I don’t believe I ever saw an actual gun
in the course of my growing up. I had no hunter
s in my family. No cops either and as far as I knew no gangsters
. The area of town we lived in for most of my youth was not the best
, but we would move before it became peppered with heat
I was twenty-two years old the first time I felt a gun. I stood at the end of a shooting lane examining the weight of the weapon in my hand. A close friend of mine at the time had convinced me to accompany her to a range, excited to share her new found fondness for shooting.
It was not a particularly massive piece, a .380, but to me it was big enough to turn me briefly solemn.
“Isn’t it cool?” my friend smiled.
I kept myself from frowning while a grey-bearded man emptied rounds from a machine gun down the lane right next to us. I was definitely curious about seeing what shooting the thing felt like, but the nerd in me could only think about the rash of convenient store hold-ups that had just occurred in town, about the seemingly endless massacres in Cordoba and Cape Town, and the recent one at a high school the next district over— and I just couldn’t agree with my friend’s adjective of choice.
I knew she wasn’t thinking in terms of its destructive abilities, but rather its ability to be loud and forceful when a girl tires of crying or screaming. Her passion of the moment, next year it would be Pilates.
Her enthusiasm encouraged me. I eventually tackled the paper intruder down the lane and managed only to miss the target six times.
A few years after this, I was visiting my grandmother, who despite having a top-rate security system in a neighborhood safer than Andy Griffith’s old one, informed me that she made an important purchase earlier that week.
“I bought a hand gun,” her sweet southern voice, as always, failing to evoke the gravity she meant to convey.
I sat on her pale blue and russet colored flowered couch unable to mask my surprise. At 86 years old, Grandma Tinsy suffered from a concoction of health problems. Lupus, arthritis, and fibromyalgia were her primary afflictions. She stood on the other side of her living room, a ballet-pink nightgown swaying about her little body.
The image of Tinsy defending herself with a gun seemed absurd in my mind. She could severely injure herself holding her English teapot with too much determination. With bones more bashable than fine China, I was sure that just a hurried social gathering over Earl Grey could send her to the floor.
“It’s small,” she reassured me and made a dramatic turn to the wooden cabinet behind her. She paused, however, and opted not to open the drawer containing the steel.
“It’s right there, in this top drawer, so you know where it is just in case. I put a sticky note on it that says ‘danger.’ You just can’t be too cautious.”
Danger on a sticky note.
I hid my need to chuckle until she went into the back room to do laundry. I appreciated Grandma Tinsy so much— her strength and her innocence, her collection of measures to keep us safe in the house, and the palpable effect years of watching “Murder, She Wrote” had on her dramatic sensibilities that evening.
Only about four months later, another gun came across my path, although this time it was without an owner. I was in my car, which was parked in a covered lot downtown, and was about to turn my key in the ignition when something caught my eye.
The object sat in a shadowed corner of the garage on my left. Instead of starting the car I rested my head back on the seat, contemplating my next move.
Peeking out of the shadow just enough, the stupid thing had basically handed me a role in its fate. How did it get there? How long had the gun been sitting in the corner and why hadn’t anyone else noticed the unmistakable curve of metal before me? Was it still warm?
Sitting there, my thoughts shifted to the kind with a lot of blood. I remembered someone— I think perhaps it was my uncle— once telling me that over a period of time, a pool of blood will sort of crystallize and form a hard bubble. Then if the bubble was hit or stepped on, it would pop open like a blister.
For a moment, I missed my ex-boyfriend.
I got out of my car and went over to pick up the violent metal, and just as quickly as the wistful thought of my ex came over me, it passed. You see in a way he sort of resembled the firearm suddenly, to me.
After I gave the weapon to a police officer standing in the bottom floor of the garage, I headed back to my apartment thinking about one of the paintings in an abstract art exhibit I’d viewed just the day before. It was Picasso’s “Violin.”
This was a particularly striking piece to me, and the thought of the ocher slices of the instrument in Picasso’s rendering served as a reflection of the sharp desperation sometimes unavoidable in life. Fiercely cutting apart an instrument in need of change and understanding, the piece displayed drastic new aspects of an image. Violent, but not morbid. A pleasurable violent distortion.
It was an expression I saw as comparable to that of a gun— although “Violin” lacks the danger, the blistering blood, and is not simply ruins on a canvas.
Don’t think I don’t see guns as beautiful in a way. So are lightning and snakes and people and fire. They require a certain amount of carefulness. And a lot of energy.
Within a week of finding the gun I purchased a print of “Violin.” I hung it over my wrought-iron bed.
I loved the look of the hard, arabesque black metal of the furniture’s frame as cubed requiems split the space above it.