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Please explain what just happened.

I just finished the film and moved to Berlin. I have citizenship because my grandparents were German Jews that fled during WWII.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Being in the womb. What are all those bubbles mommy?

 

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what other profession would you choose?

Zoologist. Animals are a lot nicer to deal with than humans. When I was a kid I wanted to be a garbage man or junk man.

Inadvertently, I think I began my son’s interest in guns.

I didn’t mean to.  I didn’t even realize what I’d done until my husband commented that the cool Star Wars light saber I’d just bought our son could constitute as giving him his first weapon.

I was quieted by this parenting mistake.  I make them, as do all parents, often, and I hung my head in shame.  But I let him play with it anyway.  I was indulging his Star Wars interest and he very clearly knew that Star Wars was just pretend.  We then got a Star Wars Legos set but this time I took the Storm Troopers’ guns and put them back in the box.  But soon enough Benjamin was playing, shouting, “Blasters!”

This went on for a bit and actual guns never really made it into his play or even his vocabulary.  And I was pleased.  I’m not one of those extremist moms (he watches TV, he eats ice cream), but I decided early on that we would be a household free of gunplay.

But then the light saber led to pirate swords and then of course blasters and then to my utter sorrow, guns.

When Benjamin holds a stick or a plastic golf club and says, “GUNS!” there is usually a smile on his face.  He doesn’t seem to understand the complete terror a gun can bring.  And I don’t feel ready to explain to him the horror I felt when my best friend and I had a gun pulled on us when walking near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, even though the guy then put it down and started to laugh and headed off into the night.  My four year old does not need to understand that kind of fear.  But I feel I should explain to him why I say guns are bad.

I am stuck now between explaining it to him honestly or letting him continue with his four year old innocence.  I would prefer he not know about them and stay in his happy place.  But they are seeping in with or without my guidance.  It’s there when we read Babar and the hunter kills his mommy and Benjamin asks why.  It’s there when The Storm Troopers come raring in chasing Luke and Han.  It’s there as he plays cops and robbers.

Perhaps boys will just be boys.  Perhaps.

And I don’t want to hinder his imagination.  When he tells me he wants to be a policeman when he grows up, I try to recognize that it is because he knows policemen help people, it is not because he wants to wield a gun.  His imagination is growing and merging with real, harsh events.  But he doesn’t need a push to get there.  He doesn’t need me buying him toys that behave as weapons.  One friend of mine was rightfully appalled that toy guns were given out in a birthday favor bag.  When guns and adult ideas come up, we can explain it to the best of our ability, but we don’t have to hand it to them with a bow on top.

My best friend, the same one who was there with me that scary night in Paris, recently told me about how her 3 year old son was at the playground and met an older boy.  There was a baby near by and at the older boy’s urging, her son and this boy began circling the baby and started chanting, “Let’s kill the baby!”  My friend was horrified and took her son home saying something simple like, “That’s not nice.”  Later, while cuddling in bed, he began chanting again.  “Kill!  Kill!”  She began to cry at these words coming from her little boy’s mouth and seeing his mother cry, then so did he.

As I look back on this story, I realize now I got a little “sanctimommy” on her and told her this was a perfect opportunity to talk to him about what kill and death mean, to discuss his feelings, that it was a missed parenting opportunity.  It was only once I retold the story to my husband, that he looked at me directly and said, “You would cry too.”  And he was right.

As our children discover new ideas, both good and bad, it is hard for us to keep up with how to broach the subject with them.  I wanted to be the all-explaining, patient, honest mother.  But some things are just so big, they are hard to explain to a child.  And I don’t want to say the wrong thing, like when I was discussing his grandfather’s death with him, I said something like, “Well, someday we’re all going to die.”  He looked at me with such fear and searching that though I was being honest I knew I had said too much and then just said, “Who wants ice cream?!!”

I am not sure what the answer is.  I don’t want to make guns and violence more attractive by making it completely off limits with no explanation as to why.

So when it happens again, perhaps I will follow my best friend’s lead, because seeing his own mother cry, might have been the best explanation her little boy could have been given.

I clawed at the unforgiving cushions of the back seat of our rental Camry, sweat pouring from my brow and running down the sides of my neck to pool unpleasantly around my shirt collar, my back arched as my muscles clenched and spasmed. I don’t know how long the drive was, only that the minutes screamed endlessly, like a man getting sucked into a wind tunnel in a better class of action movie. Traffic lights shone bright – so bright! – scorching my retinas, flaring like an ammunition dump explosion in a lower class of romantic comedy.

