind attempting to formulate some sort of explanation. He walked outside with me. While I yelled at him not to touch it, he gently used a pumpkin leaf to check it’s weight. Apparently this is what you do when it is a couple days before Halloween and you are unsure if the supposed gun is real or a toy. It wasn’t a toy. So, I called the police. I stood in the window watching it. As if it might get up on it’s own and commit a crime. Or in case someone walked into my yard. I was prepared to yell “Gun! Gun!” to anyone who entered.
The police showed up like 10 minutes after I called. Seriously fast. Get this, one officer picked it up with his bare hand. Hasn’t this guy ever seen CSI? Doesn’t he know about fingerprints? DNA for fucksake? He made a couple jokes to try and make light of the situation, given that I was in my pajamas, my husband was ready to go for a bike ride and the four of us were looking at an instrument of death. We made guesses as to how it got there. They checked the barrel. One bullet missing, but otherwise loaded. No safety. They took down my name. They told me it was a 32 magnum (which I had to google). With a shrug and a “well that’s one less gun out there,” they left.
As much as I tried to get on with my day, and then my week, as much as I rationalized, I was left with one agonizing and recurring thought. What if my kids had found that instead of me? They were out there playing the day before with friends. I played a tape in my head that ran all week of a child pulling a trigger. Nothing could be so scary. Not the fact that my family was staring down a major storm. Not that my husband’s mom is in hospice and we are left to watch a strong spirit wither away. Not an election that seems to have no end. No, nothing is as scary as a cold, icy gun in the hand of a child. Nothing.
For those of you who have experience with guns, this may all seem a bit over the top to you. After all, you may be used to the power of a bullet propelling itself out of a metal barrel. But I am not. I remember all the movies I have seen and all the headlines I have read and I am terrified. I can’t get myself out of the running tape. That night, I confess to my husband that I am scared. We decide, for now, not to tell the kids. What kind of damage had that gun already done? Obviously someone wanted to get rid of it. Then, suddenly, I felt ashamed. Like I had done something wrong or that this was a reflection of the downward spiral of my neighborhood. I don’t want anyone to know. I wish I could take back the friends I have told, I panic.
So, I call the police department. I want to know what happened to the gun. What it was used for? And what has happened to it? If you have ever called the police department, you already know what a head-banging experience in frustration this is. There are multiple numbers on the website and I got directed to another two. At last, there is a nice person who knows a thing or two and she helps me stay calm. As my de-facto therapist, she explains that I don’t need to feel ashamed and that I have done nothing wrong. She said I was the “victim” here. And then it hits me. That’s exactly how I feel, that I have been violated. There was a person or persons who saw so little value in my life or the lives of my children (we very clearly have children based on how our home is decorated for Halloween) that they tossed a loaded gun onto my property. There you have it.
My friend Tami soothes my nerves as well by telling me that the reason others may be uncomfortable with the situation is because they worry it could happen to them. I remember comforting myself with iterations of that neighborhood or those people when something happens that is scary or unforeseen. It can even happen with things like divorce or job loss. We tell ourselves it won’t happen to us for whatever reason. But as the officer told me, people do desperate things. I sigh. I want to be in control, I want to be able to protect my children. In my mind, I don’t call the police. I keep the gun in my bedside table and feel it’s cold comfort in my hand as I aim it in the direction of those who would hurt my family.
That’s not me! I remind myself of who I am and who my neighbors are. We are all really just doing the best we can. So I will continue to do the things within my control while I giving myself some room to breathe when they are not. And often, so often, they are not. My pumpkin patch and my yard have given me much joy, and facing the truth always feel better than hiding. Suburbs, we are all in this together.
Photo by Bernie Boston of the Washington Evening Star. George Harris was sticking flowers in gun barrels at an anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon in 1967. Guns freak me out too, George. But I sure as hell wouldn’t choose to get that close to one.