It was a chilly November afternoon in a southern town so small it never made it to a map. I was in the bedroom typing when I heard the noise and then my mother’s scream. She somehow appeared at the door with her hand over her bloody abdomen and whispered, “Get the doctor, she shot me.”
I ran past my grandmother who was sitting calmly on her four poster bed with her dead husband’s pistol in her grip. I heard a second shot, I recognized the sound of a gun now. I looked over my shoulder toward my grandmother and saw a small red ball spiraling toward me. As I ran for help clutching my blood drenched arm,. By nightfall, my grandmother was in a state mental institution, my mother was in a funeral parlor and I was in a hospital.
Fifty years later, I crouch when vehicles backfire, close my eyes at sudden bright lights and avoid fireworks as if they were a deadly contagion. The pebbly, penny sized scar on my arm where the bullet entered is a constant reminder of that day, of that calling card.
We were abandoned by our father, our family and our community. My two younger sisters and I remained in that cavernous eighteen room house until they finished high school. We remained a source of perpetual gossip, learning the lonely after effects of gunfire. One sister became a casualty decades later when the rejection and isolation gave her to drugs that destroyed her body and her mind.
Now I am in the eighth decade of my life. In all of these years, I have never touched or held a gun but it left its calling card at my door again. My husband of fifty years suffered from diseases that affected his motor skills and his intellectual capacity. As a retired college professor, he found these infirmities untenable. He went for his morning walk with his rollalator on a beautiful fall New England day. He took out a gift he had received from his brother-in-law forty years before, and put it to his forehead to end his suffering. That day I learned that you can still breathe even when something takes your breath away and that your heart still beats even when it is broken.
Meeting Death through needless loss is akin to having a door slammed in your face. Try as you might to kick down the door, it will remain closed. Death is finite. It leaves behind few who truly grieve and are inconsolable, many who express grief with one sentence in a card, and those who celebrate it with a passion for evil and a calling card.
These deaths left unrelenting voids in my life and I have never reconciled the losses. Now I am moving along what I perceive to be a slow march to death. Please God, raise the speed limit and let it be soon. Please let it end unaccompanied by the sounds of another calling card. Let this nightmare end in peace.
Mary Luce grew up in a small town in Kentucky. For the past four decades, she has lived in New England where her focus has been on her family and her professional career as an educator. Now retired, she is adjusting to life as a widow. She has twice been impacted by gun violence and trusts that her story will provide insight to others about the damage of and recovery from the collateral damage of gun violence.