Scribble ass, scramble ass, punk ass squirrel,
You got me scowling the soggy into my cereal,
Breathing hot into ice cream, sucking-wind asthmatic.
Don’t you have a fine somewhere else to be?
Who the fuck declared open house in my attic?

Was it something I said? An “I love nature”
Comment you thought you’d make literal?
The nukes are coming and you’ve found the NORAD ark?
Huh?  Scribble ass, scramble ass, punk ass squirrel?

That’s Dave Brubeck you’re scratchy-dashing over;
You’ve got the beat all wrong, quit tripping the light damn-spastic!
You ain’t the be-bop the she-bop next jazz sensation
And who the fuck declared open house in my attic?

Haz-Mat

By Laura Waldon

Essay

A dead human body, like an animal corpse on the side of the road, bloats after several days. What I didn’t realize until recently, though, is that a bloated body left unattended will eventually explode. All that pressure and built-up gas needs to go somewhere, so it finds the weakest spot in the skin and exits through it. Under force.

Six Chambers

By Matthew Baldwin

Essay

On a late spring day in 2001 my sister’s drug-dealing ex-boyfriend crashed the pool party she was throwing at our house in the suburbs and shot two people on our front porch. He used a small, snub-nosed revolver from a distance of less than ten feet, firing off all six rounds. Five of them hit their mark.

This isn’t my story. I wasn’t even there; I was in the final year of my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Riverside, living in my own apartment and diligently working on my senior thesis. I’ve struggled to tell it before, as fiction, in poetry, by inserting myself into the narrative as a character, but it felt disingenuous then, and it feels disingenuous now. I don’t even know most of the people involved, and what details I have stem from one or two eyewitness accounts and a brief glimpse at the police report. And yet, even though I wasn’t present for these events, I cannot deny they’ve had an effect on me.

I will try to tell it as best I can.

*****

What I know is this: Daniel and my sister had been broken up for a few weeks, and he was having so much trouble letting go she was forced to get a restraining order. He turned up at the house drunk, and very likely tweaking on crystal meth as well. Accounts conflict as to whether the gun was hidden in the waistband of his jeans or the back pocket, but whatever his intentions were when he let himself into the empty house, he came packing. He wandered through to the backyard, where twenty or so of my sister’s friends had been drinking cheap beer and doing cannonballs off our diving board for a few hours, and immediately got into a shouting match with my sister. I don’t know what was said exactly, but I do know that when Daniel refused to leave several of the guys at the party took it upon themselves to escort him back out front, using their presence as a crowd to shepherd him. At first it worked; he went willingly, if begrudgingly.

No one thought to call the police.

When they made it to the front yard things changed. Maybe someone said something to provoke him, maybe some faulty synapse in his little tweaker brain misfired, but whatever the reason Daniel went on the offensive, drawing the gun and threatening the crowd with it, even though he had a clear path of escape to his truck.

Alcohol and adrenaline combined create a potent brew for stupidity, and after a second or so of shocked paralysis, one of the partygoers decided to do an extremely brave and absolutely foolish thing: he launched himself forward in an attempt at a flying tackle, but being drunk, only managed to stumble and get Daniel around the ankles.

Daniel shot him four times at point-blank range, opening up angry red blossoms in his chest, stomach, pelvis and thigh. He then fired the last two rounds into the crowd, apparently at random. One shot struck someone in the forehead, but the thick bone deflected the bullet sideways instead of allowing it to pass through. It opened up the skin of his right temple like a seam, right down to the skull. He was concussed and bleeding badly, but alive. Before anyone could do anything else, the now-unarmed Daniel fled in his truck.

My sister’s girlfriends kept her hidden in the house while this went down, and I think it was one of them who finally decided that calling for emergency services might be a good idea.

The aftermath was—perhaps unavoidably—anticlimactic. Both victims survived their injuries, though the first one spent the better part of the week in the ICU. When the police searched Daniel’s apartment, they found no sign of his drug activities aside from a misdemeanor amount of marijuana (he likely went straight there after the shooting and cleaned everything out; I would’ve). After two days as a wanted man Daniel surrendered to the police, and because he’s half Mexican and a fluent Spanish speaker, he was considered a high flight risk and denied bail by the court. It was months before the case went to trial, and when it did Daniel got off with a slap on the wrist; since he plead guilty to a charge of attempted manslaughter, had been a model inmate in the county lockup, and hadn’t actually killed anyone, the judge sentenced him to a couple of year’s probation, with credit for time already served. He walked, though the restraining order remained in effect.

