One Fourteen

(The first in a series about gun control and gun violence, to be published on the 14th of each month.)

My personal history of guns: there are three parts to the story. Two are memories. The other one is just as vivid to me, but it is merely my imagination's version of unimaginable tragedy.

Jerome was a counselor in training after years of coming to camp as a camper. He was fifteen and always smiling, bright white teeth standing out against his dark skin. He laughed a lot, too. He laughed the day I yelled at him for diving headfirst from the dock into the shallow lake. I was the head lifeguard, and I felt a wave of panic as I waited for him to resurface. As soon as he did my panic was replaced with rage; the last thing I needed was a CIT modeling dangerous behavior on the dock. I started to holler but couldn't sustain my anger. He laughed and laughed and laughed as he apologized and swore he wouldn't do it again.

He was so joyous, so young, so beautiful, so classically invincible.

During orientation we had to try out the full rotation of camp activities. I balked at the riflery range - one of the most popular activities the camp offered. I don't believe in guns, I explained. I was raised not to trust so much as a water pistol, let alone a real weapon that shoots real bullets. I quibbled with some of the staff. I couldn't understand why we would promote interest in guns at all, especially since our campers were almost entirely residents of troubled urban neighborhoods. The argument was that gun safety was a valuable lesson for the campers.

I didn't have to shoot the gun, but I did. I don't remember why; I'm sure I could have managed conscientious objector status at my summer camp counselor job. Maybe I wanted to see what it was like to pull the trigger, just that once. After a brief safety lesson, I pointed the rifle in the direction of the target and took my shots.

I had excellent aim. And the accuracy of my shots only made me feel sicker about it. I immediately regretted the decision to shoulder that ugly weapon at all, let alone well.

Jerome was shot and killed on the street about a year after I screeched at him that he was going to kill himself diving into shallow water. The teenage kid who shot him had also been a camper, the older brother of one of the girls I'd had in my cabin.

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