Every Possible Scenario by Elsa Valmidiano

Gimme your purse. Gimme your money.

Close enough to what he might’ve said. The gun spoke before he did.

When the car first pulls up, you think it’s someone coming home late from the club asking for directions when it’s a gun in your face and a young man in the passenger seat, his eyes hidden by the shadow of his hoodie. He demands your purse. You memorize, memorize, memorize – the way fingertips wrap the edges of a purse’s strap and slip it off a shoulder to give to the man with the gun. You slip the purse off the shoulder of Girlfriend 1, Curly Dirty Blonde,
who stands frozen like a marble statue. Girlfriend 2, Brunette Peruvian Beauty, hands her wallet over (what she elegantly describes later to the cops as a wristlet) and then commands them to leave.

Okay, just take it. Now leave. Okay. Leave.

You want to laugh when Girlfriend 2 scolds the man with the gun like he is a child who has just done something wrong like spilling his milk. Where her bravado comes from in times of murderous threat still boggles you. I suppose one never really knows their friends until a gun is pulled on them.

Did he call you women bitches? You don’t think he called you anything. Profanity didn’t seem necessary. The gun was overwhelmingly enough.

The gun doesn’t seem real, but a toy gun made of heavy black plastic. You check out his gun like checking out a brand new car, and then you remember to scan the car, a white beat-up sedan, and you wish you had gotten the license plate before they sped away with your purse. You
don’t care too much for the purse. It can be replaced. You can’t.

***

The second after you’ve handed over your purse brings you back to when you were 15, when you walked to your grandparents’ house after school, a quarter-of-a-mile from the bus stop when you’d safety-plan, safety-plan, safety-plan – what if a car pulls up trying to grab you, at gunpoint, what do you do, YOU NEVER GET IN THAT CAR, because you’re as good as dead if you do.

You go over the statistics. Statistics. Statistics say that those abducted in cars at gunpoint do not come back alive, so if you’re held up at gunpoint being told to get into a car, you’re already as good as dead. You’re taught since girlhood that it’s better to be shot running away than be raped and murdered after being abducted at gunpoint.

***

Before Gunman and his driver decide what to do next, you quickly safety-plan, no one is getting in that car. You are ready to run and scream. You are ready to scream at Girlfriend 1 and Girlfriend 2, telling them to run, particularly dragging Girlfriend 1 who stands stunned and comatose upright. By the time the cops arrive and take Girlfriend 1’s statement, she can’t remember anything. Not the car or Gunman or what he said. She can’t even remember the gun.

***

Grandpa got held up at gunpoint in front of his own home when Cousin and Auntie called the cops thinking someone was trying to break in, when it was just Grandpa who had simply slipped out one evening to check the dumpsters for morning trash pick-up only to be locked out by paranoid Cousin who called the cops about an intruder having no idea it was just Grandpa trying to get in through the front door.

You wouldn’t have called their neighborhood dangerous, but they lived a mile from the high school where you knew of the occasional shooting, shootings that never made media headlines but traveled through word of mouth. At 15 you came to accept that the occasional gang-affiliated school shooting was just life. There were no mass shootings by white boys with automatic assault rifles. Not yet.

Your grandparents’ house had been broken into once, but nothing was stolen. The burglar, most likely a stupid high school kid on a dare, realized Grandma was home and fled in a panic. That break-in and it being a fact that Cousin and Auntie were already on the paranoid side, distrustful even of the nice neighbors, was ripe for an incident that they would inevitably call the
cops as if waiting exactly for a moment like this to confirm all their fears.

As cop cars swarmed your grandparents’ front yard, they had pulled their guns out on 89-year-old Grandpa, who donned his usual warm cozy long-sleeve checkered blue flannel shirt, his grey hood pulled over his head, cozy grey sweatpants, and his worn out K-Swiss tennis shoes.

Freeze with your hands up!

They barked over the megaphone. He didn’t freeze with his hands up but turned around to face them with shoulders back, head up – this elegant brown gentleman born and bred from the Philippine barrio – and said in his most regal English, This is my house.

Did the officers laugh? Did they shit their pants? Did their hearts decelerate from fever pitch? Did they slowly uncock their guns?

And what if Grandpa hadn’t spoken English? What if an anxious officer had been a little too trigger happy, overwhelmed by the endless whirling of the blue and red strobe lights, hypnotizing him or another officer into a shootout frenzy?

