As a teenager, I had this superficial interest in handguns—I liked how the metal felt against my skin. I had never learned to shoot one, however, nor did I really intend to know at that young age. I felt simply content to carry one in my hand, pose with it in the mirror, and then slip it back into its place beneath my father’s mattress. And so my life uneventfully carried on until a student at my high school managed to kill himself with nothing more than a trash bag, some duct tape, and a couple bottles of cold medicine.
One of my better friends at the time, a blond-headed kid who wore those horrible canvas work pants to school, did his best to kindle my innocent interest into a fiery passion. In my desire to gain his sympathy, and perhaps his respect, I followed along in his project.
Last I heard he had taken a wrenching job at some shitty garage back home.
He had—among many other guns—a small .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol that he used to plug empties in his vast wooded backyard, and this he offered to me one afternoon after school. He had arranged a few beer cans on the fence posts behind his house, and he had also arranged several more in a cooler iced down for the occasion.
He inserted a magazine, expertly racked the slide, and handed me the gun.
Hold on now, let me show you first, he said.
He snapped open a can of beer.
I raised the gun up right there beneath my eye, sighted ridiculously at the nearest can, and yanked the trigger.
The slide jerked back and broke my cheekbone.
You shithead, he said.
You hold it out like this, he said.
Not up against your goddamn face, he said.
I had a girlfriend once, an anemic stick of a person, about whom all of my friends could not refrain from joking. She had some vague, awkward sounding last name that they enjoyed butchering into a series of nattering syllables. I hopefully liked back then to think that one day we would not have to worry about rebutting those nasty jokes any longer: my last name, the crisp simplicity of it, seemed the perfect way to silence them.
One evening, as a joke, we painted with shoe polish the words just married across the rear window of my car and drove around the small city in which we lived. We stopped to pump gasoline, ate at a familiar fast food restaurant, cruised the local park. People honked at us, waved; dogs barked happily; fireworks crackled somewhere.
I drove to a car wash. Someone had stolen my wallet, and my girlfriend had only her license and credit card.
She was on her period and wouldn’t let me finger her.
During history class, I tried to tattoo the name of a girl into the skin at the base of my palm with the black ink from a broken pen reservoir and a thumbtack I had fastened to the end of a paperclip. We had learned earlier that week about penal colonies, I remember distinctly, and so the night before all of this I had watched one of those shows about high security prisons, and somehow my brain had convinced itself that my body deserved such treatment.
You are familiar, then, with the odd impulses one experiences throughout high school?
The tattoo did not appear there as I had originally intended, unfortunately, though to this day it still reminds me of her. Of course, I cannot clearly read the letters inscribed upon my hand, yet they conspire towards Marie, Mary, Molly, Mia, Megan, or Maria. I have known girls by each of these names at various points in my childhood, even though I cannot remember which girl exactly inspired my actions in that history class, and I suppose it is through my hand that I continue to know them.
Perhaps it was a social studies class?
My wife cannot help but laugh at me. She cleverly calls me a cheat and a scoundrel. She knows my habits and my handsomeness. She is a funny but implacable woman, and she too understands the importance of memory, history, the corruptible nature of our adolescent selves, and why the mistakes we made then continue to make us now.