I live in a neighborhood filled with 1920s bungalows and peopled with old hippies who wear purple and tie-dye and smoke weed on the front porch. We trade flowers with each other, put up white twinkly lights, decorate our patios with salvaged goods and handmade art. Some of us walk a little funny nowadays; we take joy in nonconformity, brag about odd things, laugh alot. We don’t mind cursing and most of us hate trump. Then there are the new hippies – GenX or GenZ or the sandwich generation – I can’t keep up with the labels. They walk by my home every morning and every afternoon with their pretty dogs and cute kids. Most are friendly, waving hello, sometimes stopping to ask about your roofer or who cut back your trees. They seem nice and are mostly attractive and clean. Here and there, laying low like roaches, are Trump’s people. They found out too late that they moved into the wrong neighborhood. My nextdoor neighbors are such a family. They live a lonely life amongst us. Their two sons play outside during daylight. We call them Stick Boys. All day, they twirl branches, engage in imaginary fights, rattle and lunge with their wood sabres. We wonder if they are locked out and when they go to school and if they have friends. In the evening, they eat pizza, delivered several times a week. The mother left the house; the father is mostly invisible.
Last night, the neighborhood trumpers made themselves known.
It was about 8:45 p.m. and I was napping on my living room sofa. The TV was on but had lost my attention. And, a full stomach (spinach and cheese ravioli covered in pesto and Parmesan) had lulled me into unconsciousness.
Many times during an interview, people say something along the lines of “I didn’t recognize it at first; I thought it was fireworks.” Not me. I was awakened by the sound of semi-automatic gunfire. It was very near – right outside my living room windows. I gathered myself and walked to the center of my home where I was protected all around by walls. I heard a half a dozen percussive thuds, five to six shots with each burst. I recalled a movie where a detective advised someone to “make yourself thin” to avoid being hit by a bullet. I realized that my phone was in the kitchen. I waited. When the gunfire had ceased for over 5 minutes, I moved around in my home, aware that every room had at least two windows. I thought about actions. Does this merit a call to the police? I decided not. I wondered about the people living nextdoor where the gunfire seemed to originate. My neighbor and I had recently theorized about all the unusual activity at their place. We couldn’t decide whether someone had died, been arrested or if they were moving but something was definitely afoot. Making myself thin, I looked out my front door toward their home. Nothing was stirring. After 30 minutes and texts to neighbors, I decided the coast was clear. Still the sound of those bursts of gunfire stuck in my head. They were the closest thing to terror that I’ve ever experienced. So near my home. Just yards away from my soft, unprotected body.
For quite a while now, the idea of violence has acted out in the forum of my mind. I know the people who believe in the big lie and the big liar are heavily armed. I know they expect violence in the streets. They hope for it. So the question becomes: what to do about it?
Honestly, I am moving in a direction that goes against my entire ethos. It isn’t that I prefer violence. On the contrary, I spare the lives of insects. I’ve never owned a weapon. Never caused deliberate harm to a living being. I avoid or try to temper conflict. And yet, I’ve hit this brick wall when it comes to options.
Years ago, I said that people like me need to gum up the NRA: join in mass numbers, skew its statistics, advocate for gun legislation as its members. That sense morphed into the idea of buying weapons. It was the natural progression. It was connected to the logic that the only way to beat a bully is to stand up to the bully and, that you have to meet people where they are. Well, those people are armed. And their impression of people like me is that we are weak and vulnerable and averse to weapons. Therefore, we are prey animals to them. The only way to balance that power dynamic is with our own arsenals.
I let go of that thinking when we elected a unified government six months ago. But then came January 6th. Watching the Trumpers club their way into the Capitol, desecrate its walls and floors, yell out threats, beat up police; oblivious to their ignorance, wallowing in hatred, hell bent on getting their way no matter the cost – all of that sedition was excruciating. I saw what terrorism looks like. And these are Americans.
But are they Americans? Or are they more akin to a recessive gene that weakens the body politic? And how do we treat this group of people? That is the question that I grapple with – do we treat them as they treat us or is there some more peaceful, more just, more persuasive strategy?
Honestly, I do not know.
I am desperate for an answer. history tells us that unspeakable crimes are possible. It is the potential for those unspeakable crimes that lurks in the dark corner of my mind.
So I weigh the options. Back and forth, like a pendulum, I question violence versus nonviolence. Inherent in my dilemma is another reality. I have lost confidence in the government’s capacity to defend and protect me against such threats. This is the saddest commentary of all. The absence of justice at the highest levels means that justice is meted out at the lowest levels, in suburban neighborhoods where citizens hear bursts of gunfire and fear for their lives.
How do I look at those people? They who lurk in the dark, whose bullets are evidence of their existence?
How can I wonder about their intentions? In what universe of logic can I deny them as a threat?
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I’ve inspected the yard for bullet casings and found nothing. The Stick Boys are out, aiming sticks like guns and mouthing the sound of rapid fire. They see me and jump off their deck, out of sight. I decide they are sick fucks, even if they’re minors, and their do-nothing daddy is a sick fuck. I understand why the wife abandoned them. Still, I don’t want to focus on violence or consequences or history repeating itself. I want to spend the day in lovely denial. Night will come soon enough.