For years, I laughed off guns. They were part of the scenery where I grew up in Chicago. Street gangs fought each other with switchblades and brass knuckles and sometimes you heard the pop of gunfire at night. I shrugged it off. Made jokes about the situation. Closed my eyes and went to sleep.
In America, we “go ballistic” when we get angry. We “shoot from the hip” when we talk out of turn. We have “trigger warnings” in the classroom. Guns and gun culture are everywhere in our lives.
Living with gun violence can desensitize you. Humor was our coping mechanism, designed to keep complex emotions at bay. I’m ashamed to say that I made fun of family members who were shot and lived to tell the tale.
Yes—family members, plural. Three of them, to be exact.
The first was my grandfather. He shot himself in the foot, in rural Michigan.
The second was my cousin, who got shot in the stomach in Chicago.
The third was my little brother. He was shot in the head, in an alley in Denver.
My grandfather was maimed in a hunting accident, long before I was born. He meant to shoot a rabbit or a squirrel, but shot himself instead. The bullet took off his big toe. I remember when I was little he’d walk around barefoot in the morning, in pajamas with his coffee, a pucker of scar tissue where his toe should have been. I made fun of him, as I got older, because he was an alcoholic. I did it out of earshot. I snickered with my friends. What kind of fool shoots himself in the foot?