Ghost house gun control exit

The life of a housewife, a house-husband chiseling away at the laundry, a Greek myth rolling a boulder uphill only to be crushed by it again day-in, day-out: strict rules enforced in the refrigerator with shelves devoted to dairy, to condiments, to beer: scrubbing the island counter with bleach, emptying the vacuum canister, wheeling the compost up the road with dead shrews in it and puncture wounds, all that it takes to entertain a cat.

The guys who rent the house out across the road from us away on tour with a reality TV show about tree houses they star in that I’ve never seen and don’t want to — and the house next door to us, that still sits more than a year now abandoned but hoping to be torn down, rebuilt as two.

Explaining to the kids what Pulp Free means in the juice but the pulp makes them nervous, suspicious of its origins — like Dawn with bacteria, it’s the fear of The Unseen Threat. At night in the back yard peeing, with everyone gone on our street how dark and quiet it seems, and I wonder dimly do I need a gun.

There was an apartment I rented outside Capitol Hill that got broken into once but I didn’t have anything of value (no CDs anyone could resell, no recognizable names), they only got a jar of change for the laundry, a leather briefcase I bought in Paris, probably fake — but how paranoid it made me having the cops come, instructing me to take out the front shrubs and leave the apartment looking like that, shorn, exposed. They even installed a burglar system they were testing but it only made matters worse, and because I didn’t have any weapons I just slept with a long screw driver under the pillow, a flat head for espresso machines I had from my time working in coffee shops but couldn’t remember why or when.

My dad explained his reasoning for having a gun (and did so with an unspoken acknowledgement I was probably on the other side of the issue); he felt justified I think as some gun owners do through a combination of fear and practicality, the fact it’s a right they can exercise, we all can. He was pretty sure he’d heard someone in the house in the middle of the night that one time he said, and wondered what he’d do if someone had really gotten in. It shook him up so much he got one, but always keeps it locked up when the kids come.

And it was a girlfriend I had named Shana who changed my thinking about guns, but in a kind of woo-woo way I’m not really proud of, that having guns “attracts a kind of energy” that paradoxically enables what you fear most more than repels it, which I bought, and tried to tamp down the fear outside our house in the dark, making sure to latch the doors each time we left, to make it look like someone was home even when we weren’t.

And it’s the guns I had at my mom and John’s place in the woods of Pennsylvania Dutch country when I was housesitting there that gave me the tinnitus: a paranoia that came after a perimeter violation in one of the zones off the master bedroom combined with a late afternoon thunderstorm they get back East in the spring, the persistent beep of an answering machine in John’s office that blinked like a beacon in a cave in the basement, an emergency signal, when I realized what happened: I’d had a party over the weekend and lost control of all the guests, like who’d come with whom, and noted an older guy who said he was someone’s dad I think, noted him standing by one of the sliding doors off the lower deck examining it and realized the mistake I’d made, that it was real, someone had tried to break in but lost their nerve when the alarm went off and fled — and when the cops came it was just one guy who rang the bell and when I opened the door he didn’t come in but just pointed at the drums behind me where I’d laid the gun, said something like Playing the drums?, but didn’t say much more, just wished me goodnight and left — and afterwards it dawned on me he didn’t even check my ID, and how did he know I was the owner, and didn’t he find it strange, the drums, the gun, me in an African robe?

Since it was the 90s I was watching The X-Files, The Blair Witch Project, and had myself good and freaked out — had started moving the guns to different locations around the house, rotating them to confuse anyone who could be watching because I had no way of seeing out with the lights on and had to start extinguishing them at dark. With an infinite range of eyes watching from the dark I kept to the edges, quit drinking, slept bad.

Mom and John had ample stories of paranormal stuff with the house to light my imagination (some of it the poltergeist variety, some of it alien), and we’d had enough guests on odd ends of the mental spectrum who’d left their residue in ways that couldn’t be removed it’d become part of the fabric, what we put in the soil.

Even the golden retriever that came from a farm down the road was unreal we thought, it had to be a spirit dog to cross the highway each time and not get hit the way those trucks drove and crested, right above the house. At night firing the pistols in the void of the dark gave me strength, I locked horns with the infinite chaos, my imagination, felt a hero for it, transcended myself.

And it wasn’t just me, but it happened to a friend who looked after the house afterwards, who used up all the ammo and didn’t offer to reimburse John for it, who said he kind of lost it there but didn’t say much more — and it made me wonder if houses can really consume you like that or if it’s just the spirits that inhabit them, the feelings that inhabit us, that make us do what we do.


Categories: musings

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12 replies

  1. The gun owners I know don’t just have one…they have collections. That house sounds pretty cool and creepy, love reading those kinds of stories where people get carried away. The treehouse show is probably one my family watches. It wears thin after awhile in the way reality tv/repetition does, but those tree houses are really something. Finally, I enjoyed the line about punctured shrews and all it takes to entertain a cat.


    • My step dad had a collection I guess you’d say, and I learned to use a couple of them, really enjoyed it. But wasn’t responsible to have guns, probably a bad idea all around. The house was built by an architect/student of Frank Lloyd Wright, even had that Falling Water quality as it opened in two stories of glass looking east, over a valley (state game lands, for hunting). We’d have hunters occasionally appear below the deck, with rifles. Glad you enjoyed the puncture wounds, I steal lines from my kids, not above anything.


