Browsing Tag

gun control

Activism, Guest Posts, Terrorism

Like Our Children, Lawmakers Became Prey

June 1, 2021
school teacher

by Meg Poulin

On January 6, 2021, in the middle of an insurrection at the Capitol, I had to peel myself from the T.V and take my youngest daughter to get her ears pierced. The piercing appointment at the Black Diamond was her best Christmas present, and we arrived jittery and flustered. While at the shop, I could not stop myself from checking the news feed constantly. We picked out earrings. We practiced breathing through our anxiety. I tried to tell her she was ok, but really, nothing felt ok. A woman was shot by Capitol Police, while they measured and marked my daughter’s earlobes.

My mind conjured up constant images of our elected officials on their hands and knees in their pencil skirts and suit pants, ties dangling around their necks. I wondered if they were crawling, dizzy with panic, between padded chairs, fumbling to text loved ones. The lawmakers, now the quaking prey.

On April 20, 1999 I was a junior in college in Utah. I was twenty minutes into my aerobics class when my boyfriend flung open the studio door and lifted me right off the floor. The class came to a halt.

“What school does your brother go to?” he said, voice breaking.

“Chatfield,” I said. He insisted we leave. He drove me home, sat me in front of the T.V. And there were my neighbors, Clement Park, Columbine Library. On CNN. People I grew up with, weeping with reporters. The United States made its free fall into mass school shootings with Columbine High School, in my hometown.

My mother at that moment, was sitting with hundreds of distraught parents waiting in agony for news of their children, still unaccounted for. She was holding her friend Cathy’s han as they waited to hear if her sons were alive. My brother was a senior at the rival high school just a few miles down the road.

One of Cathy’s sons watched his teacher bleed to death. One of her sons was locked in a crowded closet, listening to classmates die outside the door. They were among the last kids to tumble out of the mouth of a school bus, bloody and traumatized, into their mother’s arms.

In July 2012, I was moving with my husband and three young children from Colorado to Connecticut. Just after midnight, while heading to the Denver airport, I pulled to the side of the road, hearing sirens. Not one or two rescue vehicles. A legion of sirens as police cars, ambulances and firetrucks converged on a movie theater just to the right of the freeway. Where I learned later, people were crouched behind padded chairs, crying, bleeding, dying. They went to a movie, and someone walked in with a weapon and opened fire into the crowd.

Watching the news the next day, I thought about the time my husband went with a friend to a midnight release of Star Wars. I could not help but think, It could have been my husband, dead among the popcorn. 

On December 14, 2012 I was in a hardware store, buying a hammer, when I began to get texts from friends in Colorado. It was too early in Colorado for texting.

One texted, “What school do the girls go to, Megan!!!?”  Another texted, “What town did you move to? Is it Newtown?”  I Googled Newtown, Connecticut. It was 47 miles away.

I ran to my car, turned on the radio, and drove straight to my girls’ new elementary school. I fought the urge to snatch them from their classrooms as I listened to reporters relay an incomprehensible nightmare. Other parents began lurking around the school too, we ached to hold our children. After an hour of sitting vigil, my mom called wailing. The wailing of all the mothers everywhere.

***

In the spring of 2016, I arrived at the elementary school to volunteer in my daughter’s first grade class. The atmosphere was soupy with tension. Principal Cleary and several staff members were holding the doors open, their arms forcefully beckoning morning stragglers into the building. The principal called, “Mrs. Poulin!” as he gestured, leaning in as I approached. He said, “We are in lockdown. This is not a drill. I can’t tell you why.”

Gasping, I lurched for the door, my baby inside.

“Not a shooter, it’s ok,” he said. My mind went wild, searching for reasons to call a lockdown without a gunman. Inside, the hallways were eerie and silent, backpacks abandoned on the floor. A freckled little boy with bed-head was knocking frantically on a second grade door.

“My classroom is locked!” he cried. His teacher opened the door and pulled him in. I began to run. I arrived at Stella’s classroom door just as her teacher was yanking it shut. I reached for Stella’s soft hand, kneading it in mine.

“Mr. Cleary says we must stay in our rooms, we must be silent, first graders. But today, we do not need to practice hiding under our desks,” the teacher whispered. The children already knew how to hide under their desks, arms over head, eyes squeezed shut. I found out later, the lockdown was due to a medical emergency. A teacher, before school, needed an ambulance. A nut allergy, not a bullet wound.

In April of 2019, my middle schooler came home distraught. During a lockdown drill at school, one friend whispered something funny to another friend as they were getting into position. It triggered an illicit giggling fit, the hardest to control. They had to be shushed. After the drill, their outraged teacher told the girls in a career ending move, they deserved to be shot since they wouldn’t take the lockdown seriously. I was horrified, but I understood. This teacher was not meant to keep unruly teenagers from being shot dead in their classrooms. She was not trained to become a human shield, to teach on a battlefield.

