17 December 2012

Our Moloch

The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, 
millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, 
carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, 
in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can 
be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence. 
     – Gary Wills, from “Our Moloch”

My husband, who has a history of heart problems, called my cell phone last month and left a message while I was having coffee with an old friend. "I don't know when you're planning to be home, but when you come up the street, don't be worried. There may be police cars and fire trucks in front of the house, but it's okay. They're not here because of me, they're here to help Jane (names are all changed)." Jane, my neighbor down the street, is a good friend.

I drove home faster than usual, my stomach in a knot. When I arrived, the street was normal, the driveway empty. I rushed inside, and found my husband sitting in the kitchen. I asked what happened.

He told me that Jane had arrived an hour earlier, breathless and shaking, having run from her house all the way up the hill to ours, hoping she'd be safer with us than at home.

Two months earlier, her 28-year-old son Joey moved back into her home until he could find a place of his own. Joey has a history of mental illness, a diagnosis of adolescent-onset paranoid schizophrenia. Joey does not hold jobs for very long, and hates his medication as it stifles his "creative edge." Jane wasn't happy about Joey's return home, but she didn't want him wandering the streets homeless.

On the day in question, she'd been talking with Joey about his apparent lack of a plan to find work and she questioned him about whether or not he was taking his meds.

His fury was instantaneous. He destroyed the kitchen cabinets and drawers and threw all the contents around the room, all the while screaming that he "could kill her."

She backed away through the dining room, toward the front door, Joey following and gesticulating wildly.

Jane managed to get outside. Joey, taller, faster, younger and stronger, caught her by the back of her shirt, ripping it at the shoulder. He held fast and tried to drag her back into the house. Jane dropped to the pavement and went limp before he could haul her back inside. He'd screamed, "I'll kill you with this cup!" and hurled a heavy ceramic mug he'd been holding at her head as she lay on the ground. It narrowly missed her and shattered. He ran back into the house, presumably to get another, more effective weapon.

As soon as he was out of sight, she'd jumped up and ran, terrified, to my house, where my husband was home to help. He'd brought her inside, calmed her and called the police.

Armed, wary, the police team made its way down the block. One officer returned to report that they'd found Joey sitting on the family room sofa, watching television, perfectly calm. The officer said that everything in the kitchen was "orderly," and the only sign of a disturbance was a single kitchen cabinet with its door missing. The police called the hospital and had an ambulance take Joey away. The officer asked Jane to sign a complaint, which she did without hesitation. Jerry, her husband, arrived shortly after this to go with her to the hospital.

Joey spent a week in a psychiatric care facility, went back on his meds, and was released after the psychologists determined he wasn't a threat. Jane and Jerry paid for a housekeeping hotel room until they could find an apartment they could afford for Joey. I gave Jane a key to my house; we now have a "safe phrase" between us so that if she ever says it, I'll know to get immediate help. The restraining order is still in place. It makes Jane and Jerry feel safer.

Joey could be living next door to me, to you, to any of us. On a good day and in the current state of affairs, Joey wouldn't have any trouble buying a gun. Maybe even an assault-style weapon.

There are eight elementary schools in our town. Do the math.

I came home at the end of all this drama. I am thankful I missed it, and I'm thankful that my neighbors didn't have any guns in their house, or the story might have ended in a very different way.

Excuse me. I have to write a letter to my Congressman, asking her to support a ban on the sale of assault-caliber weapons to private citizens. I urge you to do the same.


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