A hothead learns to control her temper because you never know who is packing heat.
A few years ago, before my son was born, I got into it with a motorist in a grocery-store parking lot. Just as my wife and I were sliding our Mini Cooper into a parking space we’d been staking out for the past five minutes, a huge SUV with dark-tinted windows cut us off in an effort to swipe the spot, nearly causing an accident. I hit the roof. Literally. I rolled down my window, and from my mouth spewed the most family-unfriendly vitriol you can imagine. Naturally, they threw a few choice words back. This is New York City, so I expected as much. I was only shaken up because their monster truck almost crushed our tiny car, not because we’d gotten into a war of words. So I shrugged it off, and I assume they did too.
If only 43-year-old Chad Oulson had the chance to extricate himself from such a fight on Monday afternoon. The Florida man was texting his three-year-old during the previews of a matinee when, according to witnesses, retired Tampa police officer, 71-year-old Curtis Reeves, who was sitting behind him, had asked him to stop. Oulson, who was sitting with his wife, continued, so Reeves stomped off to get a manager. He returned without one. Oulson explained to Reeves that he was texting his little girl, and they started arguing again. And, as we know by now from the news reports, Reeves took out his gun and shot him. Dead.
I have a lot of obvious questions, like: Why didn’t Reeves just move seats? Why did he even bring a gun to a matinee in Wesley Chapel, a fast-growing suburb of Florida filled with new construction and luxury communities? (I realize they were seeing a Mark Wahlberg-as-Taliban-slayer flick, Lone Survivor, but leave the shooting to the actors onscreen.) If it was a fight the septuagenarian was looking for, why not just deck the guy, with his fists, like people used to do when they got hot under the collar—in the days before Americans felt the overwhelming need to carry an arsenal with them everywhere they go?
Probably because he’s legally entitled to bring a gun to the movies. Or to a bar. Or pretty much wherever he damn pleases. And why punch a guy in the face when a bullet will be the most final of final words, the biggest bang of an exclamation point? Because, depending on whom you shoot and where you shoot him or her, you very well might win that argument. Even if it means you’ve just robbed a woman of her husband, a small child of her father.
When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, a news item like this would be rare. There were guns and gangs aplenty, but we didn’t read about them with the blinding, alarming frequency we do today. When people were severely depressed, they tended to commit suicide—which was devastating enough—not massacres. When they fought, they more often went mano a mano than whipped out a semiautomatic rifle. Not anymore. If you’re scared or angry, you pull out your weapon and shut it down.
On the same day Oulson was killed, there were a spate of other gun-related deaths: a murder-suicide of a mother and her two teenage kids in West Palm Beach, Florida; two unrelated homicides in Aurora, Illinois (not to be confused with the Aurora, Colorado, movie-theater 2012 massacre, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises), and two unrelated shooting deaths in Philadelphia. There are so many of these stories, we can’t keep them straight, unless it happens in a nearby town, or the victim is someone we know and love, or has some other devastating aspect that resonates with us. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
Now that I’m a mother, I think about how I’m going to talk about this with my son, who is African American, when he gets older. How am I going to explain what happened to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the insanity that an unarmed kid wearing a hoodie in the rain, visiting his father’s fiancée in a gated community, was murdered by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman—and that that man walked away free (and is now wreaking havoc on the world)? Or, Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed on the front porch when she rang the doorbell, seeking help after her car broke down in the middle of the night? I don’t even know where to begin, or how to protect my son. What do I tell him? Not to defend himself? Not to wear a hoodie? Tell him to be overly solicitous and assume white people are scared of him? Tell him to whistle Vivaldi to demonstrate to the white world that he’s genteel and cultured and therefore not a threat?
As for me, now when I find myself getting enraged by people’s bad behavior, I just assume they’re packing heat. Because they very well might be. At the end of the day, it’s just not worth it. I used to joke that I wanted my obituary to say: Kera Bolonik always had the last word. And then close with said witty quip. But I was younger and more cavalier then. And I wasn’t a mom yet. Now, I have an example to set. And a will to live. And a lot more fear in my heart. I don’t want to die because of some dumbass argument. So I’ve just learned to shut the fuck up. And stew in my resentment that this is who we’ve become.
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