In this picture, note her balletic foot position and her determined expression.
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper…” — Isaiah 54:17
Watch out, New York — I am packing.
I am loading up boxes, I admit, rather than loading my Winchester rifle, but a woman could do worse for a role model than plucky show-girl-with-a-gun Annie Oakley. She was a pioneer in her field, if not a true Western pioneer. She — well, she aimed high. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun.
Even putting her picture on my blog feels like a delicious rebellion against the values with which I was raised. My mother is turning over in her grave.
I was not raised with what Jerry Fallwell would have called family values, but my family had values. My parents were earnest on several topics — they supported civil rights, they opposed, without protesting, the Vietnam War, and they thought guns should not be privately owned.
Although my parents were not hippies, they sent me and my brother to a school run by hippies, to a socially conscious day camp, and there were certain family rules. My cousin Doug, for instance, could upset his mother by saying loudly he wanted to be a policeman when he grew up, because after all cops were all fascists. My mother would not allow me to own a baton because I was supposed to be in the game, not the sidelines. And my mother made my brother write a conscientious objection letter when he was in Elementary School so he could get out of any future draft by demonstrating he was against violence and guns. The idea that I might own a gun ever– even if it was used, say, to free draft dodgers from jail — that would make me a family pariah, in my mother’s way of thinking.
I was always on the edge — one step away from pariah purdah — for things like my spiky leather punk bracelets and spiky hair, for any number of artistic expressions not in keeping with the family party line, for resisting attending yet more Joan Baez concerts — we tended to go to three per year, more often than we saw grandparents, and finally, what made me utterly untouchable — I became a Christian.
Gun ownership would have launched an Amish shunning from the group, but that ship has sailed.
My fiance, concerned for my safety on my new job, which will involve teaching night classes and driving home alone late at night, said, “Hon, when you’re down here, I think we’d better think about getting you a firearm.”
I was at once shocked and utterly tantalized. A gun is either the final step toward family excommunication or the first step toward my eventual red neck perdition, a perdition about which some of my New York cohort are already taking bets, I’ll warrant. I think the odds are running in that pool toward my turning Daisy Ducal in less than three years, perhaps, because of my age, with nether-cheeks covered, but nonetheless, with an overly broad smile and derriere, leaning over a table with two long-necks in hand in some honky tonk, a gun rack in my truck.
Not known for my half-measures, I say bring it on. I’m too intellectual for that picture, and I’m frankly more likely to turn into Eudora Welty than Daisy Duke, but guns — I am curious yellow. I am pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun control bi-curious about guns.
When I was living as a club kid in Paris (and not yet saved), I once made out in a restaurant hallway with a man I had met earlier that evening. He was packing. I discovered mid-kiss the heavy steel handle tucked in the small of his back, and I found myself grabbing him tighter, kissing him harder. I took him home that evening. Living in a city as a young woman, not even old enough to order a drink in America, with no family on the entire continent, felt dangerous, and having a guy in my apartment who could shoot at the door if something went down — it didn’t matter that the firearm was illegal and that I had no known enemies — felt like the safest thing I could do. I did not fall in love with him, this international man of mystery, but I did find myself passionately entangled. I imagined him enacting all my unladylike rages, personifying the angry part of me. It never once occurred to me that I should own a gun personally. My mother had told me that women who own firearms find themselves overpowered by their attackers and find the weapon meant for their protection used against them. I didn’t mind the overpowered part, not with my sexy, gun-toting man, but the weapon — would it always be pointed the other way? And I was so angry — angry at unfairness I would later come to understand as feminist issues — I had already been attacked and excluded from things boys took for granted — could I trust myself not to go postal?
I joined the women’s movement, wrote speeches and organized demonstrations for them — I also did stand-up comedy. I had a whole routine about Thelma and Louise blocking a Senate hearing and demanding an apology at gunpoint from the committee. I found legitimate outlets for my decidedly unladylike anger — there’s nothing like screaming at the White House and doing what they said we could never do. I largely forgot about guns until I saw this:
Some mother-daughter time
Understand I don’t agree with Ms. Palin about anything, but here was this marvelous image of a woman doing something we were surely told we could never do, although any honest historian will tell us that women have had to pick up guns and use them since the beginning of this country to defend and to feed their families. I began to wonder — where are these moose-hunting women congregating? Not Manhattan, I can tell you that much. Could I fill up a flask with some Jack Daniels, find a lonesome mountainside with them, and could we get buzzed, laughing softly as we crouched in the snow, fire off a few, and bag a buck? Could I in my wildest dreams convince three other city-dwelling amateurs like me — think of it as a bridge party — to rent a SUV in some remote location, borrow some rifles, and try to get some venison?
