At the same time that I was just a distant twinkle in the eye of my grandmother, my grandfather was being loaded onto a train car for a death camp. He never told us which.
Moving with the determination of a caged animal, he grabbed a gun belonging to one of the German police and fired at a Nazi that was a hundred yards away. The target's brain became a momentary blossom of blood and knowledge; the shards of bone from his skull made simple "klink" sounds as they hit the side of the train. Then, without hesitation, he turned the gun on the soldier to whom it belonged. He threw the gun down and ran; the trains unloaded themselves furiously.
My grandfather had never shot a gun before, and understood it as a gift from God that he could hit his targets with such precision. He fled to the US, becoming a pilot in our war with the Nazis.
My mother was born in Poland, though my grandparents met here. As long as there were Polish people, they thought, there will always be a Poland. They returned seven months after the birth of my mother to the city where they met, Chicago.
When my father was a small boy living in southern Indiana, his family lost their dog. My grandfather loved her, sincerely, more than anyone in the family but my Nana. He found out that she was being held at a kennel and that after a few days they allow people to come and adopt them.
My aunt, an antagonistic little bitch, even then (God rest her soul) asked, "What are you gonna do if someone's gotten her?!"
He answered, "I will follow him, and when he comes out with Megan I will put a bullet in her to show him that I will. Then, I'll shoot that motherfucker."
A few hours later, my grandfather returned. His boots were wet and his hands were dirty. My aunt spoke up, "Where's Megan?"
He looked at her, a look that had frightened dozens of men, "I shot her."
Twenty-five years ago, my father had a cousin named Timmy. Everyone on my father's side of the family hunts. Timmy was fifteen. Timmy, dressed in hunter's orange, was shot by his older brother. No questions were asked, it was clearly an accident.
In 1979 my grandfather, my father's father, sat drunkenly depressed on his porch down on Keeler Avenue. He levelled a gun shakily against his head and pulled the trigger. At that moment, a billion atoms of carbon, oxygen, argon, and nitrogen conspired against him. The bullet spun, like bullets do, into an area of his skull which was not quite the compact bone the rest of his head was. The plate shifted, gracefully, and crumpled politely. The bullet did not touch his brain, it simply stayed there, in his skull.
My grandmother, who was told that he had gotten rid of his guns, insisted he go to the hospital. He beat her, rather badly, with the bullet in his head. They spent much of the night on the porch with bottles of whiskey, my grandmother doing what she could to save him with what she could find in her sewing kit. He outlived her by 14 years.
In 1981, only weeks after my mother had found out she was pregnant with the only child she would ever bear, my grandfather, the pilot, was robbed. It was the very day my mother and father were married. In a dark alleyway, a man who was on his way to celebrate the wedding of his first and favorite daughter met with a man desperate enough to kill. Another bullet spiralled toward another grandfather's head.
And surely, elements do conspire against people. The bullet found a way to put itself into my granddad's face, but not touch his brain.
Today my granddad has a place between his eyes that looks like someone pulled a flap of skin across a hole located there. That's exactly what it is.
A few years later, my cousin, or rather my second-cousin, was in a park in Alabama. He was a felon and in that state, felons were not allowed to own, let alone carry weapons. A park ranger came by requesting to see Paul's hunting license.
Paul had nothing to show him, but was charismatic and handsome, and after a few minutes of conversation, the ranger decided to let him go. On the condition, of course, that Paul surrender his gun.
A few days later, a park ranger was found hanging upside down. He had been shot center-mass, gutted like a deer. The forest that he loved so much had taken care of what was once inside him.
I was nine and my father was showing my family his gun. We were white trash then, more than now. My mom was just fucking around and the gun went off. I remember the sound, but could not think what it was, and the screaming.
The bullet found its way into a wall. No one was hurt. It could have been another way. I could be one fewer relation with a mom in prison, but it did not happen that way. The bullet was, again, kind to me.
My father once killed a man who was trying to rape my mother. He killed another that was robbing our house. Another, recently: a drunk man that was beating up his current girlfriend. Got off of every charge, every time.
While in the Army, I found care and maintenance of my M-16 to be second nature. My finger understood trigger squeeze, my lungs understood breath control, my eyes were keen. In the cold Missouri winter, I didn't have trouble planting bullets in the pop-up target. I just imagined the Buddha, made of glass, and I fired a bullet into his heart.
I think the Buddha would like that.
Whether I am bequeathing my father's revolver to my son or giving it to the State for concert tickets, my name is written in the imperfections of the barrel.
So, for better or for worse, bits of my genetic code are scrawled onto spent shells in the cool Alabama air. Whether I hold the gun in my defense or to my head, it is comfortable in my hand.