On Birds, Bullets, and Being


Today, at around 11:30 am, as I sat working at my desk at home, windows open, birds chirping, a fifty-year-old woman two blocks away came out on the front yard of the four-family flat where she rented an apartment and began firing a pistol into the air and apparently sometimes into parked cars. Police were called. They arrived, and within a few short, confusing moments, shot her dead. I heard all the shooting. I thought it came from another direction. I did not hear sirens. At least I don’t remember the sirens. It is disturbing to me that I barely took note of the sound of guns being fired repeatedly.  It is disturbing to me that I barely took note of whether or not first responders responded. The sound of gunshot is now as common to me as the sound of sirens, as the chatter of the birds in my backyard.

The woman was reported to be fifty years old. There are no more facts available to me, other than her landlord reporting that she had passed tenant screening just fine.  But this morning, she was upset enough to go outside and shoot a gun. Over, and over, and over. She was upset enough that the arrival of uniformed officers did not persuade her to set the gun down. One moment, she was screaming her pain to the world. I was barely paying attention. The next moment she lay dead in her yard.

People shoot guns because they are angry, or afraid, or both. They shoot guns because the pain in them is exploding to get out. They often, in fact, most always, are shooting at either another person or themselves. In the case of our neighbor across the alley, our garage door proved sufficient, though it required frequent discipline, apparently. But this sort of inanimate target choice is rare. And it was only inanimate because my husband was not working in his workshop that lay on the other side of the aluminum door.

The anger could be fresh and appropriately targeted, say in an act of defense against an intruder. Or it could roil up from a long-suffered wound and spew, geyser-like at anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. Ditto for the fear.  No one that I know of has done a comparative study of how many people thwart an attacker with a gun, versus how many people thwart anger/pain/grief/fear with a gun. No study that I know of has found the use of a gun effective in the latter.

And yet.

Pain. Grief. Grief. Pain.  Shoot into the day, despair sitting on your neck like an albatross, the grief/pain/fear/anger miasma clouding your vision, choking your heart, pressing the very breath out of you.

What happens to a fifty-year-old woman to put her in her front yard shooting up the morning like it’s the 4th of July? And who will care? It is worth noting that she did not actually shoot at anyone, even though rumor has it she threatened to.

Here’s what was happening to me when I was a fifty-year-old woman living in the four-family across the street from where this woman was shot down in her yard, taking her story to the grave, full stop.

I was still grieving the end of a seventeen-year relationship (not married since queers were still illegal). I was trying to figure out how to stay in the life of the four-year-old I had become mother to two years before in a short-term and ill-conceived rebound relationship. My heart split daily at the thought I would lose that beautiful boy who called me mom. Mom. I was the sole person responsible for the care of my own mother in what was arguably the worst, and would be the final, two years of her life. I was working full time and wondering how I would adjust to the surprise departure of my new business partner who I thought would be taking a load off of me. I was hitting an early menopause hard. Oh, and 9/11 happened.  I was alone for the first time in my entire adult life. And, brain cell by brain cell, I was losing the one person who loved me unconditionally.  I had no support and I was sure I was doing everything wrong. A gun would have been what lawyers might have called an attractive nuisance. How attractive would it have been to silence the pain, empty the grief, forget about the fear, and let the rage, blind to the finer points of the social contract, solve my problems? One way or the other.

The fifth decade is when the rubber meets the road for women. Children, parents, partners who feel they need a change, and the test results of your lifestyle to date—it all swoops in like the flu and language serves no purpose. Hot baths, herbal tea, red hats, it can all go to hell as far as you’re concerned. When you are a fifty-year-old woman, you officially do not matter anymore. Can’t breed, not pretty, too smart to be subservient; you aren’t even sized up in the grocery store. You no longer exist. People walk right into you on a crowded sidewalk or at the mall. You just aren’t there. You don’t get waited on. There is not one woman over fifty who will challenge me on this.

But:

If you are a mother, you are expected to be there and fix all things.

If you have older parents, you are expected to be there and fix all things.

You are expected to buy the groceries, figure out the stuff, be on call for young and old alike, fix all the shit at work, whatever it is, but usually not for any appropriate recognition or pay.

Otherwise, feel free to roam about the cabin, but the bar is closed.  Put on the hideous red hat, proclaim the end to your sexual being, and commence to overeat. Conversely, you could always get a gun.  Missouri would like you to have it. Especially if you are a school teacher.  Or really, anyone, say a deeply unhappy, bleeding from the heart, fifty-year-old woman. The Millennials may find a way to delay the selective downgrade a few more years, but the Gen-xers and we baby boomers are legion. We’re here, we don’t ovulate, and we don’t fucking care anymore. So yes, be afraid, be very afraid. But you might want to rethink the joke that is gun legislation. Because killing us just really complicates things for all the people who expect us to take care of them.

In the meantime, I weep for my doppelganger two streets over, who waits in a chilled morgue as I write this for someone, anyone, to speak her pain, to say her name. Rest in peace, my sister. Rest in peace.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Update: Since I wrote this, the woman’s name was released., Robin White was reported to be battling bone cancer. The rest, offered by a nephew who wishes to remain nameless, is speculation.

