New York Times... and Out of the Gutter. Asked him for a guest piece and he delivered this here CriMemoir with a gen-u-wine shiver in it. Read it, then beat feet to your local bookstore and grab his latest, Zero Saints.
My Gun Education
Mangroves are hard to navigate. You can be walking on somewhat solid ground and then take one wrong and end up buried to your knees in mushy, stinky darkness. Add to that our eagerness to pull the trigger, and we could still see the street when Andy stopped and pulled the gun out. Now that I’m older and write crime from time to time, I recall the stubby black gun and have to chuckle at the thought of teenage me handling a snub-nosed .38 for the first time. It probably took us less than a minute to shoot our six bullets and run back to my house, feeling at once like grown badasses and little kids who had done wrong and were scared of getting caught. Thankfully, hearing gunshots in the middle of the afternoon is something Puerto Ricans are used to, even more so those of us living near Luis Lloréns Torres, the largest public housing project in the Caribbean. We never got caught.
The third time Andy pulled out a gun was very different. We were seniors in high school. A college asshole had been harassing my sister. With some help from my friends, we found out everything about him and paid him a visit. The four of us found him outside the Education Department at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras.
“You ever go near _______ again and it’ll be the last thing you do.” There was no humor in Andy’s voice. More surprisingly, he didn’t sound like was trying to sound like a bad man. He wasn’t nervous and the gun wasn’t shaking. The guy started crying apologies and pissed his pants. He got the message. This time around, we ran back to our car like all other times, but instead of excitement, we felt anger and fear. We were young enough to be incredibly dumb, but not dumb enough to think it was okay to put a gun to someone’s face in a public space and face no repercussions. We somehow walked away from that unscathed. None of us ever saw the guy again.
Folks who’ve been around the block a few times can probably guess by now that Andy ended up leading the kind of life that only seems appealing when you’re too young to know any better. He did time twice, one of them for failing to pay child support. I wanted no part of what he was doing, so we drifted apart. On one of those awkward attempts at reconnecting, we went to get lunch together about two years after his mother’s death.
Last time I heard from Andy, he mentioned something about religion and being out of the streets. That was about three or four years ago. We haven’t spoken since. For me, the crazy stories we have together are fun memories, but the death of his mother is perhaps the one thing in my life that made me realize I wanted to stay away from guns as much as possible. I may not always pull it off and my past is the kind that easily translates to fiction, but developing a strong dislike for guns and what they can do definitely helped me stay away from people and situations that might have pushed my expiration date forward.