Category Archives: guns

Retirement no nos: more snow, guns and buttholes

Port Stanley

Port Stanley

The other night, while doing the dogs’ Last Pee, I commented on the night sky.  On a clear night Port Stanley’s skies are star-studded.  It’s just another one of the perks of living in a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Erie with next to nothing in the way of light pollution.

“If you think the stars are bright here,” said my husband, “You should see them up north.  Why, on certain nights,  you can  see the Aurora Borealis!”

An innocent enough remark if we hadn’t just been discussing where we ought to move when we retire.  I like the idea of retiring in situ.  He likes to at least entertain the notion of retiring elsewhere.  “What about B.C.? What about the West Coast?” he asked.

I shook my head.  “Land is too expensive out west.”

“Not in Squamish!”

“I don’t want to live in Squamish.”

“What’s wrong with Squamish?”

He tried a new tack:  “What about Tobermory?”

Now, I love me some Bruce Peninsula, but I am of the firm opinion that, as one ages, one should run away and not towards more snow.“Too much snow,” I said.

Then the conversation took the inevitable tack.  “What about up north?”

Ken is from Timmins, Ontario. If you want to know how north that is, it’s north of the Artic Water Shed. There are two seasons in Timmins: a two month long summer and a ten month long winter.  The summer is beautiful if you don’t mind black flies the size of fruit bats.  The winter is . . .  Well, let me put it this way. In Timmins there is so much snow that they  can’t remove it from the streets — nowhere to put it —  so instead they pack it down, raising the level of the street  two feet. You have to bend down to feed your parking meter.  In my opinion, that is too much snow.  Way too much snow.

“What?” he says in mock chagrin.  “You won’t consider retiring up north, but you expect me to agree to retiring down south!”

Now, that’s where I’ve got him.  I used to want to return someday  to my home state of North Carolina, to warm weather and piney woods and dogwood blossoms blowing in the air, to the place my ancestors have lived for three hundred years.

Lately, however, I’ve come to reconsider my position.

Open carry laws such as North Carolina sports piss me off.  I’m afraid that, if the butthole ahead of me in line at a Starbucks happened to have a gun poking out of his back pocket, I would find it virtually impossible not to wonder aloud and to anyone who would listen about the size of his penis.  I told my husband this once and he got quite angry with me.  “If you did that, I’d be expected to defend you,” he pointed out. “Against a guy with a gun.”

The North Carolina Legislature’s  recent anti-LGBTQ measures are another thing that really pisses me off.  If there was a business where I lived that would not serve LGBTQ people, I would feel morally obliged to picket said  establishment, hoisting a sign on which had been inscribed witty, salient invective . . . when what I really want to do in my Golden Years is go on field naturalist walks wearing khakis and a Tilley hat and knit sweaters for penguins tarred by oil spills.


Downtown Timmins

No, as far as I’m concerned, Port Stanley is just fine.  I can see the stars.  There’s snow, but not so much snow that you want to kill yourself.   Guns are controlled, everyone’s human rights are respected and buttholes, though certainly present, do not constitute a majority of the population.

If I want to see the Aurora Borealis, I will go to Iceland.   Which I would like to do.  Once. For a week. And then come home. To Port Stanley.

This has to stop

memorialMany years ago a good friend of mine – I will call her Grace – told me the story of what had happened to her family when she was six. Grace and her brother Bobby, one year her senior, and their four-year-old sister Karen, were playing cops and robbers upstairs at a neighbours’ house when Bobby fished a revolver out of the top drawer of a bedside table,  pointed it  at Karen, said, “Bang, bang! You’re dead!” then shot her at close range in the temple, killing her instantly.

As horrific as that story was, however, it was Grace’s account of what happened to her family after the shooting that has stuck with me all these years;  her family was, quite literally, blown apart. The parents, wracked with grief, talked obsessively about going into the woods and shooting themselves in a double suicide, just to be free of the terrible, grinding pain. Grace, frozen with dread, heard them whispering about this when they thought she was asleep. Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been to a child, to hear her parents talk like that?

Eventually she and Bobby were packed off to live with relatives until the parents could get a grip, but not before the seven year old boy was questioned by the police to determine if his sororicide was a crime and by a priest to determine if it was a sin. It was a determination, incidentally, which no one thought to get back to him on and so he lived for decades with the conviction that he was bad, that  this had been all his fault, that he had taken not only his sister’s life, but broken his family into pieces.  Over the years, his terrible guilt came to define him.

After some considerable time had passed, Bobby and Grace were able to return home, whereupon the parents imposed a strict ban of silence on the family: Karen was gone; no one was allowed to mention how she had been taken from them.

In time Grace became a social worker and devoted herself to the most difficult and heart-rending cases of child welfare.  She is one of the most compassionate and selfless people it’s been my privilege to know, but also, somehow, one of the saddest.  You could tell that something terrible had happened to her. As for Bobby, he became a urologist, his life’s work a guilt-fueled struggle to gain atonement through achievement and over-compensation.