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38 thoughts on “On Birds, Bullets, and Being

  1. Good god I need this in pamphlet form so I can carry it around in my pocket and pull it out and read it once a week. It is the perfect antidote for the numbness I can so easily develop toward others’ overwhelming pain or the invisible but very real state of being an older woman. Thank you for shaking me, really!

    The gifts of good writing, empathy, and societal understanding have rarely come together so well as here.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks for writing this piece. We have a friend from England staying with us this summer. The second night of his visit the sounds of gunshots and sirens were very near “What’s that? What’s going on?” South Side was fairly quiet when I was growing up. Now, these sounds are like so much background noise, unless its down the street or behind us. Frequently the shots were preceded by some argument We are personally familiar with the need to make sure there are no weapons around someone in pain. What would have happened differently if there was no gun in the middle of the argument or the despair???

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We are neighbors and fellow writers, as well. Thank you for putting these words down for those of us too numb/scared/confused/angry/frustrated to do so. And thank you for Robin, our other neighbor, who surly didn’t have to die yesterday. My grandmother died of bone cancer. If only guns weren’t part of this story, of our collective story, maybe Robin’s life wouldn’t have ended so brutally. We’ll never know now.

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  4. It is a a growing cultural malady too. Integrated families have their own share of problems but life is always struggle after all and with each other we do live it well enough … the most important thing being the people in it, the personal connect. The societal orientation, the cultural value is increasingly deviating away from these principles and getting more individual-centrist. What do I get, rather than what may I offer to the world? What are my rights more than what are my duties? How to make myself happy than how can all of us be happier? … Knowing all the time but letting it fade away that we can all be more happier together than we can be in isolation. In the happiness of people around us also lies our own happiness and satisfaction too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tears were slipping through my eyelids as I read this saddening story. She must ‘ve been in an unimaginable pains- depressed too- probably couldn’t bear it one more second, at a particular point. Hence, the cry for help! She must ‘ve wondered why every other thing seemed normal- as usual in the neighborhood while she suffered. It was so unfortunate.

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  6. Good God – as someone who turns 40 this year, you just scared the bejesus out of me with your dose of reality. 😛 But ach, I’ve been feeling it coming with my wrinkling skin and slower healing anyway. People already notice me less. It’s a power thing, being so doted upon as a pretty young thing, then finding yourself being called ma’am on a regular basis and essentially being looked over. We may have more rights these days as women, but the extreme emphasis on our sexuality has mentally imprisoned us more than previous generations, I would bet. We pooh-pooh burkas in the West, but we champion such demeaning objectification of women like it’s liberation to show off our bodies. It’s utter bullshit. I read once that in some Native American cultures, women were perceived as more beautiful as they aged, because their wisdom grew. I guess that I will hold onto that – no matter what this insane society values, I (and the people that love me) will value my wisdom that I accrue as I age. I want to be that older lady that smiles at people as they race, fully distracted, through their lives, and I am doggedly determined to embrace my age….although I am just a human being living in a society that influences on a deeply subconscious level…and I am only 39 so let’s just see. Thanks for your thoughtful post – and RIP Robin White.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. A very sad story. Very moving and written beautifully. I will be thinking of that poor lady and trying to comprehend why she chose such a dramatic and violent end to her story. Thankyou for sharing.

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  8. Robin White, rest in peace. I can’t fathom the depths of her rage or fear or pain.

    I am an Xer gaining on the Boomers, and I appreciate your honest and heart-filled message. Much of aging sucks. But I would challenge you in one area: you (we) DO exist. The longer we’re here, the more we have to offer. Your words, your heart, your voice, your wisdom…look what you did here! It matters. It matters so very much. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  9. “When you are a fifty-year-old woman, you officially do not matter anymore. Can’t breed, not pretty, too smart to be subservient; you aren’t even sized up in the grocery store. You no longer exist. People walk right into you on a crowded sidewalk or at the mall. You just aren’t there. You don’t get waited on.”

    Thank you for writing what I feel like EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I remember being 19 and feeling like the world was mine. Now I no longer matter, to anyone. And I hate it. But since I’m not Demi Moore or Janet Jackson, my life is over.

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  10. The fifties are the hardest in all the ways you so eloquently describe, especially the journey from 55 to 60 (where I stand on the threshold). I have decided to do not be and to do for myself some every week. I am and that is often enough.

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  11. Beautifully harsh look at being 50 and a woman. I can’t say that I’ve been pushed to armament as a solution…yet…but I’ve only been 50 for half a year. Give me time. Thank you for speaking for the woman who rang out her pain in bullets. It is a sad thing she didn’t find a safe space to talk to someone before it reached this point.

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  12. I see in this article a desire to make sense of something as elusive as the death of this woman, to transcribe it into a more palatable, usable version of itself.

    How shocking it must be to witness all of this, almost naturally, like you were looking at the passing of cars down the alley.

    I took to heart the passage about womanhood though, the one about losing one’s value. I wish there was something to be done, so that this is not a common feeling among women; I wish there is some way I could help my own sisters ward off such feelings, without becoming overbearing in their life.

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  13. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been lucky enough that sirens and gunshots are background noise in my life but your post goes to show that there are things in our lives that are normalized despite their seriousness. It also goes to show we don’t know just how deeply others are suffering. So thank you!

    I just started blogging myself about some of the real issues in our society and would love your input.
    socialreality2017.wordpress.com

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