Two days ago I sat on the bench of the car wash reading The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi when my body flinched three times to gunshots. I sat reading on the busy street where mufflers blow out and sirens sound high, reading. I looked at the men in front of me at the car wash and they were all staring across the street. Hands no longer in movement drying up the cars. I turned around and saw a man with a hoodie running away and a car screeching out of the parking lot. That is when I semi ducked but still watched. Heart racing. Thinking I am across the street, stray bullet may have gotten me so far. What was I doing reading and not noticing?
But that is what happens when you grow up hearing gunshots outside your home. When you duck and crawl on the floor. When you start pretending that everyone has a bad muffler. That popping sounds are normal. That is what happens when you lose yourself in a book because everything around you seems so bad. A book can take you around the world or to a white rich neighborhood far away from Brooklyn. I grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn. A predominately Hassidic Jewish neighborhood so you won’t really associate gunshots with this place. But it happened. Maybe because there were drug dealers across the street. Maybe because we were on the border of Sunset Park. Maybe because when I was a kid I heard gunshots far away. I was tuned in to more than what was inside.
I remember when my first niece from my oldest brother was born. I was 15 and I took her to walks outside. Sunset Park was the closest park with tiny hills of grass. The rest were full of concrete and sometimes glass. My brother didn’t want me to take her around there because there were more gang fights, more gunshots. And I just wanted to go coz there were more Latinos and I thought he was being elitist. So, at 32 with no babies of my own but a slew of children that I love, I thought about not wanting my children near gunshots. Not wanting them to be so absorbed in a book because everything was so bad all around that they would pretend that gunshots were something else.
I understood then the appeal of the suburbs, of gated communities, of living outside reality.
I had one lesson in shooting recently because I wanted to know what it felt like to hold a gun. I didn’t want the first time to be because of necessity. I wanted to know that I could do it. Calm with power. Mami thought it was a good idea. Papi never wanted me to hold a gun again.
My life is good all around so there is no need for me to fall into the other worlds of books except to enjoy it. But there are patterns, there are histories that stay with us. How do you understand root causes and then change the patterns in your life that can hurt you? I know it’s possible because change is possible. I believe in it. There are times that I submit myself to being a lifelong student. It is those times I am at ease. I live in the present. I thank the Creator for every leaf and flower in bloom. And there are times that I forget even though I have daily reminders and I remember myself at 12 in bed staring at the lace pattern of my beige flower curtains.
I don’t want to live in the suburbs or a gated community. I want to live in a house by a creek. Where water is flowing. Where there is cleansing. I want to hear gunshots as gunshots and mufflers as mufflers. Most of all I want us all to be present and understand it all.