As I locked the front door of my home, I instantly felt the gun and its holster nudge my thigh, slap against my purse and make me feel fearful as I walked down the winding front stairs to my car. Weird feeling, that gun rubbing up against my side. Never before had I been that close to a firearm and I never would have had one on me or in my house if Jake, my husband hadn’t convinced me of the need.
“There is nothing particularly attractive about guns,” he said sarcastically some months ago. Then he shrugged and said, “I know guns are killing machines. But there also are people who will kill you for no reason other than wanting a drug fix, or the cash to buy it.”
I remember my reaction far too well; a cold chill that ran up my spine and I physically quivered. I hated the thought of a gun in my house, much less, my hand. I had been the type of child who never even played with water pistols.
I asked him plaintively, “Do we really have to have one?”
“I’m not glamorizing or romancing guns, Lynn. I just want to be able to fight fire with fire, if necessary.”
I nodded; affirming his wish and he burst out laughing. “Lynn, honey, don’t be such a Weeny!”
And that I was; at least to everyone in my family who knew about my gun phobia.
In Woodlawn Point, our sprawling suburban neighborhood, there had been three home invasions over the past year. One, we found out, had to do with drugs and money laundering. People got hurt in both incidents and one woman was killed.
It scared us silly. Although we believed we had a good security system, we also supposed it drew the interest of outsiders that we lived in a large, well maintained home and drove luxury cars. It made me wish for the days when we had more modest cars and less discretionary items.
Today, however, I was off to the gun range to take my first class. It signaled a change in my attitude. Never before had I considered myself at risk, but times change and my husband made it clear that we needed to change with the times. Maybe this is the changing world order I was to respect, but I didn’t have to like it.
I hopped into my pale blue Volvo and started the motor. But before I drove off I had to somehow rearrange the gun and its holster off my thigh in the purse that lay beside me. The damned nozzle of the gun in its leather holster poked hard into my leg as it lay horizontal next to my handbag.
What if the thing went off while I was driving? I thought. “It can’t, silly,” I actually said out loud. “The safety catch is on and you’d have to pull the hammer back and release it to make it fire.”
What the hell was I doing with a gun?
The first hard bump against the back side of my car came out of nowhere and jolted me out of my thoughts while setting my adrenaline flowing. Who bumped against the side of my car and then flew off beside and then in front of me? In the few minutes I had to think about it, my car was struck again; this time on the passenger side.
I rolled down my window and yelled, “Hey, YOU!” But by the time I called out, the SUV sped by me and became smaller as it gained ground.
Damn! I pulled my car to the side of the road and got out to see what harm had been done. Shockingly, there was significant damage to the back but not as much to the side.
I got back in my car and took out my note pad to write down the few things I noticed about the SUV that hit me. These were the facts I had to report to my insurance carrier. The SUV was dark grey in color and it had New York plates that began with the letter P and I think followed by the letter L.
Should I call the police now on my cell phone or go to the firing range have my lesson and get that over with first? I didn’t have time to make a decision before I saw the SUV through my rear view mirror, racing back in my direction. That bastard must have turned around and decided to do more harm.
I started up the car again and decided to head for the police station less than two miles from where I was parked. But the man in the SUV sped up behind me and hit my car with even more velocity than before.
This time, the power of his car’s punch pushed my body so hard against the steering column that I felt as though I was now ahead of the wheels that were spinning to get away from him. The driver’s side airbag went up in my face and quickly deflated.
I felt as though I was spinning with fear since I knew there was no time to pick up my cell phone and call the cops. I had to keep my hands on the wheel. This time, however, I took a good look at the license plate of the truck and placed it in my memory.
Bam! He slammed my car again and this time the impact shoved me off to the side of the road on the passenger side again. It was plain and clear that he wanted me down and out. I wasn’t in the old west but in a small village in suburban New York.
Then I felt the less than subtle nudge of the pistol at my hip. Was this the time to use it? By now, with my head, neck and shoulders throbbed with pain; it seemed as though I had no choice as I pulled my wounded car to the side of the road and the driver of the SUV pulled up behind me.
Okay, I said to myself; I took a deep breath and knew that it was the time to pull out the gun. This was getting far too threatening for me.
I took the gun out of the holster as my hands trembled to get the job done. Then I placed the firearm in my hand with the safety on and stepped out of the car to face the driver still seated in the cab of his truck. I held onto my gun with both hands and hoped he didn’t notice that I was quaking, but the gun wouldn’t hold still.
The man flew out of the driver’s side of the SUV, brandishing a tire iron. He looked like any ordinary middle aged guy who hadn’t slept, shaved or changed clothes in days.
“What the hell are you doing!” I yelled, trying to sound tough, but I know I squeaked, but I tried not to let my voice tremble.
I motioned my gun in his direction as if it would fire if I got no response.
“What the hell are you doing, following me, Trisha?” He screamed. “Leave me alone! This is my kid too and I don’t care what Doreen wants, he’s my boy!”
