There’s a Man With a Gun Over There.

It was morning and the dog stared out the window, as dogs do, so I joined him. It’s hard to say what interests him. He’s a dog and likes dog things. We live in an older neighborhood with a pond and large natural area  in front of the house. Sometimes one or both of his nemeses, Big!White!Dog! or black Pointy Dog show up and annoy him. Besides other dogs, the area is home to wildlife–coyotes, waterfowl, foxes, rabbits, and so on. A juvenile bald eagle seems to have taken up residence, which is kind of cool. It’s private property but lots of people stroll through whether they live here or not.

A man bouncing along the path caught our attention. Short arms swinging, he was pudgy and round, fairly short, gray hair, Irish walking cap. He wore a white short-sleeved shirt and sky-blue Bermuda shorts pulled up too high, and socks. Think Midwestern tourist in San Francisco. Think the Monopoly Man on the beach but without a mustache. If you saw the little man in a shopping mall or stadium, you wouldn’t give him a second thought. He was so nondescript that I’m having a hard time describing him.

I didn’t give him a second thought either, until he rounded the walk and I noticed he had a pistol strapped to his belt. It wasn’t a big pistol, like a Navy Colt .45 or a 9 mm. Glock or something you’d see a police officer packing. His gun was compact and angled in its holster, maybe a .22 or .25. or .32 caliber. I waited, hoping to check him out further, but instead of turning and walking along the front of our house as most strollers do, he turned the other way and disappeared.

A few months ago, my wife and I rounded the aisle in a grocery store and ran into a guy with a large automatic pistol cinched to his waist. He was a big guy in a tank top and jeans, backwards baseball cap, normal guy, not a security guard or cop or anything. It was unsettling, so we turned and left.

You just think, Why? Why do they have to sport a pistol in public?

Everyone knows the gun arguments on both sides, so I won’t get into them here. What difference does it make? Everyone’s mind is made up and nothing will change anyway. 

But still. What goes through people’s minds when they get dressed? They think, “Well, I’ll wear this shirt and these pants” or whatever for whatever reason–it’s hot, they’re going out someplace, time to go to work, they’re heading for the gym, they’re visiting their in-laws–all the places people go to do whatever it is they’re going to do, and dress accordingly.

But with this little man and the guy in the grocery store, they had to have thought before heading out the door, “Oh, I have to strap on my gun.” Again, why? Obviously, they want people to see they’re packing heat. Why do they want others to know that? Do they want to get in an argument over gun rights? Do they want others to notice them and go, “Whoa?”

Again, why? Okay, maybe they’re undercover-law enforcement, but that’s not likely. Are they afraid of something? Did the little man on the path think he might have to shoot a coyote? Was he looking for terrorists behind the cottonwood trees? Did the guy in the grocery store think he was going to take down some bad actor? What would they say if you asked them why they were packing heat? Do they imagine scenarios where they can be heroes helping people, such as stopping an in-progress burglary, preventing a schoolyard shooter, saving a woman being raped?

I don’t know.

When we lived in Portland a few years ago, a man with a gun intervened in a car theft by trying to shoot out the tires of the fleeing car. One of the bullets bounced off the tire and hit a pedestrian. Who knows where the other bullets went? 

Recently, the Denver Post ran an item about a dispute between two men over a parking place resulting in one of them being shot and killed. Stories run several times a week about road rage incidents ending up in shots fired, injuries or fatalities resulting. In this story, a man killed a 13-year-old boy and shot the boy’s mother and little brother, along with a bystander, over a lane change.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my former dentist, whom I adored for her skill and humor. Her husband killed her. I’m still not over that one.

The thing about guns people seldom talk about is that they make their holders do something they otherwise wouldn’t have done. You get in an argument with someone. It turns into shouting. Then, maybe, name-calling, even shoving. If there’s no gun involved, it stops there. But if one or the other yanks out a gun, it’s a different situation.

