Glock

This weekend , my partner’s father taught me how to use a gun.

It happened in the kitchen, at the table, where he’d laid out a spread of paper towels and on top of them placed a pistol broken down to its pieces. He sat me down and said, “You see, Glocks are so precise. The man who made these was a watch maker, so it all comes together. It’s so clean.” Later as he began fitting piece into piece, he said, “I just want you to learn about them so you can be more comfortable. The first rules of a gun or if you find a gun in the house, is to make sure it isn’t loaded before you do anything with it.” I wanted so badly to explain to him that I would never aspire to do anything with his guns. Still though, I was curious. Maybe it was the writer in me. I wanted to hold it, turn it over in my hands and feel the weight of it. I did not want to fire it, but I wanted to know how it fired. How it made everything so simple.

This all started when Howard, my boyfriend’s father, reached into the side pocket of his recliner and pulled out a pistol. “Maiasia,” he said, “Just for future’s sake, I just wanted to let you know, there’s usually a gun in the chair.” He held it aloft like he was holding it up to the sun to see through it, and I, who had been on my way to the kitchen, let out a wild squeak. I had spent the last weekend in that recliner while he and his wife, Linda, were in Florida visiting Linda’s mother. I had even reached into the side pocket which was quite capacious and deposited things there for safe keeping: my phone, my pack of pens, my phone charger, and, from time to time to avoid losing it, the recliner’s remote control. I had rifled through the pocket to find my  phone when it had sank in a little too deep. How close had I come to brushing a finger against the frame of the gun or clasping it and, in a state of shock, pulling it forth?

The first time I visited my boyfriend at his home, he lived in New Jersey in a two-floor house in a quiet cul de sac. His parents were vacationing at Disney; they knew I was visiting, knew he wanted to impress me because we were not yet dating. He gave a quick tour of the house, then we settled in to watch movies, and it didn’t occur to me that he had swept quickly by a room on the second floor of the house until I was back upstairs, using the bathroom, and I noted that the room had no door. I peeked in, and at first glance, the room seemed to be cluttered with familial junk: paintings no one would ever hang, clothes no one could fit and no one could let go of, duffel bags and sleeping bags and.. junk, but when I looked closer, there were rifles lining the side walls, boxes of ammunition, and I let out a sharp exhale. A wild thought shot through my head. “Of course. He’s invited me here to kill me.” It only took me a few seconds to realize how crazy that sounded and then a few more to realize what was truly crazy was keeping all your guns next to your ammunition in a room with no doors. I went inside.

They lined the walls next to filing cabinets and lock boxes. I lifted one of the packs of ammunition and fingered the cartridges. They were heavier then I expected, and seeing them packed they way they were, they reminded me of a box of crayons. When I returned downstairs and asked the man who would become my partner about the room upstairs, he admitted to hoping I wouldn’t notice the room and its contents. “The gun’s are my dad’s. He’s usually got them everywhere around the house, but I had him clean them up for you.” That was his and his family’s attempt to impress me, to hide their guns in a room with no doors.

This was in mid-January of 2016. Half a year after Donald Trump announced his bid for the Presidency. The country was neck deep in a gun control debate, and both myself and my new boyfriend were all for a gun ban. We commonly cited countries that had banned guns and met amazing success. We followed the media coverage of each of the shootings that year and hoped they would be enough to tip the debate. Whenever I returned home from undergrad in Jersey and saw someone driving down the streets of Connecticut with a pro-gun bumper sticker I would call Matthew, my partner, and ask what in the world could possess someone to defend guns in this state after Sandy Hook, and he would remind me that some people in my state still believed Sandy Hook was a hoax and I’d sigh and he’d sigh, hundreds of miles away, and we’d wonder why we couldn’t change the world with a flick of the wrist.

Now, near the close of 2018, I’m in my boyfriend’s parents’ new home in PA, an open carry state. It seemed like when they bought the house last summer, all Howard could talk about was the possibility of getting his open carry permit. His eyes would light up the way the did when he invited me to the local shooting range, when someone asked him about the latest appliance he had bought around the house. He had once been a member of the NRA, but over the last two years, things had changed for him. He was no longer a staunch republican. Donald Trump changed that for him. He was no longer a staunch defender of the NRA. Dana Loesch changed that for him. He is no longer anti-immigration and no longer an ineluctable optimist. 2017 changed that for him. He had told me and his son earlier today that he doesn’t even like hunting anymore. He never got his open carry permit. Yet, he still keeps guns around his house, still believes in one’s right to use lethal force in self-defense, and still believes that I would be more accepting of guns if I knew them better, as if his recliner pistol was an old friend who had made a bad first impression.