A week later on May 7th, 2019, I was bagging a head of cabbage at the grocery store when I noticed a stream of news alerts on my phone. Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A school shooting. This time it was me, frantically seeking clarity.

I texted Carrie, a close friend in Colorado. Her boys were the same age as my girls. “I’m seeing headlines about a Stem School in HR, a shooting. Are the boys ok??”

When I saw her reply, “Yes, it’s the boys’ school,” I abandoned the cabbage and ran to my car. Nathan. Evan.

She texted me again. “Earlier today, Nathan suddenly started texting me,” she wrote.

He sent, “There’s a school shooter I love you so much I love dad.”

There is so much to examine about the riot at the Capitol building. The people who were curled on the floor in mortal danger, are now standing in that same space, arguing over what happened. Is this terror worth action?

Meg Poulin is a Connecticut textile artist and writer. She loves politics, the science of consciousness, childbirth, hypnosis and baking cakes. Her passion is in raising her three daughters to be strong, independent, expressive young women.

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Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.

This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story of  what it means to be human as an adoptee is important.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen and on being human

Activism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

“17”- A Poem Plus an excerpt from “Good Cop, Bad Daughter” by Karen Lynch

March 14, 2018

By Karen Lynch. 

17

When you were born, I nestled you in my arms and nursed you on demand to help build your immune system and keep you safe from disease.
933 breast feedings

When you were 18 months old, I cut your grapes in half to keep you safe from choking.
3,406 grapes sliced

When you were 2, I bought you the bicycle helmet ranked highest by Parenting Magazine.
5,327 miles peddled

When you were five, six, seven, I let you watch only PBS kids to keep you innocent of the violence in the world as long as possible.
1,273 episodes Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood watched.

When you were 12, I let you ride your bike across town and prayed for your safety as I waited for your call.
17 petitions offered up to the universe.

When you were sick and no one knew why, I took you to a faraway clinic and found a doctor to heal you.
522 miles driven, 4 doctors seen, 18 bottles supplements purchased.

When you were 16, I found the best driving instructor in the county. I told you to call me for a ride anytime, no questions asked.
2 speeding tickets, 1 fender bender, 0 calls for pickup.

When you left for school today, I gave you an organic Fuji apple with your whole wheat almond butter sandwich. I reminded you to eat fruit and veggies in college next year.
2,367 Fuji apples washed and sliced.
1 Valentine slipped into your backpack.

When the deputy called this afternoon, I was selecting your senior picture.
17 dead. 15 wounded. 152 shots fired.

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control.

June 17, 2014

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control. By Kirsten Larson.

My father was gone two weeks when a man I didn’t know was my mother’s new boyfriend pushed the butt of the .22 rifle on my right shoulder and with his big, dirty fingers folded my slender 4 year old finger onto the trigger. He cupped his left hand around my left hand, squeezed it under the stock and raised the barrel toward a paper he’d nailed to a fir tree a few minutes before. When he took his hands away the barrel fell pointing at the ground a few feet in front of me.

We were in deep snow up the side of a mountain almost to the timberline near Kalispell, Montana, where we lived. My Mother had driven my brother and I to shoot guns with her “new friend.”

I was shivering mostly because of the cold. But also I didn’t know anything anymore about my life, the randomness with which things change and happen: a new house, my dad gone, my mom unpredictable.

I’d never seen a gun. I didn’t know anything other than I was supposed to hit the bulls-eye. I didn’t know what a bulls-eye was. What I knew was that this man was not my father, but he and my mother were drinking whiskey out of a short brown bottle and looking at each other like she and my dad had once looked at each other.

“Pull the trigger,” he yelled.

The gun exploded in front of me with the loudest noise I’d ever heard. I was thrown back onto the hard snow. Pee soaked hot through my tights, warming my icy thighs. The shame of being touched by a strange man, of peeing like a baby in front of a man who was not my father, was far worse than the pain in my arm from the gun.

I didn’t know enough to be afraid of the gun. I didn’t know about death.

***

I did know what death was in 1980 when the .30-6 my mother bought for my 16 year old brother discharged in our house. I was 17, upstairs in my room reading. The sound of a car accident the sudden merciless slamming of metal and glass was the sound of that gunshot.

You don’t know how your body responds to terror until you’ve known terror. I freeze. I lose my voice. An iced knife straight up from my solar plexus.

The absolute still that followed that gunshot. I heard first my mother’s voice, then my brother’s and knew they were alive. Then I could move. When the fear let go of my heart, sweat coated my entire body from my scalp to my shins.

My brother had been playing with the gun, didn’t know it was loaded, aimed it at the lathe and plaster wall and pulled the trigger. The result was a black-rimmed hole about 10 inches diameter.

Didn’t know it was loaded.

My mother bought the gun for him because he was a boy raised without a father. All of us raised without fathers and the ways we try to make up for that loss.

Guns and what they stand for.

