- Still Life with Guns
For James Holloway
The first time they fired a gun at a track meet, I dropped to my knees. I was seven. I had bony knees. Most likely, they were crusted with scabs from bike rides and tree climbs gone awry. Still, I dropped to my knees instead of sprinting the 50-yard dash. I wore my black nylon shorts and my bright blue shirt that said west seattle striders in shiny letters. But I could not stride, not then. I brought shame on my team as I buckled: down on my knees, hands over my ears. The coach was screaming from the sidelines, but I didn’t care. I heard “On your mark!” I heard “Get set!” I was waiting for “Go!” No one said “Go!” And no one ever mentioned a gun.
Until the late 1950s, girl-sleuth Nancy Drew was allowed to borrow her father’s car and his gun. I loved these books late into the 1980s, but the fact of the gun seemed to me the very essence of permissive parenting. Once, Nancy Drew was hit with the blunt end of a revolver. She dropped to the floor, unconscious. Still, I thought, how much better than being shot.
My parents do not keep guns. No one in our suburban neighborhood has been the victim of violent crime. We live in a safe place by all accounts. I have no reason to believe otherwise. And yet as a child, for many years, I dream that a man comes to our door and rings the bell. We can see his shadow through the frosted glass. When we don’t answer, he pelts the lock with bullets. The door falls down. Then, he stands in the hallway, backlit by a street lamp. He [End Page 97] wears a wool cap that stretches over his face. He is tall and lean with clean jeans and gloves. He points the gun at my father, my mother, and me. He shoots us, one by one.
Once, on Silver Spoons, Ricky’s grandfather took him hunting. This was 1984, which means I was too young to be watching. Maybe I saw a rerun. I still remember the deer. Ricky doesn’t want to kill him—a strong buck with antlers intricate as the cat’s cradle game we play with yarn. Someone takes the yarn from someone else’s fingers. You have to be careful so everything doesn’t collapse. The deer collapses on the hard ground. For years, I see him on his buckled legs, the hole in his side, the blood.
Once, my father gave me a toy gun. He said it reminded him of when he was a boy in Montana, playing Cowboys and Indians. That was the 1940s. They didn’t know any better then. The gun he gave me was black and silver with a long, slender barrel. It came with a jeweled holster (for cowgirls!) and a pack of coiled red paper called caps. My father loaded the paper into the gun and told me to fire. “It doesn’t matter where. You can’t hurt anything.” Then, he reconsidered: “Well, don’t point it at your face.” I clicked the trigger and smelled smoke. I liked the smell, but not the feel of the trigger under my finger. Mostly, the gun stayed in the holster after that.
“If you have the dream again,” my father says, exhausted, slumped against the side of my bed, “we will have to stop reading Nancy Drew. It’s putting ideas into your head.” I do have the dream again, so I continue to read Nancy Drew in secret.
I used to have water guns in all different colors. My friends and I shot at each other in the swimming pool and while running through the sprinklers. Someone we knew even had a Super Soaker. We squealed and shouted “Stop!” but we didn’t mean it. We were trigger-happy. We made shooting noises. We cast [End Page 98] great arches of water across the lawn. “Gotcha! Gotcha!” we cried. But no one ever fell down or writhed on the ground. No...