Man is in the Forest

October 8, 2015 § 5 Comments

imagesWhen I was maybe 5 or 6, my dad brought Bambi home, strapped to the top of the woody station wagon, dead. This was the 70s in Kentucky, and I suppose he was trying to make friends by going hunting with a few guys, though the idea of a surgeon hunting with a rifle baffles me now. I think he bought the rifle for that occasion, and it was the last time it was used. My four sisters and I, as the legend goes, broke into a chorus of tears because the deer was definitely Bambi and was definitely dead. Imagine stairsteps of stringy-haired little girls in pink polyester nightgowns crying as you came in the door with your trophy. Man was in the forest.

My grandmother, we called her Gigi, was the original female badass in my life. She had a pearl handled pistol that would almost fit in the palm of your hand, just like lady badasses carried in the movies. I am pretty sure she kept it in her purse, or maybe in a bedside table drawer. I thought that was cool. My mom wanted that gun—she thought it was cool too, but I’m glad Gigi never gave it to her. She might have used it– she might be drunk, or my dad and she might have a horrible argument, or she might be depressed—I didn’t doubt that she could pull the trigger. She often felt powerless and afraid.

When I lived in the mountains, I knew plenty of people who packed when they walked in the woods, for the real possibility of encountering a copperhead or a bear, or maybe as defense against the owner of a pot patch they would come across. It seemed to make sense at the time, as long as you were a good shot. Still, I figured I’d shoot myself accidentally, or worse, someone else. I walked in the woods a lot, unarmed, and nothing ever bothered me except the cold wind.

When I taught high school drop outs in New Haven, I wasn’t really scared, even though New Haven is the end of the line of the train from New York, the quickest and farthest you can get out of town on a cheap train. I passed the Winchester plant on my way to work. All the gangs I had heard of were represented in my classroom. Still, the only day I was scared was when a guy named Alex wasn’t doing his work. I came over to help him and he looked me in the eye and whispered murder in the classroom, then grinned, apparently amused at the way the blood had drained from my face. I told my principal, but there was nothing he could do. It wasn’t a direct threat, maybe just a bad joke, he said. That’s not what Alex’s eyes said.

This was before lockdown drills and swatting. I didn’t make Alex do his work after that. Eventually, he left school. Another student though, Henri, came in sleepy one day. I told him to wake up, to pay attention. “Sorry,” he said. “I got shot.” He lifted his shirt to show me the bandages around his abdomen, and I told him he should go home, but he didn’t. He wanted to stay in school.

When I taught at a community college, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill making it legal for people to carry guns on campus. I argued with a few students in my class who were happy they could legally keep guns in their cars. I’m sure some guns make it into the building. I didn’t feel safer, though they swore they would protect me. Often, I was the only one standing at the front of the room, the easiest hit. I figured when the shots came, I’d dive under my desk and hope for the best. The emergency alert program that would have required me to log in to my computer never got activated, but the computer wasn’t under my desk anyway.

Last night, my friend Mimi texted me to tell me about a murder/suicide half a block from my old house, next door to the house her children lived in until recently. It’s in a nice, leafy neighborhood, right near the university. My neighborhood, but it could be yours too. Property values are going up. The woman, whom I hadn’t met, was shot in her driveway, then her boyfriend or husband, or whatever he was to her, shot himself and wounded her brother.

I don’t think of myself as someone who lives on the edge of violence, but it seems now that I’ve spent my life surrounded by it, or the potential for it, in one way or another. More and more innocent people seem to die every day from gunshots.

When my dad died, my mom found the Bambi rifle, along with an ancient war pistol passed down from some long dead relative. They had been in my parents’ house, unloaded, most of my life. We didn’t know what to do with them, so we stored them in a place that seemed safe. Now, I want them gone, long gone, melted down to molten metal in a giant soup of millions of turned in guns. They only make me feel like a target in this great forest.

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