The nightmare: I am in CVS, browsing the conditioner aisle, when it happens. The fluorescent lights go black. The friend I am shopping with reaches for my hand and I give it a squeeze.
A manager’s shaky voice comes over the loudspeaker:
“There is a shooter on Route 35. Take cover. This is not a drill.”
We look to the other shoppers in the store, their expressions barely illuminated by the still-glowing lipstick displays and a sliver of light coming in under the front door. Someone drops to their knees to pray. Another person lies face down with their right ear to the carpet, as if it could offer answers.
We are all scared.
In the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, gun issues were thrust uncomfortably into my life. I didn’t grow up around firearms, nor had I ever laid hands on one, but within hours of the shooting, it was all anyone wanted to talk about when I brought up my home state.
“You’re from Connecticut?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Do you know anyone who knows anyone who died?”
“What will you do when you go back home?”
The worst was, perhaps, dealing with people who didn’t know or didn’t care, people who lived their lives as if nothing had happened.
I felt broken. This wasn’t my tragedy. This wasn’t my hometown. And yet it was. I grew up a mere two exits on the highway away from Newtown. I have two younger sisters, one of whom was then in elementary school. When I went home, I heard stories of Connecticut mothers locking themselves in the shower to cry so that their children didn’t have to see them unravel. The water was their comfort.
It was too much. Not here. Not my state. Not my country. No.
And yet guns seem to go hand in hand with America, at least as the outside world sees us. In my current travels in Fiji, the theme has come up more than once. The conversation goes something like this:
“How do you like America?”
“The states? It is my home.”
“What about all the shootings? The guns?”
I take a sip of water and look my questioner straight on. “It is pretty fucked up.”
I don’t know what more I have to say on the topic. How can I, one person, begin to get to the heart of it all?
C pulls his pickup in the front lot of the hunting club and shuts off the engine. It is quiet. Too quiet.
“You ready for this?” he asks, pulling the rifle out from beneath the seat of his truck.
I shiver into the warmth of the Mississippi August night. “I don’t think so, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
He reviews the safety lock, the kickback, and the size of the bullets.
“So you just pull back and release.”
I nod, though C can’t see me in the dark.
“It’s going to be loud, but with only one shot your ears should be okay.”
“What if I hit a tree?”
“A tree?” he laughs at my concern. “The tree will be okay.” I doubt it but go along with his certainty.
The gun is heavier than I had imagined. C helps to balance it in the crook of my arm.
“Now?” I ask.
“Go for it.”
I pull the trigger, and something metal explodes into the night. My ears ring. I want to go and pick up the bullet, to apologize to whatever I just hit.
“How do you feel?” C asks, light shining through his eyes even in the dark.
“I––I’m not sure.”
“Did you love it? Do you want to take another shot? I love breaking in new people.”
“I think I’m done. Thanks. I don’t ever want to do that again.”
Why anyone would want to hold that much power in their hands is beyond me. I can see its appeal, but I don’t understand it. The America I want to know has no gun violence.