And then, about midway down the hallway, something amazing happened. I imagined, for a moment, what would happen after I’d shot my father: the silence after detonation; the image of his bloody body; police standing around in the study, their hard, maybe sorrowful eyes on me; lawyers and social workers and judges and courtrooms, and then what? Off to someplace where kids who do things like that go? And who were those kids? No doubt they were bigger and badder than me, less bookish, probably practiced at violence. I’d be sent to a land of nothing but Chucks, no books, no encouraging teachers, no bike rides through the suburbs, no Wonder Woman or Bugs Bunny. In short, the end of whatever pleasures and safety my life afforded me, and a descent into a life I knew I didn’t want and couldn’t possibly handle.
I had stopped walking. I did a quick, brutal assessment of myself, of my capacities, gifts and deficits, and decided that there was only one possible course of action: I had to do well at school. “Kids like me,” I remember thinking, “kids like me have to get good grades in school.” Then I returned the gun to the cabinet.
I was so incredibly lucky. For a moment in my youth, I was possessed of an almost otherworldly foresight and intelligence. I’ve never been that smart since—and I hope I never have to be that smart ever again. I went from abject, acute desperation to clarity in a matter of seconds—a clarity that most of us can’t often muster, and that we shouldn’t bet on others being able to access.
We live in a world in which, at some point, we all feel powerless and miserable and angry—that’s just part of the human experience. Anybody can be capable of violence at any time, and guns are so easy and so seductive and so dangerous. Because we’re all too unstable, under the best of circumstances, and our lives are too challenging, and too many of us live under conditions that are far from optimal, and there are too many bona-fide reasons for rage and frustration and hate in our daily lives, and we’re all children for a long time, and children are easily intrigued and resourceful when they want something, and too vulnerable to themselves and others.
My experience that day illustrates the casual, incidental danger of guns. The details of my story are trivial, foolish, and totally pedestrian—and that’s what makes guns so terrifying. Sure, my childhood at that time was (hopefully) worse than the average kid’s in that privileged ZIP code. But not necessarily—or not necessarily by much. What sticks with me—other than eternal gratitude for the kid I managed to be that day—is just how many pressures surround us, and how they can make anybody want to hurt somebody. What if I hadn't had parents who were successful, educated people who could provide for me? What if I hadn’t been lucky enough to attend great schools, where my motivation to excel was met with ample resources and committed teachers? What if I hadn’t already been in therapy? What if I had underlying mental health or developmental issues? What if I hadn’t had such a kind and loving grandfather? The what-ifs are terrifying.