Histories of Violence
Andrew Marlowe Bergman
Lindsay doesn’t understand violence.
She understands guns. Her stepdad, David, owns twenty or so of them. Mainly hunting rifles, a few pistols, and a pair of shotguns. A few of them are kept in a gun safe in the basement, but the rest are scattered throughout. A pair of pistols are tucked in the book pocket on her dad’s La-Z-Boy recliner and in the over arm caddy organizer on the couch. Two of the rifles lean against the windows in Lindsay’s stepsister’s bedroom so that her dad can shoot at animals without having to leave the house until he hits something—usually a raccoon or some other small mammal, once in a while a deer, but only when they’re in season. David has an oak tree in his front yard that’s the perfect size for hanging deer carcasses. His neighbors who live on another hill about a half-mile south from his property are from California, so they routinely call the Game Warden on him just to be sure.
Lindsay understands hunting. We drive out to Lindsay’s parents’ house for Christmas. As the driveway curls up a hill and wraps around the work shed, we see David and her half-sister’s boyfriend, Alonso, staring across the field, the former through a rifle scope and the latter through binoculars. This is a step up, I think. Alonso may be a burnout, but the bigger concern we all had was him being black. David likes to say that he’s not racist, but he doesn’t want his kids dating blacks. “Races weren’t meant to mix.” Even though I don’t believe anything’s ever meant to happen and by dating Lindsay I’m potentially mixing races, I let it go. Lindsay calls him out on it, but he tells her that she can’t help who her mother loved. He tells her, “You can’t blame the kids for what their parents did.” From what Lindsay leads me to believe, even David was letting race go a bit with Alonso after he found out that Alonso was about to be the father of his grandchild.
Lindsay’s mixed, but not in the classical American sense. Her father’s from India, up by Pakistan, and the blend gave her a shade of warm olive skin like a creamy bronze. Her hair is obsidian and shines the same way. Her cheekbones topple empires. She calls her father “the sperm donor” because when she was eight he left her and her mother and her sister to start a new family across the Ohio River in Dayton, Ohio. The Firuz women were stranded in Bald Knob, Kentucky (a place whose name you cannot make up) with both her grandparents in a cramped double-wide and, from what I’m told, over a hundred guns, until Lindsay’s mom married David.
Lindsay pulls the car up alongside the two men and we hop out. Alonso asks if we see the fox about two hundred yards out by the western tree line. It’s winter in Kentucky, so the world is a wash of browns and greys and there is no way I could spy a fox in this. I say no and Lindsay lies. David makes a crack about brown eyes and being full of shit and how he guesses that only applies to women. Still, we find it when David gives Lindsay the rifle and Alonso gives me the binoculars. I help Lindsay sight the fox and she takes her shot. The crack of the rifle echoes off the hills and trees. The fox jumps in the air and none of us need help seeing that.
I understand violence, but I don’t understand hunting. I lived in Kentucky long enough to appreciate that other people enjoy it. I’ve seen enough animals shot, gutted, skinned, chopped, and cooked that none of that bothers me much anymore, but then we walk out across the field and are only able to find a few streaks of shiny coagulating blood on the grass. Because I understand violence, my heart drops. My throat goes dry. On the north and west sides of David’s property is a large wooden fence. The neighbor has cattle and erected the fence fifteen or so years ago when David moved in and made a joke about having steak for months if one of the cows came within a hundred yards of his house.
These cattle understand that usually when a human wanders into the field where we are it’s to offer them treats like hay or corn. The cattle have heard enough gunshots to know that they are not in any danger, so while we wander in the fading sunlight, they approach us en masse. As they move to encircle the four of us: Lindsay, David, Alonso, and me, we give up our hunt for the fox, figuring that it’ll bleed out overnight or maybe just get eaten by a coyote. The cattle follow us back to the fence. They change directions as a unit like birds. The herd doesn’t scare me as much as the truly curious cattle do. As a few of the bulls break away and approach us, I try to remind myself how tasty they are. That these animals wouldn’t be here right now if they didn’t have something that we decided was worth keeping them alive and free-ranging. All the same, it’s easy to forget how big cattle are until you are surrounded by them.
Lindsay does not understand violence.
We’re sitting at a stoplight in Bowling Green, Kentucky nine months later and a car pulls up behind her and taps her bumper. She screams whatthehell. I tell her to let it go. The car behind her taps her again. I tell her the light’s about to change, that the taps won’t have done anything to her car, and the person behind her is likely just a drunk whose plate we can call into the cops if she’s really that sore about it. She instead throws her car in park and steps out to yell at the person in the car behind us. “Fuck you,” the guy screams back. I tell her to get in the car. The light’s green and this will not end well.
She steps towards the man’s car, and I hear his door open so I get out and place myself between them. I tell her to get back in the car, and I tell him to get back in his. He asks me, “What are you going to do about it, fatass?” and slams his car door shut. I tell him that I’m trying to get Lindsay and me on our way so that we can go home and make love and he can go on his way so that he can fuck his fist or beat his kids, whichever he prefers.
I understand that the best way to end confrontations is not to get under peoples’ skins, but for the moment it works well enough. Lindsay and the guy get back in their cars just in time for the light to go red. The man pulls alongside Lindsay’s car and gets out while I’m lighting a cigarette. He comes after my door and I open it, but he’s already got momentum going and slams me back into the frame. My shin gets smashed between the door and the car and my head whiplashes back into the roof. He reaches in the car and smacks my glasses off my face and runs back to his car. Lindsay’s in the seat next to me screaming. I see him throwing his shoulder hard and getting the car into gear.
I understand not panicking. I ask Lindsay where my glasses are and she screams. The drunk pulls up into the intersection and I pull my leg in the car and tell her to follow him and she screams. I ask her where my glasses are as he’s driving off and she screams. I tell her to get his license plate number and she screams. He’s long gone when I find my glasses. She stops screaming and asks if we should call the police. I say no. “We don’t have the guy’s license plate number, I didn’t pay attention to the make of his car, and he’s a nondescript middle-aged drunk. Nothing happened. I’m not hurt. You’re not hurt. There’s no damage to your car.” She calls the cops anyway.
We waste another hour waiting on and talking to the cops. They ask me if I’m hurt and I say no, they ask me why I didn’t just beat the hell out of the drunk, and I tell them that it wasn’t worth it until he’d driven off, and by then, it was too late. Lindsay calls bullshit, but Lindsay doesn’t understand violence. Lindsay’s never had her ass kicked or kicked someone’s ass. She’s never had a mouth of blood and loose teeth. Her experiences with photosensitivity are limited to waking up and pupil dilation at the optometrist’s office.
Because Lindsay knows violence only from behind the barrel of a gun, behind the shield of a telescopic sight, Lindsay thinks that violence is easy. Fistfights, therefore, heroic. I am therefore a disappointment for letting my chance at violence pass. She tells me she still loves me, she still respects me, but now the words are hollow like the echo of a rifle crack or the bump of one plastic bumper on another.