Trish? Doreen? Son? Who does this jackass think I am? Would I sound silly if I asked?
“What boy?” I said as sternly as I could, clearing my throat.
“You know, you stupid cow. I’ve got Sean now and I’m not giving him up to you, to your sister or to anybody!” he screamed.
By now I could hardly breathe. This man had pulverized my car, shaken my senses and he was holding a little boy hostage, whose tow head in the back seat of the van was all I could see. What I knew for sure was that the boy’s name was Sean.
“Listen!” I said hoarsly, yelling louder than I ever thought I could muster: “I don’t know a Doreen and I’m not Trisha and I’ve never seen that child before, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t belong with you, so get him the hell out of that truck and let him go.”
“Listen Trisha, I don’t give a shit if you and Doreen are getting along again or whatever, but you leave me and my boy alone. You don’t belong in this deal. Go home to your pig sty.”
Evidently, he mistook me for his sister-in-law—a woman who did not always get along with her relatives and lived in a messy house. He must be blotto from drugs or booze to mistake me for someone he knew pretty well.
As he raised the tire iron to either intimidate me or actually strike me, I reflexively unlocked the safety catch, pushed back the hammer and pulled the trigger.
Thud! The recoil bounced me backward as the bullet hit the ground or the man. I wasn’t sure, as I stood there—both hands with a gun in them—helpless.
What had I done? The sound of the shot! I hit something with a deep bang and it made me want to vomit.
But then, there was the boy’s life at stake and the man was obviously breaking the law. I realized I had shot him, that the whole problem had fallen into my lap, and vomit landed on my shoes.
The man shrieked with pain and hopped in a circle trying to put his foot back on the ground.
I had shot him. I got him in the foot! My new gun, which I had never fired before, had struck another human being.
With flat out stupidity, I said, “If you don’t let Sean go, I’ll blow your head off.”
Who, in heavens name was I talking about? Me? The Weeny?
So much for target practice today; who could have imagined that my gun and I would end up on the side of a road with a rage-filled man? Or that, with both my head and my heart pounding, I very easily could have aimed for his chest and, without even thinking, killed him.
Like lightning, the man yanked the child by the arm from the back of the van and threw him in my direction. I motioned with my free hand for the little boy to come and Sean stumbled toward me.
The boy was dazed and bewildered as he stood by my side. There were tears streaming down his face mixed with the dirt from the rig. Although he was young, probably no older than five, maybe six, he had the good sense to know he was safer with me and my gun than with his own father. What a cruel set of circumstances to befall the little guy.
Then, with all the courage I could muster and gun still in my hand, I yelled at the father to get back in his truck, pull off, and leave us the hell alone.
And he did.
I took a deep breath and watched him speed away. I sunk to my knees and Sean followed me downward.
I looked at Sean and he stared straight ahead, almost in a trance, not knowing what to do next. He was clearly afraid to look me in the face. I was too nauseated to look at the vomit already on my shoes.
My hands were still quaking but I carefully put the gun away in the holster, making positive sure the safety catch was back on.
We both sat on the ground, facing my car, not saying a word.
Finally, I turned my face to him and said, “I think I heard that your name is Sean.”
It was a weird way to start a simple conversation with a small, traumatized child. It was like we were in my back yard, sitting lazily on my lawn, picking blades of grass.
My voice felt very raspy after the screaming back and forth, between his father and me, followed by the terrible boom from the gun. More tears spilled out of the boy’s eyes. I wrapped my arm around his tense shoulders, and we sat that way for minutes more.
And then, as if I knew just the right time, I said, “Sean, do you want me to drive you to the police station so we can find your mom and have her take you home?” His tears were free flowing now and he whisked his head around to look me in the face for the very first time and he vigorously nodded yes.
So I took his trembling hand in mine and placed him in the backseat of my car, securing the safety belt around his small body.
I started the car and muttered, only one mile to the police station, which I kept repeating aloud as I watched for sightings of Sean’s father as my car limped slowly toward safety.
Every few minutes I looked at the control panel on the dashboard to see if there was something cooking up inside and I hoped Sean’s father injuries prevented him from driving and I’d see him parked along the way.
When we pulled up to the station house, three cops recognized my car from a report that had probably been called in by someone who noticed the incident. They came running to my car to help me out and rescue Sean. I explained the story very quickly before they could mistakenly handcuff me.
Sean finally spoke. “I want my mother!” he wailed. Well, damn. The kid has words…
Thankfully, he told our story and said, “This lady shot my Dad so I could go home.” I was glad he told the police that I only shot him; I didn’t kill him.
Sean and I were ushered into the station house and my still shaking hand gratefully handed an officer my gun. Without being asked, I showed him its authorization, registration, license and sales slip, explaining where I was headed before my car and I were attacked.
One cop was on the phone with the boy’s mother and the others interrogated me about the father and exactly what he said and did. They asked me to repeat my story to be certain they had all the details. The second time I told the story, I felt more injured than before.