So we worked over the gun. The frame of it was made of plastic and very lightweight. This I did not expect. Howard fitted barrel of the gun into the slide, the recoil spring came next, then he slid the whole section onto the frame. He had me do it. He showed me how the trigger worked as a safety so that it wouldn’t fire if dropped. He said it made it a very safe little piece of work.

As we worked it over, taking it apart and putting it back together, I asked questions, simple and direct, what’s a caliber, how do I empty the chamber, how do I reload a magazine, what would the recoil feel like, how man times he had fired it… I held the pistol in front of me in what my partner, Matthew, called Weaver Stance. One hand on the frame of the gun, the other fisting the bottom of the grip, both arms held straight ahead, but not locked, to handle the shock of firing. As I held it, Howard explained to me the mechanisms that caused the gun to shoot, how the firing pin connected with the butt end of a round, igniting the powder and causing a small explosion. The rifling of the barrel, the way the barrel is constructed so that the bullet comes out spinning, was necessary to keep it accurate. The gun, he told me, was accurate up to around 25 yards and had four different safety mechanisms other than the trigger. Sitting at the head of the table, I lined up the sight of the pistol with a small vase of flowers at the back wall of the room. I had never fired a gun before, not even a BB or paintball gun.

As I got older and began to bear witness (as is my responsibility as a citizen), I started to think that guns were like cell phones. They made it so easy to kill, as easy and quick as sending a text, that maybe we believed that killing quickly, killing in general, was our right. I mean, who would want to defend a law that let us, even implored us, to do the messy, slow kind of killing? The killing that involved work and fighting and begging and  feeling someone else die with your body? Guns make it simple. Guns cross the line of life and death in the tug of a finger, and for the untrained and trained alike, send such a shock through our systems that for a second its easy not to think in terms of what we’ve done, only how we react. Our ears ring. Our heart pounds. Someone has fallen. This after the gun has fired, not after we’ve fired it.

Sitting at the head of the table, I tried to form a body image of the firing of the gun. The trigger is resistant. I’d have to put effort behind that motion, intention. I felt my body tense, already trying to rebut the force of the shot. My jaw tensed, mouth dried. In my mind I pressed my finger against the trigger and pulled, but what came next I couldn’t imagine. Would my arms fly up wildly, unready for the kickback? Would my shoulders bear the force and push back into my body? Would I feel it in my chest or my legs? Would it smell like coal, sulfur, or metal? How longer after firing would I hear the vase shatter or would the roar in my ears drown it out? Would the vase shatter or would it explode?

It’s Been a While.

 

So, what have I been up to?

Other than wasting the $40 I paid to purchase my domain name, I’ve been…. in grad school. That’s right. I did it. I made it. I clawed my bitter way back into the ivory tower of academia, and somehow, I’ve been alright.

Sure, it hasn’t been roses and daisies and long slow walks on long slow beaches (although I have pictures to share of all those things, and they are lovely), but I’ve been alright. My first half a semester in graduate school studying writing has been a exercise in stress management and what the yungins like myself call adulting. This adulting is really just a combination of all the things in life that people hate to do or keep track of. Menial labor to keep the system systeming and food on the table. Each individual learns to take their little part and play it or fall out of the system all together (or rather fall into the more undesirable aspects like debt, homelessness, class registration holds, etc.) I’ve done my part and learned how to write a check. I’ve purchased health insurance but not a parking pass. I’ve registered a car and transferred my license from Connecticut to Maryland. I still refuse to call myself a proud Terp, but every now and then, you might find me Terpin’ around campus. I bought a bike and bike to campus most days. I’ve taken an interest in home remedies for the common cold (my favorites include but are not limited to hot garlic broths, ginger teas, and garlic foot baths). I’ve finally quit smoking cigarettes and it feels gooooood. I’ve rekindled my interest in jewelry if only as a way to avoid stressing myself to death on a daily basis with thoughts of decolonial doing and being and the ontology of blackness and whether I am black before a woman or a woman before black or if thoughts of precedence and presence obscure the issue of presentation and interpretation.

