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Guns leave a lingering scent

GUNS LEAVE A LINGERING SCENT: I’m reprinting a blog post that I wrote on June 4, 2022 about guns and the way a gun has impacted my life. At the time, I had hoped that the gun violence in this country would dissipate; I had hoped that no one would experience what I experienced. But unfortunately, more people have been added to the rolls of those touched by guns. It is disheartening. Please continue reading. Have you been affected by the violence?

June 4, 2022
When I started this blog, I did not want to step into whatever current political fray was making headlines. That determination of not delving into political controversy is still one of my guiding principles for this medium. But, sometimes the current controversy, the news reports, the screaming headlines, the heart-wrenching photos, the raw emotion, become so personal that my insides shake and my stomach knots. I cannot ignore certain controversies anymore; I cannot remain silent.

M16 circa Vietnam War era. Photo from The Swedish Army Museum.

This is a story of an M16 rifle used in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. It is a true story, and unfortunately, it is my story. One of my relatives was drafted during the Vietnam War, served his two years, and when he was discharged, brought home an M16 as a souvenir. He gave it to my father who had a penchant for guns and had already owned (at one time or another) three different pistols–a Luger, a Mauser, and a P38. But, now, Dad had a fully automatic machine gun with metal-jacket bullets. What a testosterone builder!

When I was seventeen-years-old, the summer before my senior year in high school, that gun would change my life forever. There were three of us in the house that day: Mom, Dad, and me. They were in the kitchen arguing — not an unusual happenstance — but this time Mom gave Dad an ultimatum that he did not like. I was upstairs in my bedroom sitting on the bed trying to read a book, trying to block out the voices emanating from the kitchen, when suddenly I heard her scream, “Get out of the house, he’s got the gun!”

Actually, he didn’t have the gun at that exact moment. The gun was in their bedroom next to mine. He was upstairs. I heard him engage the clip — that click, that sound which still makes my heart race. I flew out of my room and literally jumped down the steps; ran out of the house to the neighbor’s next door. Mother was standing on their driveway pounding on their side door. She gained entrance, but I wasn’t fast enough — she slammed the door in my face. I stood there alone — for a second, maybe two? And then there he was, M16 in hand, aiming it at me and screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”

I ran. (As I write this, I can feel adrenaline enlarging my heart and pounding my head; my blood pressure mounting — the rhythm of my heart loud against my eardrums.) At first I ran barefoot down the sidewalk not even feeling its heat or stones. I turned back to see him get into the car, with the gun. “Holy S–t! He’s not kidding,” I thought. I got off the sidewalk and ran into someone’s backyard. From there I ran through backyards for several blocks negotiating four-foot cyclone fences. I can’t remember how I did it — I think I got a toehold and vaulted the fences.

When I didn’t see the car anymore, I switched back to the sidewalk and headed for my friend’s house about a half-mile away. I didn’t know what to do. I figured her parents would know; they were normal people. Their house was empty. Their neighbor told me they were on vacation. She must have seen the terror in my face because she asked me if I needed help. I told her, “No.”

It never even dawned on me to tell her what happened. I was in shock, but it was more than that. I was conditioned to keep silent — don’t tell people what goes on at home; don’t call the cops.

So, I walked back home not knowing what I would find. When I rounded the corner of my street, I could see Mother standing on the front lawn. As I tentatively approached, she motioned for me to come home. When I reached her, I asked, “Where is he?”

“Passed out on the couch,” she answered. We entered through the front door, walked past him sprawled on the couch, and sat down at the kitchen table across from each other.

I looked at her and said, “Ma, this is really serious.”

She looked at me and said, “I’ve lived my life.”

And that was the end of it. As dust is swept up, collected, and thrown into the trash, so was my encounter with a drunken, rage-filled, M-16-toting lunatic of a father.

I think of those children killed by guns; children who survived gun violence; children who are threatened with guns; children who live in fear because of guns — and I cry for them, and I cry for myself.

Think what you want about guns, about gun control, about Second Amendment rights; about the reasons for gun violence; about the prevalence of guns; about the illegal buying of guns; about age-limits for guns; about any and all things regarding guns, but know this: the repercussions of gun violence never go away. Once those experiences come into existence, they exist forever. They might become manageable, muted, pushed down and back far enough that their reality is no longer felt, but their scent never dissipates.


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