What if? What if?

You don’t like to think of the What ifs except handsome, elegant, gentle, and intelligent Grandpa came away unscathed. This story is not one that your family looks back on and laughs at later.

***

When Husband was 17, a gun was pulled on him and his two friends at 10 PM while they were walking to the liquor store. A car had pulled up behind them. An Asian kid, screaming in a language other than English, had aimed his gun from the passenger seat. Husband and his two friends instinctively peeled off into different directions. Husband dove behind a fence. His palms, belly, and knees scrunched against someone’s dewy lawn waiting for the coast to be clear not knowing where his two friends had gone.

If it was an initiation, he would’ve shot one of us, but they drove off laughing. It was just some joke to them, but we ran.

***

During a tornado warning, Little Sister had called from the small storage room
underneath the stairs of her spacious two-story, five-bedroom house, holding her six-month-old son, breastfeeding him, her gun beside her. I’m safe, she confirmed over the phone bringing relief to her West Coast family. Baby, water, food, batteries, cell phone, and gun. The essentials. Her husband was still at work not knowing what time he’d make it home.

In case the tornado comes through, I have protection. W would be so proud of me right now, she chuckled. W was her husband and yes, he would’ve been so proud of his wife holding down the fort. They had been living in the desert then where flash floods, tornadoes, and snowstorms happened.

She had kept the door underneath the stairs ajar so she could watch the television for tornado updates from the far wall of her living room. You laugh ironically at the sight of Little Sister with baby and gun. Sitting on the plush cream carpet with baby peacefully nursing in her slender arms. Little Sister at 5’3 and 100 pounds ready for the apocalypse.

***

In the mountains where Husband’s brother lives, Brother handed him a small pistol to take on your hike just in case of bears.

It won’t harm the bear. If anything, a shot would feel like a little pinch. It’s really just a noisemaker to scare ‘em. That, or you can take the dog. A bear will attack the dog before it attacks you.

Husband and Brother go down memory lane when their dad used to take them to the shooting range. You remember how to fire one, Brother tells Husband. Not asks, You remember how to fire one? But confirms, You remember how to fire one. The pistol triggers them to remember their dad fondly.

A gun on your hike makes you uncomfortable. You take the dog instead.

On the hike, it’s the dog who sends the bears running.

***

Okay, just take it. Now leave. Okay. Leave.

You return to present. Girlfriend 2 continues to scold Gunman. You wonder if Gunman is so taken by Girlfriend 2’s beauty or if he’s completely dumbfounded at being scolded when he’s the one with the gun.

Okay, just take it. Now leave. Okay. Leave. Gunman complies. Gunman and his driver leave.

Each a handgun in each scenario. Not a rifle or shotgun or semi-automatic assault weapon. They come in all shapes and sizes.

The Second Amendment doesn’t cross your mind as Girlfriend 2 shakes and cries once they leave except you wonder, How did it get this easy to get a gun? Like buying a carton of milk.

This cold metal thing you hold to sacred discomfort and foreignness. To warn. Scare. Threaten. Intimidate. Subdue. Harm. Kill. To leave you, standing still.

How did a gun become so normal while you think of all the ways, all the ways, all the ways, shots could’ve rung out, but didn’t.

About

Philippine-born and LA-raised, Elsa Valmidiano is a writer and poet who calls Oakland home. Her works have appeared in literary journals such as Maganda Magazine, TAYO, make/shift, Burner, As/Us, Literature for Life, Bottlecap, Anti-Heroin Chic, Mud Season Review, Yes, Poetry,and Northridge Review, as well as various chapbooks and anthologies such as Field of Mirrors, Walang Hiya, Circe’s Lament, and forthcoming in Precipice. In 2016, she was a finalist for the Rita Dove Prize in Poetry. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Penelope Niven Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Elsa is an alum of the DISQUIET 2017 International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. This year, she is a Summer Literary Seminars Contest Fellowship Recipient in Tbilisi, Georgia, and was a finalist for the Wilt Chapbook Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. She has performed numerous readings such as at Artists Against Rape, Kearny Street Workshop’s APATURE, Scriptorium, Litquake, Lark Poetry Series, and has been a poetry guest speaker and panelist at several NorCal colleges and universities. You can read more of Elsa’s work at slicingtomatoes.com.

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