I’ve bought second hand furniture and come to love it in the way that one loves used creaky things, the way one loves their own body. I cut ties with the people who were no good to me. I cut ties with the people who were some good to me but mostly bad. I’ve made efforts to strengthen ties with those people I know are good for me and that I’m good for too. I’ve learned to notice what I’m good for and to cook a delicious curry chicken. I still haven’t gotten down meal prep.

In terms of school, I’ve learned that anyone who expects you to read 600 pages of critical theory and/or fiction only wants to see you fail in the most vilest of ways. I’ve learned that vocabulary can be recovered (thank god), but that spelling mistakes are forever (unfortunately). I’ve learned that it is possible to wake up in the morning at 7:00 a.m. and find something worth staying awake for. I’ve learned that I belong where I am and that no one but myself can take it from me. I’ve learned that there are things in life that take time, like being approved for car insurance, and while patience is a virtue, passivity is self-harm.

I’ve learned that it is better to face yourself than push the world away. I’ve learned how to get things done and keep most of my hair. I’ve learned that I can survive on McDonalds, but McDonalds doesn’t care if it kills me or ruins my sweet curves. I’ve learned that the way I move through the world, the way I see the world and make it my own, will not be appreciated by everyone but that I, a black woman with a weird past, have value.

I’ve learned that the world can be beautiful but is filled with as much, if not more, pain. I’ve learned that no matter how close the truth gets to your face, you can still tell it no. The truth can fly across the country, answer all your questions, behave with the utmost civility and grace, the utmost credibility, and that someone can lie, blatantly and with no remorse and still receive a seat on the Supreme Court. I’ve learned that to live is to be determined by things you cannot control, and (and this can be worse some times), I’ve learned that even the things you think you control can and will endeavor to hurt you, not maliciously, but as a way to exist.

Sometimes these things I discuss in the classroom haunt me day and night. I read Corregidora by Gayl Jones for my African American Lit course and felt myself internalizing the Corregidora women’s pain, compelled to bear witness with my body and my heart. I felt in reading the novel that Jones is someone who understands intimately what it means to be born into a scene of pain and violence which can never be reconciled and which may never be put to a close. Yet, still I hear Helene Cixous urging me to Write! 

Still I feel myself in my body and find myself remembering that in all of this experience and knowing and learning, I have a body that walks and eats and shits and sleeps and feels deeply everything that touches it and everything that is near it. Still I find myself on the path of reclamation even in the face of pain. What does it mean that pain and trauma and loneliness are my heritage, not just as a black woman but as Maiasia Grimes? It certainly doesn’t mean that death is all I have. It means that I have work to do, work that could drive me crazy or drive me into myself.

 

Recipe: Homemade Herbal Oil

An easy alternative to pure essential oils!

This last month, I’ve spent more time messing around in my kitchen than I have in a long while. Whether I was baking batch after batch of chocolatey brownies for my niece and nephew ( and myself of course), whipping up a hair treatment, or brewing scented oils, the moments I dedicated to these little forms of creation were chances to decompress from a stressful day at work and sink back into myself. Ironically, I’ve never been very comfortable on my own in a kitchen, and in the past, I wouldn’t have called myself a good cook. I’d glance at my mother’s spice rack and be overwhelmed by the wall of herbs, salts, and powders. I’d open the pantry and read the labels on what we had stored there as if they were in another language. I had no idea what went with what, no understanding of how to take raw ingredients and produce something (hopefully) edible. I was just as likely to make something delicious as I was to give someone a case of intense, explosive diarrhea. It only got worse after I went to college and spent four years being pampered (and sometimes poisoned) by my school’s cafeteria. When I came home after the end of my senior year, I lived off of cereal and overnight oats for longer than I’m willing to admit.  All that aside, I gotta eat, so in this past year in between my undergrad graduation and my first semester of graduate study, I’ve learned to operate in a kitchen out of necessity. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing. Continue reading “Recipe: Homemade Herbal Oil”