Prose by Gabriela Arno
Art by Shivangi Sikri
Trigger warning: Gun Violence
Do you know when you’ve lived with a truth for so long that it ceases to be incredible? Like the “yeah, my dad is Sting” sort, cue gasps and bashful eye roll. Well, I live with something like that. Something that makes other people stare in disbelief when I tell them. Something both horrible yet so utterly normal to me. My father was shot in the head when I was three years old. Audience gasps, an inevitable “is he okay?” escapes their lips. Yeah, my dudes, he’s stellar. Getting shot in the head is known to lower your cholesterol.
It’s less of a big deal in Brazil, where gun violence is as common as the Dengue Fever and unwanted pregnancies. Actually, I am the only person I know that hasn’t been robbed at gunpoint. Maybe having a father that was shot in the head sets you up with a life of anti-gun karma.
My dad used to ride bikes. It was his thing, he was a biker. Tall, Eurocentric, Jesus-looking motherfucker, on a bike. One day, he was going for a ride and my mother had a feeling in her gut. She begged him not to go, very Nicholas Sparks-like. But he went anyway. He stopped in a bad part of town to adjust his helmet or something, and two criminals spotted him. They were running from the police. They didn’t bother with small talk, or an “excuse me mister can I please borrow your bike”, just shot my father off his motorcycle, and rode off into the distance. He seemed to fall for years before he hit the ground. At home, a three year old me was waiting for her father.
Plot twist: my dad survived, one glass eye and plastic cheekbone to tell the tale. Sorry I milked it for this long, it was important that you felt this.
It’s weird how people deal with trauma. I developed a fear of men and loud noises. My father, however, befriended the weapon, and kept it in a Tupperware lined with paper towels in the glove compartment of his armoured SUV.
I tried to shoot a gun once. My relationship with my father, as most young girls would’ve experienced, was rocky. He saw me as a little genius princess, excelling since a young age; I never screamed, I never failed, I preferred fruits over junk food, I was his pride. There’s actually a video of me at a school picnic where all the kids had candy and Doritos and whatnot, and I sat in the middle of a red and white picnic cloth decorated with grapes and plums, worthy of a Greek King (you can almost see the fairy servants swooping down to feed me). I played piano like he did, I liked to paint like he did, I was creative and good at maths. Yet there was always a gap of sorts where he acknowledged that I was a girl.
This, however, changed when I was about 19 years old. “Do you want to learn how to shoot?”, he asked, and I, eager to prove my equality to the son he never had, avidly agreed. He hired an instructor to teach me how to handle a gun. Funnily enough, he also had a glass eye. It wasn’t as obvious as my father’s, but something about how the light reflected off of it, or how he turned his head rather than his eyes, made me notice. He taught me how to put the safety on and to “squeeze, not pull” the trigger (I still don’t know the difference).
Which brings us to the shooting range. It was in the suburbs, and looked like a repurposed shed of sorts. I’ve always found it a bit morbid that they use silhouettes of men for target practice, like what are you practicing for, bud? Gonna shoot ’em up? I was using my mother’s revolver first. Something about it is easier than my father’s Glock. Again, don’t know, don’t care.
“Get ready”, said the instructor, “Exhale and aim.” My mouth tasted like iron for some reason. My mind was lethargic, as it often is in times of stress. I felt like I was in the water and every thought and action, coated in thick honey.
In the haze of the moment, I cocked the hammer, and aimed. The instructor looked at me in desperation and forced calm, a) because I was holding a lethal weapon b) I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE COCKED THE GUN. A revolver doesn’t need to be cocked to shoot (thanks, Hollywood) and I practiced a million times and was never told to pull the hammer.
“When have we ever done that? Why did you do that?” he asked. I looked at him bug-eyed and could see nothing but his glass eye. I wondered vaguely if he was a better shot because of it. I mumbled something and un-cocked the gun. Now shoot. I breathed, and squeezed.
And squeezed, and squeezed, and BANG!
No one tells you how much space there is between the trigger’s resting place and actual shooting place. For me, it felt like eternity. It felt like the years it took for my dad to hit the ground.
When it did come out, it was like holding a tiny, controlled explosion. The force of it in my hand shocked me. I knew about the kick, but no one told me about the energy. The sheer force of it in your hands.
I was hitting close to target, closer than I should have been for a first timer. And then I started crying.
The space between the trigger and the actual trigger is where I lost it. Those milliseconds that felt like years. Those years that The Bad Man had to live through and still come out of the other side deciding to kill my father.
Right now, in my country, people are under the illusion that by having a gun they will all be protected. That he can’t shoot me if I shoot him first, that maybe he won’t rape me if I shoot his dick off. There are many things wrong with this idea, and most of which you have already heard. But what I can’t stop thinking about is if they know about the years you live through from the moment you start pulling the trigger to the moment the gun is fired. The Schrodinger’s gap. The moment the trigger is both pulled and not, and the person on the other side is both alive and dead.
“Oh no, Gabriela, you daft little girl. We will only be shooting The Bad Men”, I can almost hear the pro-gunners say. One time, there was a shoot-out in my neighbourhood. Policemen shot down and killed 3 men that were robbing a house. Three very bad men. After they had been left to die slowly on the sidewalk (that’s Brazil for you), one of the Bad Men’s mothers arrived at the scene. It’s funny it’s called wailing, because the sound that came out of that mother’s lips was a whale song, crossing the ocean into my room. I cried that night, and my father laughed. There was a manic gleam in my dad’s eye (singular). At home, a three-year-old me is waiting for her father.
“Gabi, what happened?” asked my dad when we were going home after the shooting range, a bit concerned but mostly humoured. He had witnessed from his own little “booth” as I ran out in a mad panic.
“The noise scared me”, I gave up all pretense to win my battle with my unborn brother, playing the damsel card.
“Well, at least you know you’re a good shot,” he comforted himself.
Later he asked me if that was enough. If those three shots were enough to give me sufficient confidence to shoot someone if we ever were in danger. I replied with the bubbliest voice I could muster, “Yeah! Of course. I know how a gun works now.”
“Would you shoot someone to save your Daddy?”
“Yes, Dad” replied his pride and glory.