When I saw the little man with the gun and they guy in the grocery store with his gun along with other times of seeing people packing their firearms, gun rights never occurred to me. All that comes to mind is, “What’s that person going to do with that gun?”

Because you don’t know.

 

 

She Was Here, Until She Wasn’t

Whoever expects the dentist will be funny? You’re on your back in that clovey-smelling room, fingers clenched, tense, on edge, bright light in your face awaiting the moment when that chrome toothpick starts going rih-rih-rih in the most vulnerable crevasses of your teeth, and the dentist says something like, “Hey, isn’t today the best day of your life to this point?” and then starts laughing at her own corny joke, not just a laugh, but a deep hyuk-hyuk-hyuk, and you laugh, and the hygienist laughs, not so much at the joke itself but at the dentist’s uncontrolled and infectious laughter.

I hooked up with Dr. Kate Brokaw about six years ago, quite by chance. You knew she was walking down the hall because you could hear people laughing as she went by, so that by the time she got to your cubicle, all she had to do was talk and you’d laugh.

And she was a pretty good dentist to boot. In her mid-thirties, she found a couple of things our prior dentist had missed. She recommended a root canal one time, declining to do it herself even though she felt capable, sending me to an endodontist instead so the procedure would be done as well as it could. “She sure keeps this place loose,” I said to the receptionist, who replied she didn’t know what they’d do without her.

Then there was the time Dr. Brokaw asked if I was doing anything fun over the weekend while poking through my molars and bicuspids. No, I said, did she? “My boyfriend and I are going to the Garth Brooks concert,” she said, “and I better get a ring out of it.”

She did, becoming Kate McDowell. She left the office and bought her own practice in Boulder, and I was happy for her.

A few days ago, she was killed, the victim of a murder-suicide by her husband. She was just forty, and as I read the news clip, I kept hoping it was someone else, a different Kate McDowell, that it was all a big mistake. It wasn’t.

Anyone who’s lost someone close, especially a young person, knows the feeling of stunned shock and cosmic betrayal. Dr. Brokaw (I never got used to McDowell) was about the same age as my own kids, and when I read of her murder, I had much the same feelings I experienced years ago, when my nephew, another bright star and about her age, was killed by a drunk driver. You go through all the Kuebler-Ross stages, but the one you can’t get past–and never, ever will–is the feeling of measureless injustice. There is no answer, and never will be, to “why.”

Looking for answers leads to the what-if’s. Authorities cited domestic violence but haven’t revealed the cause of death, though I’m assuming a gun was involved. One thing about gun ownership is that someone with a gun is more likely to do something he (or she) wouldn’t otherwise do when conflict erupts. Moreover, domestic violence events are seldom one-offs, and more than half the women killed in 2017 died at the hands of a partner or family member. What if Colorado had a Red Flag Law? Would her death have been prevented?

And then, the explosive anger. What kind of anger erupted for a guy to end her life and think it was some kind of answer? In my lifetime, it has seemed that many men are put off by certain women. Smart, well-educated women. Funny women. Financially-successful women. Dr. Brokaw was all of these and more, but was the guy so threatened and vulnerable in his own mind that he crossed the line from merely put off to obscene rage? Was a flight to anger for him a thing?

Might a friend or relative noticed something wasn’t all copacetic and somehow intervened? Again, a what-if. Looking for answers where there may not be any.

Maybe there’s a larger question of a rise in anger throughout society. Indignant rage proliferates on cable news, for example, and every day, the newspaper has a series of stories on someone getting pissed off outside a bar or whatever and shooting someone else. About eight months ago, some guy in Westminster got pissed off in a road rage incident and shot a mother and her 11-year-old son in a shopping center parking lot, killing the boy. I could go on and on with similar stories, but it seems as though anger has become the strongest cultural force in our society.

Maybe no firearm was involved in this tragedy, but that doesn’t undo the fact that someone tried to solve a problem by killing someone. Rage, rage, the dying of the light, wrote Dylan Thomas.

So anyway, where am I going with this? I don’t know. I wish I did.