In total, I told them the whole story three times and when I was done, they told me I was a hero. I actually laughed out loud. “Me? I’m a “Weeny! That’s what my husband and children say about me. I’m afraid of the raccoons in our backyard.”
That’s when I admitted to the police that the whole scenario scared me sick—really, truly sick and I pointed down to my shoes. The cops had already looked away as I tried to explain that the worst part of having used a gun was that I hit another person.
“That’s what guns are for, Ma’am. If only criminals had guns, Sean and you may not be alive now,” a policeman told me, and explained that Sean’s father was a convicted felon. His latest charges were for aggravated assault and attempted murder.
“You could have been his first victims since his escape,” another policeman explained.
“Escape?” I really didn’t want to hear any more.
I also didn’t want to cry in public. Sean had to be far more upset than I. But as I drank a bitter cup of police station coffee, the police made careful record of the incident, examined my car, which they said appeared “totaled,” and they kept their documented possession of my smoking gun and the paper work.
Minutes later, Sean’s mother burst into the station house and grabbed her boy up off his seat. They both hugged and cried through more tissues than I could ever use in a week. The cops explained what had happened and how her ex-husband had mistaken me for her sister.
“You do actually look a little like her,” she said as she carefully looked me up and down and her eyes finally rested on my face, “but he’s thinking of what Doreen looked like when she was younger. He hasn’t seen her, or any of us for years.”
“Then where did he get the SUV?” I asked.
The cops explained he stole it from the edge of the prison grounds and had gotten a good head start until he stopped to pick up his son from the boy’s school playground.
“The teachers couldn’t stop him fast enough, but they phoned and alerted us as to the direction he was headed. They also called his mom.”
I heard one officer issue an all points bulletin for Anthony McBride, the father of Sean and ex-husband of Doreen. Sightings were narrowing down their chase and the police told us that they’d have him in custody within minutes, thanks to my description of the SUV and the plate number.
One cop said that our society is becoming more of a war zone every day. It seemed to me that my incident would be a once in a lifetime occurrence, but perhaps not and I wondered what would have happened to me and Sean, if…
What would I have done without the gun? Would I have used my cell phone to call the police and not even stop the car at all, or would I have tried to drive to the police station to outrun the felon?
I guess I’ll never know. I was glad to leave my gun with the police detectives to match the slug that I fired with the one in McBride’s foot.
On my way home, I dropped my car off at our dealership for the repairs or demolition. The police had already filled out their report and I asked the service staff to call the insurance company for me. I explained I was just too overwhelmed to explain what happened to yet another person.
A salesman from the dealership drove me home in his car and as soon as I entered the house, by instinct I thought about Jake, about dinner and the conversation we were bound to have.
But first, I needed to take a long, hot shower to wash the caked debris from the air bag off of me and to detach from the incident as well.
After I towel-dried my super clean hair and body, I dressed and gathered the clothes I’d been wearing and threw them into a garbage bag—especially the shoes. Garbage pickup was the next day.
Funny. I hadn’t been hungry at all throughout the afternoon, but I planned a nice dinner for Jake and began to take things out of the refrigerator and cabinets.
Although I knew he wouldn’t be home for a while, I wanted to stay on my feet and remain busy. Calling Jake now was out of the question since I didn’t want to get hysterical on the phone and force him to come home early, unnecessarily.
I made a beef stew; a mixed green salad with Gorgonzola dressing and a warm blueberry crumble that I would top off with vanilla ice cream for dessert. All the while, I sipped cold Chardonnay to calm my nerves and I put another bottle on ice.
When Jake’s car pulled up, I poured two glasses of the wine. As he walked in the back door, he reached for me and the glass, and said, “Honey, where’s your car?”
I hugged my beloved husband very tight, then stepped away to look as his smiling face turned to concern. He quietly asked: “Did you actually hit the target at the shooting range today?”
Softly I replied, “Not exactly. But I used the gun and you’re not going to believe how I used our brand new weapon for the very first time.”
Jake straightened his stance and stood stock still while he stared at me, unsure of what would come out of me next. But I surprised both of us. I sat down on the couch in our den, put my head in my hands and started to sob for the first time since the incident.
“Please call the Village Police, honey,” I told him. “They will tell you everything. But for now, just hold me very tight.”
And he did.
But Jake would have to wait quite a while to hear the whole story from me: The tale of his shaken wife, our battered car, the criminal, the boy, the police, the child’s mother, and our new gun.
And for that moment in time and for a long time thereafter, I thought and rethought about the deep, dark reality of owning a firearm and I knew that I would ask the police to keep it in the evidence locker room—for good. I didn’t want to have it back, no matter what Jake might demand. I was the one who held the gun, fired the gun and knew the dreadful feeling of absolute power and disgust at the very same time.
Since then, there are three things I know for sure: I am no longer a Weeny; it was time to move away from Woodlawn Point, and under no circumstances would I ever hold or own a gun again.
Linda, congratulations on your #Guns and People essay in Memoir Magazine. Loved your incredible story, and identified with it completely, despite the fact that I carried a gun (and a badge) for 12 years.