The blood of the two shooting victims left stains on the pavement of our porch and front walkway.

We never figured out where that sixth bullet went.

*****

I look at these words here, that I’ve written and rewritten, and I don’t know what to make of them. I do not know how to respond to the knowledge that this happened, that this violence brought itself to our very doorstep to further mar the home where I spent the majority of my childhood, even though by that point I was already gone, having deliberately distanced myself from the unhappiness that already resided there.

What they don’t tell you about a gunshot is that the impact doesn’t just strike in the here and now, it ripples backwards in time to damage the past. A bullet wounds not only flesh, but memory as well.

None of us live there anymore. Once her divorce from my stepfather was final my mother sold the house, and she and my sister found new places to live. I finished my degree in Riverside and moved to New Orleans for graduate school. But the karate studio I teach at now is in the same neighborhood, and from time to time I pass by the house. When I do this is always the first thing I think of.

It’s the damndest thing. As I say, I wasn’t there, and yet the mind is a tricky machine; it combines this information with the knowledge I already possess to create the synthesis of a memory, one that I can turn and walk through, moment by moment, room by room. I know the exact path Daniel walked from our front door to the back. Though I didn’t know any of my sister’s friends at the time (she and I have always sailed different social seas), I knew the kind of people she hung out with, and my imagination fills in the details: their baggy shorts and sideways ball caps, cans of Bud Lite and crumpled packets of Marlboros. I know the crack of the shots and the smell of cordite; I’ve seen gunshot wounds up close and personal, and will never again require my imagination to recreate them.

By happenstance, I was in town that weekend, taking a brief respite from the rigors of my thesis by attending a friend’s barbeque. I first learned about the shooting when the ten o’clock news ran a report on it. The reporter stood just down the street from our house, but out of the corner of the frame you could see the yellow police tape marking off our lawn. I remember feeling a riot of emotions when I saw that: fear, anger, worry, and even guilt that I hadn’t been there to do something about it.

But not surprise.

I think I’d been expecting something like this to happen for a long time.

I met Daniel once or twice, and wasn’t impressed. When we were in high school my sister’s taste in boyfriends always ran towards bad boys, the kinds of knuckle-dragging aggro meatheads who spent their spare time either in detention or on the lookout for things to stuff firecrackers into and watch explode, and Daniel was no exception. It was only a matter of time before one of these troglodytes engaged in some spectacular criminal violence.

No one knew about the drug dealing, though; my sister took pains to hide that from us, even after they’d broken up. She also hid his fondness for firearms. I’ve thought about that gun a lot during my attempts to write this. I cannot imagine what Daniel was planning on doing with it. It would be too easy to write it off as junky behavior, but I think that’s a fallacy. High or not, he had the foresight to load it, bring it, and to conceal it when he came inside. Was he intending to force my sister to take him back at gunpoint? Did he anticipate a shootout with some of the other people at the party? My sister had told him about my martial arts training–was one of those rounds meant for me, in case I was there and caused him trouble?

I don’t know. I doubt I ever will.

One thing I can say, though, is that this episode forever ended any infatuation I had with firearms. I’m not looking to overturn the Second Amendment or outlaw the NRA, but I sure as shit don’t want a gun anywhere near me. I refuse to allow them into my home, and any invitation to go down to a gun range and fire off a few rounds is met with a firm “no, thanks.” And I reject, whole cloth, the entire notion that they are in some way “for defense.” The act of penetrating a human body with explosively-propelled bits of metal is designed to be fatal, and there is nothing defensive about that. As far as I am concerned, a gun is the unearned power to take the life of another human being, available for purchase far, far too cheaply.

We’ve reached the end here, and I still don’t know what to make of this. I don’t know how to articulate the emotions this stirs up. I’m angry, and I want to be angry, I believe this anger is deserved, but I do not know where to direct it. My sister, for all her lapses in judgment, did everything in her power to push Daniel out of her life, and it isn’t her fault he clawed his way back in. Daniel has long since disappeared; if there’s any justice in the world he was picked up for another violation and is now doing time. I suppose this could be thought of as a warning, about how we sometimes invite those people most dangerous to us into the innermost areas of our lives, even though–because–we know they might very well cause us harm. We’re moths in a world of candle flames.

But that doesn’t really help. I’m still angry. Angry because, eight years on, those bloodstains are still there, enduring all of the effects of time and weather, of bleach and scrub brush.

And in my mind, they always will be.