A year or so later, shortly after I moved out, my mom told me the police took the gun from my brother when he and his friend were hunting too close to people. I never heard another thing about it.

***

The other side of a gun. Valentines Day, 1989, 8:15 AM, I was a single mother waiting with my chatty 3-year-old son at the bus stop for the #19 bus, which was late. Another woman sat reading the paper, waiting. When you don’t have money for a car, you wait a lot.

Waiting for a late bus involves me staring at incoming traffic, willing the bus to show. So I wasn’t paying much attention behind us. When I turned I saw a man less than half a block away walking toward us. He looked like my brother, first thought. Second though, something’s not right.

I found my son’s hand and pulled him close. The man walked up, hands in his pockets, and asked, “Do you guys know where the nearest police station is?” I turned again to look down the street holding my son next to me.

The other woman answered, “I don’t think there is one close to here.”

Don’t tell me you can understand how I must feel about what happened next, because you can’t. Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine what it’s like to have a gun pointed at you by a stranger with dead eyes, your baby right there.

That frozen terror again.

He screamed, “Give me your money.” Had to move. Dropped my son’s tiny hand. Dropped my purse. Picked it up. Gun there. Hands shaking, pulled all of the money I had out of my wallet. All three dollars. The other woman crying. Handed him all of her money, two dollars.

Gun pointed at us. Only one small movement to death.

He said, “I’m sorry.”

He said, “I’m a piece of shit.”

He said, “I thought you were lawyers or something.” Then he turned and calmly walking back from where he came from.

The police took a report.

He took five dollars. He took all we had.

***

You won’t like what’s coming next. You will judge me, a small child in the house and all: I learned how to shoot, got a gun, and started carrying it. A lady Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. I carried it every day for nearly two years after a man with dead eyes pointed a gun at me; me holding my three-year-old son’s hand.

The gun was in my home when, at 2:00 AM, someone rattled the door handle and then walked stealthily around and looked in the windows. I was not tempted to shoot him, instead I called the police.

I had the gun in my purse when I was doing laundry at a public Laundromat one evening. A man walked by several times, looking through the plate glass windows at me and out to the parking lot, me, the parking lot; a lion stalking its prey.

I was wearing jeans and a white sweatshirt. Again that feeling – something’s not right. He came in, pulled the glass door behind him. Just him and me for as far as I could see. His eyes pinpoint, shaking hands, not right. Asked if he could pay me for an hour of my time. An hour of my time. Knowing the gun was there in my purse I stood up straight, hands on hips, told him to get the fuck away from me.

I was carrying the gun when someone exposed himself to me as I got off the bus one night after work. He followed me around the block in his car. I thought about the gun only after calling the police with his license plate number. He was caught and punished. He was 19.

I don’t know what offense might make me decide to kill another human being. Certainly nothing I own is worth someone’s life. I stopped carrying the gun.

I locked the gun in the cedar box I’d received as a graduation present years prior and then packed the box away with the few letters I received from my father as a child, and family photos. I locked it away to protect my son. I locked it away because I didn’t know how to get rid of it without putting it in someone else’s hand. I purposely lost the key to that box.

The presence of the gun came up for the last time in 2006.

People who say things like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” those people, they’ve never had more than they can handle. I had more than I could handle, but that’s another story.

I was depressed; the kind of depression that feels like weights hanging off all four limbs. Depression where comfort is the constant thought of the ending the pain. It was like that. Although I had a suicide plan, it didn’t include the gun. But, a man I was briefly seeing was concerned. He broke the lock on the cedar box, took out the gun and locked the trigger with a trigger lock he’d purchased. He kept the key when we stopped seeing each other a few months later. The gun is gone now. I will never own another gun.

***

By both circumstance and choice I’ve lived the majority of my life without my father and without a male partner. The guns I have known seem to be a replacement for the protective presence of my father, and later, a male partner. The gun I owned made me believe I was safe.

None of us are safe, male or female. But most people I know personally who own guns do so for self-protection. It’s complex.

I take the regular precautions most people take. I trust my instincts. Look people in the eye.

I worked hard at a corporate job and made good money. Since I have made better money I no longer live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, no longer have to take the bus, no longer go to the Laundromat; I have not been the victim of a crime in a long time.

What I paid for that safety was too much; creativity, time with my child. But that’s yet another story. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have made the same decisions; I’d leave myself vulnerable to have back the opportunities I gave up thinking enough money would insulate me.

In the debate about guns, so many on both sides seem to have simple answers. As usual we have two ways of conversing: the luxury of outrage and the luxury of stubborn insistence. But we all agree, something must be done.

The sort of fear I lived with is erosive to the soul in a way that defines lives. Learning to live a good, authentic life not ruled by fear: for me, that’s gun control.

 

 Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike. She met Jen at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.


Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike.
She met Jen Pastiloff at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature Manifestation Retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next workshop is London July 6. Book here.