i live on a corner in a big apartment building, and a few days ago and three corners away, at 11 in the morning, a girl was shot point blank. there’s no way that i didn’t hear the shot, in that moment, and didn’t hear the sirens; i am almost always home. and when i heard about the shooting, i realized — yeah, i heard it. and i thought, when i heard the shot: that’s a gun. and thought nothing of it. i don’t remember hearing sirens, but i must have.
where i grew up, we heard shots all the time. a police firing range was down in the valley (our house was at the top of a hill), and the shots weren’t far away. there were shots ringing out on the other side of the hill too, not police. i remember only once, as a teenager, feeling that i heard a gun close by, heard a shot and a car shrieking up the hill… i was walking the dog, and hit the ground, and the car went by. i remember it, but maybe i also imagined it. this is just how it goes with me and memories. i remember the morning at a stoplight, on the way to school, when the light was red and there was someone dead, covered up, behind police tape. and then the light turned green, and we went to school.
when i drove down my street this morning, not thinking to avoid the corner (should i have avoided the corner?), there were kids where she died, maybe teenagers. flowers, candles. kids just standing there. i’d heard about it only by word of mouth, last night. hadn’t read any news, but did today: the media only says that the girl was 23.”killer still at large.” i feel fairly certain that it wasn’t random. but why should i feel certain of anything?
almost ten years ago, i moved to a neighborhood in my hometown – wilkinsburg -which people jokingly called “we’ll-kill-yinz-burg.” my dad printed out a map when i moved in: a bird’s eye view, little dots marking all the places in my new neighborhood where shootings had happened. my apartment was in an old victorian house, and a dealer and his girlfriend lived on the third floor, hung out on the our porch with a muscular and sharp-eyed pit bull who was never quite soothed, and i was cool with them, and they were cool with me. outside my kitchen window was the parking lot for the church of the deaf, and every sunday i watched crowds of fluttering hands talking to one another about… about who knows. their lives. faith. potlucks. their children. i was never scared in wilkinsburg. someone once threw a brick at my car, cracked the windshield in the night. just kids. it was 2008, and when obama won, the neighborhood was full of music and cheers, and full of shots.
so what do i have to say about guns? i don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said. it is strange to know the sound, for the sound to light up a single space in my mind, then flicker out. when i think back now on hearing the shot, i know that i registered it as odd: the single shot. but registering the fact in the moment did nothing. carried nowhere. strange for the sound to mean almost nothing. last night around 11, as i walked up to my apartment, i walked by two kids in a dark part of the street, one leaning on a bike. “god bless america,” one said to me as i walked by, and i said nothing. what could i say?