One summer evening, as daylight edged into what comes next, a couple boymen with greasy hair knocked on our back door and asked if my brother, the one who was about their age, was home. He was. Being 8, I spied. As my bro stepped past me to the door, just before one of the guys grabbed him by the shirtfront and pushed him into the rough red bricks of our house and the other guy pulled out a knife that caught the edge of the sun, my bro said quieter than quiet, “Go tell Mom.” I raced. I told. I returned to the scene. And like some sort of magic, our neighbor Ricky, who’d made it home from his recent tour in Vietnam, walked slow and tall up our driveway in those cowboy boots, bright bandana around his head and a long gun crooked across his chest.
If documented history is to be believed, firearms were in use in many regions of the world by the 14th century. They remain entrenched, altering the course of humanity as we all go. Used for everything from annihilation to self-preservation to sport, their power is as undeniable as their mythology. Alluring, reviled, fearsome, they are written into governing laws, exchanged on the markets, contested across our nation, and every day the world over they do what they’ve been made to do. Once upon a time I didn’t know of their existence. And then I did. Their shadow only grows.
As for that night at our house, Ricky offered a couple of calm, pointed words, then cocked his weapon. He’d barely pointed before the two guys I’d never seen before melted away forever. The memory will stay with me just as long. And in our 13th issue of Proximity, nine writers offer their striking personal moments with firearms that we hope will stay with you that long, too.
In our first trio of stories we witness how gun culture invades our everyday lives, influencing our relationship with Nature, stress, and death. Susanne Sener, in “The Unarmed Life,” shows us how she has lived for nearly a quarter century among bobcats, black bears, and mountain lions — alone and without a gun. Priscilla Nemeth illustrates the cyclical nature of terror and gun ownership in “A Little Cold Comfort.” And in N.K. Johnson’s “When to Walk Away,” a gun leads a dead man and his daughter-in-law to share a moment of grace.
Our next set of stories refract the playful, threatening and catalyzing roles guns play in family dynamics. In “Shivers Like That,” Nina Gaby explores how the secret knowledge of a gun narrates the life story of a girl and her family. Melinda J. Combs’s “Gun Play” mines the tension and the lifelong effects of a night of sibling rivalry, a disrespectful suitor, and a very dark joke. And Jessica Server illustrates how the shooting range is pivotal in her struggle for self-awareness and compassion for her parents in “The Family Meeting.”
Lastly, we glimpse three lives as they’re lived in the service of their country, with the ever-present push-pull between order and chaos, violence and peace, the drumbeat of military conditioning and the thrum of the human heart. Daniella Lang’s “Erasure” takes us into an 18-year-old Israeli soldier’s first experience shooting a gun, while Travis Klempan’s “Guns (Everywhere)” takes us back to one unforgettable night when the American Sailor was charged with protecting 300 lives. Between them lies the poem “Front Sight Manual” and a Q&A with its author, Terrell Fox, wherein the author shares how, in the act of shooting, he detaches the mind from the physical act, how he makes the unnatural natural, turns chaos spiritual, and finds God “in that blink of an eye that draws out to eternity.”
I’d like to thank Jennifer Lang for returning as Proximity’s editorial fellow for this issue, my first. Her editorial instinct, insight, and curiosity strengthened the body of work you’re about to experience. Thanks also to founding editor Traci Macnamara for her steely guidance while I attempted to figure out all the levers and pullies involved in publishing on the web. We hope you find this, the GUNS issue, as beautifully complex, fiercely human, and worthy of discussion as we do.