  2. I’ve always associated guns with paranoia, for some reason. My dad used to imagine getting the drop on the intruder and kept his Magnum on the side table by his La-Z-Boy. The intruder never did come …

    Liked by 1 person

    • They go together, the guns and paranoia. I have more of the latter so I’m best without the former. Funny you talked about the La-Z-Boy, I’m sitting on one now, from that same house in PA that probably should be put down, it’s leaning and hairy. Good garage fodder.


  3. I grew up with a hunting rifle in the house, in the back of the closet. It never interested me, I never held it or fired it. No interest. Perhaps because I’m a female, who knows. I wonder sometimes if women live with a low-level fear of dying most of the time anyway (from childbirth to domestic abuse to the laws they pass to make take away our bodily autonomy) and so the idea of some kind of hardened protection perhaps doesn’t appeal as much. That is a gross stereotypical generalization of course, but I am desperately clutching at metaphorical straws today. That said, I did go to an archery range for the first time and could immediately see the appeal. Maybe if I feel the need for protection I’ll go all Katniss Everdeen/Hawkeye and buy a bow. Problem was, I was miserably inaccurate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The low-level fear of dying observation is interesting. When I go out of town Dawn often feels unsafe, even though I’m not much help anyway, were I here. Maybe they’d get me first, and I’d feel compelled to fling my body in the way and make a scene. What do you think of the Katniss trend (I think it’s a trend) of depicting women in tough roles, with the violence? (That sounds like a leading question, I guess you know what I think.) Dawn and I constantly commiserate the demonization of sex here, favoring the violence: our kids started crying and insisted we change the station when it got into lurid detail of reproduction traits in rare animals, how phalluses have barbs and so on, told in a light, frivolous manner but made them deeply uneasy. Tough time for you to visit the States, hope it’s good in retrospect and in the present. Bill


      • Strangely, my initial response and the answer to your question converge at the intersection of Margaret and Atwood. Bear with me. I’ve been mildly depressed (and depressingly angry) since reading a quote I came across by Atwood. Paraphrased, it was along the lines of “men’s greatest fear is women laughing at them, women’s greatest fear is being killed by men.” I’d never seen the quote and I’ve been mulling it over for weeks now…because at the basic core of human behavior, it’s pretty much true–which, oddly, leads me to your question about how I feel about strong female protagonists with a tendency toward violence. Back to Atwood. I saw her speak two summers ago and was struck by an observation she made about being free to question the world and the way it works–religion, oppression, prejudice, racism etc–more freely when you’re working in a genre like sic-fi or spec-fi. You’re free to imagine a life without God without any ramification and by doing so, you create a ‘safe spot’ for questions and feelings. So in that sense, I am all in favor of strong female protagonists who are unafraid of violence if it means protecting themselves and their autonomy–as long as they maintain the unique and wonderful aspects of female-ness. I’m not sure Katniss is the best example of that, but she’s a good start. When you bring sexuality into play it becomes more complex. We keep bombarding our kids with hyper-sexualized versions of people being horrible to one another in every combination imaginable, but we never really educate them about the beauty of sex. I’ve got six or seven pieces on the back burner about how to raise boys to respect the sexuality of girls (not simply ‘no means no’, but by actually teaching them that girls enjoy sex too) and the Atwood quote and the general state of affairs. Maybe they’ll all converge into one coherent piece. Or maybe I’ll just continue my slow descent into something resembling madness. Could go either way ;-). Thanks for allowing the essay.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I guess my thought women shouldn’t be embroiled in violence is its own kind of ickiness, or bias. Your comment here has the weight of a really fresh ear of corn, it’s good. But thinking about our kids, how to teach them about sex, whoa: make mine a double. You go on with your essays there and your coherent piece, I think you’re on to something. Thanks for reading the essay and leaving it here, I’m grateful. Blame Canada (on Atwood, or vice versa).


  4. guns and all that comes with them, scare me. when i was young, my italian uncle took us shooting in a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place where bodies can hide unfound, for a long time, and i’ve never forgotten it. i think certain houses/spaces/places bring out and feed on our fears and make them all the more real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really do wish we could have a police force that didn’t need guns, like they have in some countries. It’s a rough comparison though, quite a leap, for a place founded by cowboys, taken by them more or less, not much different than any other place got taken, by force. I like your image there, thanks for sharing it with me. I remember my first shooting range and my surprise at how much I enjoyed it. Felt like some new level of growing up and responsibility, which I hadn’t earned, and didn’t by squeezing the trigger.


  5. Your mind is like one of those fly strips that just catches everything. Except they’re not flies; they turn out to be raisins! Delicious.
    Did you start out cold on this one and just run with it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad if you asked if I started out cold on this, thank you. I’m playing with riffs and phrases, really working through them in my notepad before I come to the computer, then trying to find the links. Funny that sometimes, I’m lucky enough there are links I don’t see until after I’ve written it, that I don’t have to fabricate. I guess I continue to experiment with stream-of-consciousness but the rule (my rule at least) is you really have to know where you’re going so you don’t hit a rock and drown. I’m also dabbling in some vignettes I’ve tried to work out in the past but couldn’t for some reason, and hoping now I can develop them more. The Updike got me going, gave me some new inspiration I needed. Thanks for the fly strip compliment, that’s good stuff. I’ve got to hang some new strips today. Bill


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