Dedicated to Sigolène Vinson
I once did a class about violence and hyper-masculinity at Auburn University. I’d emailed the administration about what would happen if a school shooting happened. They never got back to me. About a month later there was a shooting on campus. It was a girlfriend of one of my students who was killed. The student dropped out. I cried in class when I found out the news. The university said the shooting technically happened off-campus. Either way, she’s dead.
There was a murder that happened not far from me when I lived in Charlottesville, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Florida. My girlfriend is from France. I asked her if she knows anyone who has been shot. She doesn’t. She said she doesn’t even know anyone who knows anyone who’s been shot. The only exception is me, because I’m American. The statistic is that one in three Americans know someone who’s been shot.
I remember in Detroit when I helped with the casting of I Love New York II there were all these people standing in line for their tryout for the reality show and, bored, they started comparing bullet holes. I remember these guys pulling up pant legs and pulling up their shirts and showing bare arms, counting.
In the V.A. office, when I’ve been waiting to see the doctor, I’ve counted missing arms and missing legs on the veterans. It’s usually anywhere from one to nine when I do that. It depends on how busy it is. The ages vary. You can lose a leg, an arm at any age.
I don’t have a gun.
I’m not that paranoid.
One of my neighbors was murdered recently. His son killed him. His son was a meth addict. That’s what the papers said. It was strange, because he lived so close to me. The cops got a call saying that the son was digging a hole in the backyard during a rainstorm. When the police got there, they found the body.
In China, they sell a shampoo that’s shaped like a gun, the same color. I bought one, just to show people back home. It made it all the way to the States, packed low in my bag. I threw it out. I didn’t want to show people. I thought it was better off in the garbage.
They don’t allow guns in China. But every time I’d walk to the grocery store I’d have to walk by a government building with guards carrying rifles cradled tight to their bodies, they’d watch each step I’d make on the sidewalk.
In EMT school, my instructor used to make fun of patients who’d been shot. He’d do impressions of them, running around the room, saying that their ass was on fire. It was never funny, but people in the class laughed because he was grading them. Teachers don’t realize that students laugh most of the time because they have to. It’s like they have a gun pointed to our heads.
They say English is jam-packed full of gun metaphors, that we think in gun language. It’s a $993 million dollar industry. I had a student who told me that he and his friends used to fire their guns at the lake by their camp. It was like skipping rocks. With bullets. I asked if he thought he might have killed anyone doing that. He said, “Of course not, there was no one around.”
Ron Riekki’s books include The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book), U.P., and Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His play “Carol” was in Best Ten-Minute Plays 2012 and “The Family Jewel” was selected by Robert Olen Butler for Best Small Fictions 2015.