Then, on a night not long before Grace told me this story, the dam broke: she and Bobby and their parents discussed the accident for the first time in over thirty years, staying up into the wee hours of the morning to hash it all out.  In doing so, they  realized that Karen’s death had been the single most important event of their lives, that everything had flowed from it, that they were who they were because of it. That it had changed everything.

All because a neighbour had failed to properly secure his weapon.

This is the point I want to make: there is a story similar to Grace’s for the family and loved ones of every victim of gun violence, whether it was the Idaho mother killed when her toddler pulled a gun out of her purse in Walmart and shot her dead or the man who just gunned down ten people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  It does not end with the victims’ funeral or getting through the first Christmas or on the ten year anniversary or the thirtieth. For the people affected by gun violence . . . and there are so many and counting . . . it changes everything. Forever.

This does not need to happen.

it has to stop.

Nice on the outside

Brina at the age she was tormented by 'Amos'.  Does the gun foreshadow her mother's revenge fantasy?

Brina at the age she was tormented by ‘Amos’. Does the gun foreshadow a later revenge fantasy of her mother’s?  I have no recollection what the helmet was for.

I was lying there in corpse pose on the floor of my yoga studio today, waiting for the class to begin and entertaining myself by telling someone off in my head when I realized: I do this.  A lot. For an ostensibly nice person who appears to get along with practically everybody, I seem to have quite a few bones to pick and I spend a fair amount of my quiet time doing just that.

That and revenge fantasies.

When my daughter Sabrina was little, she was in a play group with an appalling little boy whom I will call Amos. Amos’s parents were lovely and I’m sure Amos turned out to be a fine young man, but at three he was a monster. Sabrina worshiped him; he tormented her. It didn’t help that he looked like one of those troll dolls.   Many a night I put myself to sleep imagining burying Amos up to his neck in sand, pouring high fructose corn syrup over his stupid little head and liberating the prisoners of an ant farm in his immediate vicinity. I never touched a single solitary hair on Amos’s head, but I thought about it and hard.  Forget the woman scorned; her mother is the one to watch out for.

Whenever there’s another mass shooting in the U.S., I devote an amount of time to wishing that some nut bag would take a wrong turn and end up in an NRA convention. Loaded for bear and ready to rock, this white male with a very small penis would wade onto the convention floor, Rambo-style and guns a-blazing. If Wayne Lapierre had anything to do with it, those under attack would then draw their weapons and a bloodbath worthy of Quentin Tarantino would ensue. With any luck, everyone in the joint would be killed and we could start over again, like Noah after the Great Flood, the Earth washed clean of the stain of gun violence. For a long time I have kept this fantasy to myself. It seemed dangerous, as if writing down might make it happen. Every time one of these senseless massacres occurs, however, I get a teensy bit less concerned about the safety and well-being of the gun lobby and the craven politicians who, against all reason, allow the slaughter to continue.

And of course there’s the revenge fantasy you consign to pen and paper — one of the delicious perks of being a writer is that you can create a character based on someone what done you wrong, stick pins in him as though he were a Voodoo doll and watch him writhe.  To read one of my most virulent revenge fantasies and the first of my Cherokee stories, click on  Magical Thinking,  a story which originally appeared in The New Quarterly, 11,1, 1991.

My need to tell people off inside my head arises from the fact that, outside my head, I rarely do. Somebody will say, “Did you try and jew ’em down?” or, jocularly, “Does the fact that I got a pearl paint finish on my new car make me a fag?” or, “Those lazy son of a bitches on welfare are living high off the hog on my tax dollars,” statements which make me, inwardly, apoplectic. Most of the time, I squeak out something that could be interpreted either as a muffled protest or a throat being cleared, but only once have I come down hard.

It was on a plane from Vancouver to Kelowna, B.C.  A woman next to me struck up a conversation. She was a miserable creature. Her jerk husband had left her years before; she worked in retail and was barely scraping by; she had been out east to visit her sister, the weather had been terrible and it had all been so expensive; to make matters worse, her seventeen year old daughter was pregnant with a second, illegitimate baby and her son, “unfortunately”, was a heroin addict.

“What about you?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “in a month my daughter will be marrying her girlfriend in Montreal and we’re all looking very much forward to the wedding.”

It was as though I had shaken salt onto a leech. She pruned right up. Then she shook her head, looked miasmal and muttered, “I don’t know. That just isn’t natural.  Marriage is between a man and a woman. . . .”

I looked at her and thought, oh, what the Hell. When am I ever going to see this sad sack again? “No,” I said firmly. “You’re wrong.  If you’d like me to educate you on the subject, I’ll be glad to. If you’d rather languish in antediluvian ignorance, I need this conversation to end.”

I had her at “antediluvian ignorance.” Well, I almost always do. She retreated into an uncomfortable silence and I did the same, but in my head I was having a field day: “It’s not like heterosexuality has done you any favors! “ “How dandy was it for you being married to a man?” and,  “With your track record I hardly think anybody’s going to be crowning you Mother of the Year any time soon!”

I didn’t say anything though. She was hard enough done by. And I’m nice. On the outside.