Understand I’ve never had a problem with the morality of hunting anything one eats or wears, endangered species excepted, of course. I’m roasting a chicken as I type this blog, and while I’m delighted it wasn’t my responsibility to kill it, I assume that as an eater of meat, I am just as liable for that Chicken’s blood-spattered execution as if I had bitten its neck at some PLO terrorist training camp. Hence, hunting seems natural and right to me.
My city girlfriends smiled at my request that we form a hunting party, and while they thought it was an awfully good joke, full of spirit, they had no more real interest in going out in the woods with a shotgun than they did in chasing a bat out of an attic. Besides, coupled with my small-p-pentacostal leanings and my unframed, square-shaped glasses I used to have, I was suspiciously Palinesque and might have caused a stir in certain circles had I not had a leftist literary track record.
I still want to go hunting, at least for the drinking part of the hunting.
However, my fiance wants to get me a gun to protect me from attackers, not to get dinner. One of my colleagues asked me if I could ever shoot someone. In self-defense, I could. However, I am not convinced — yet — that a gun would really protect me.
One time in Paris, shortly before I met the man who was packing, I was walking home in spindly high heels at 4 am — something I loved to do. Paris is largely a safe city, and the streets are only really empty then but for the fishmongers pouring ice into their cases and the occasional couple kissing against a wall. I loved to feel I was alone in all the beautiful architecture, to hear the water lapping against the quais as I crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts. I loved the smell of bread baking as I passed small bakeries. However, one night, I was walking home in my clubbing dress, covered in sequins, my absurd heels, my hair sweaty from too much dancing, and a man started to follow me down the Boulevard Saint Michel. I took note of him, heard him cursing under his breath, and as I turned down narrower and narrower streets toward my apartment, he still followed me more and more closely. I lived on a block where there were only old people, no cops, and I realized that if I ignored him, he would likely follow me up to my apartment door and hurt me. He was stammering insults about bitches and whores. He seemed twitchy, such as I could hear him behind me.
I decided that I would risk confronting him before he cornered me.
I turned and walked forcefully up to him, shouting, “You! Stop following me! Why are you bothering me?”
The guy, who was even more twitchy to the view than I had imagined while listening to him, pulled out a knife.
“You looked at me funny!” He mumbled as he unbuttoned his clothes.
He clearly had intended to corner me and rape me, possibly to slit my throat.
I took two steps back, and even though my heart was pounding, I changed my tone to a conversational and utterly calm one.
“You know,” I said with an actual smile on my face, “a girl could get the wrong impression from you. I mean, here you are following me, and I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
How would I hurt him — with a heel to the eye? with a spiky bracelet to the nuts? I had no game.
“I don’t want to have to hurt you,” I repeated authoritatively — where this air of confidence came from, I had no idea, “but you need to leave me alone.”
Twitchy man looked confused. He had counted on my fear — maybe that was the thrill.
“You shouldn’t look at people funny like that!” He shouted, sounding frightened himself, “do you need me to cut you up to teach you a lesson?”
As calmly as a mother talking to a baby in a crib, although my eyeballs were pulsating from the adrenaline, I intoned, “No. I don’t need to be taught a lesson. Here’s what’s going to happen. I am going to walk that way, and you are going to turn around in the opposite direction and leave me alone, because I don’t want to have to hurt you, because if I have to hurt you, I will.”
I started down a steep cobblestone street backwards in stillettos.
“Here I go. Don’t make me hurt you. I’m going now.”
I walked about twenty yards backwards downhill, and then I turned around walking calmly but more quickly. I did not hear footsteps, but I wanted to know if he had followed me. I turned to see where he was.
“What did I tell you? Do I need to cut you up?”
“No,” I repeated calmly, “I’m going now.”
When I turned the corner, I ran home.
Horrified as I was, I realized that if I held a hairbrush with enough attitude in a shadowy place, an attacker would think it was a nuclear weapon.
So do I need a gun? I haven’t decided. I like the idea of shooting a tin can, of being competent with a piece of cold steel, of defying yet another stereotype. I am of two minds on the subject, and anyway, I don’t have to decide today. Today I’m only packing one way, the way with the cardboard boxes, the way that might include chasing a bat out of my attic apartment, although that’s more the cat’s job than mine. I have so much to pack, so much baggage from the past, I am tempted to blow it away.