I’ve been thinking about guns. Living in Tucson, in the midst of a crisis that goes beyond the murders of 6 people has got everybody thinking about guns. Most of us were thinking about the gun issue long before this most recent tragedy happened, in one way or another. For me, I have been thinking about guns since I lived in the storage unit.
I was never comfortable living in the unit, and to be honest, I was only living there because I would have done anything Thor wanted me to do. I was starry-eyed, easily led, stoned, and totally in love. Like, head-over-3-inch-platform-heels in love. He was much older than me, and had lived a life that most people never come close to—and frankly, most people wouldn’t want to. But to me, he was fascinating.
And resourceful! We paid thirty something dollars a month in “rent.” Granted, we had to pee in a bucket and hide from the po-po (not poo-poo, po-po! Say that three times fast!), but still! Thor wanted to leave Santa Fe, and I had no backbone, so I was leaving too. And living almost rent-free was a good way to save up money to leave Santa Fe with, because it is a freaking expensive place to live. Well, unless you’re living in a storage unit. I had a great job, he had an okay job, and we agreed to save as much money as possible in as little time as possible, and move to Tucson once we had enough.
The storage facility was underground, behind a Wild Oats and beneath a cobbler’s shop, I shit you not. So, not only did I live underground like a clever little, um, troll, but I lived under a cobbler. I suppose it would have been a nice memory to create had I snuck into the cobbler’s shop and made some shoes, leaving them out to be found the next morning. But I didn’t, so I have no nice memory now. Great.
Anyway, the fact that the storage facility was underground was key. First, it was relatively temperature-controlled. If anything, it was a bit warm, but that may have been due to the lack of actual air. But besides the temperature being pretty alright, it was quiet, and it felt, well, less exposed.
In order to get to the building’s main door, you had to first walk down a flight of stairs that was partially hidden by a wall. It was unlit and my least favorite aspect of my living situation because—well, because an unlit, dark stairway leading to a passageway full of doors behind which lie unknown things is just pretty fucking creepy. Plus, there were other people living there, in their own units, and they would sometimes come out just as I was coming in and, just . . . awkward!
One night I came home from work before Thor, parked my car, surveyed the parking lot for security, and, once I saw it was clear, dashed down the flight of stairs to the main door. As soon as I got to the bottom of the stairs, three things happened. First, I smelled urine—which was delightful—then I noticed a lump of clothing in the corner, then the lump of clothing moved. I screamed, threw open the door, and quickly shut it behind me. I ran to our unit and stayed inside until Thor got home.
To say that it freaked me out would be like saying that the Holocaust was kinda bad. But we were going to move soon, so I figured one homeless person at the bottom of the stairs one time was no biggie.
But then, our “neighbor,” the idiot, started letting him in the hallway to sleep. By now, we had learned more about this person, after Thor had a run-in with him at the grocery store: we learned he was crazy and unpredictable. So I wasn’t stoked to see him inside the building. Yeah, so totally not stoked. A few days later, Thor asked him to find another place to sleep, even offering him some money; and the guy just flipped out. It got so heated that it resulted in Thor literally picking the guy up and tossing him up the stairwell, and we never saw him again. It was also the beginning of a change for Thor.
People were either really drawn to Thor or really angered by him. He was completely authentic and authentically eccentric, and he drew a lot of odd looks/strong judgments, and/or adoration. He wore his hair in a high ponytail, and no, I am not kidding. He had a chin-beard that he let grow long enough to braid, and when he cut it off, he kept it in a baggy, moving it with him each time. Whenever I saw him again after not seeing him for any amount of time—from 30 minutes to hours—no matter where we were, he would pick me up and swing me around as if I was the best thing he had ever seen. Once, when I returned from a trip without him, he did a cartwheel in the airport as I deplaned. For real. He could be almost embarrassing in that way, so atypical as to border on ridiculous. To me, for the most part, he was wonderful. We had some issues, but he worshipped me at a time when I needed to be worshiped. But he was also hot-tempered, and now I can see that he was likely bipolar.
One day, for no discernible reason, another homeless man walked up to him and began pushing him, hard, over and over, while shouting in French. Thor snapped. He shouted, “get the fuck off me old man!” and pushed the homeless guy back until he fell, hard, on the sidewalk. The next day, Thor took all of the money he had saved for our move to Tucson and bought a gun, six boxes of ammo, a shoulder holster, and shooting lessons. He spent it all.
I was so angry at him for being so uncharacteristically (as I saw it) thoughtless and insensitive toward me. I mean, this is a man who, when I finally, a year or more later, told him that I needed to end our relationship, leaned over, held my hand and said, “how does that make you feel?” with such tenderness that I cried for hours. But by then, things had happened. I had watched him go from being the definition of “free spirit,” so loving and in the moment, to being paranoid and defensive.
Thor didn’t have a car, and I refused to drive him to the shooting range because I was all like, I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE YOU WANT TO GO TO A FUCKING SHOOTING RANGE! So he took the bus or rode his bike. He slept with the gun tucked under our mattress, and every night I was afraid that it would go off and shoot me in the boob. He wasn’t concerned about me, or my, um, boob, as much as having the gun handy. He was so dedicated to and led by his gun, that I began to look at him differently. He had always been antiestablishment and antigovernment; he was always sticking passionately to his ideals. But now he did it with a sense of power that was frightening. The gun gave him a totally different personality, and—bear with me here—became his personality. An edginess, a danger, a sort of, “oh well, fuck you!” attitude entered into his personality that was completely new to me. I despised that gun because it began to get more attention than me.
This began to change for Thor in other ways when, a couple of months before we were to move to Tucson, he quit his job. Actually, he got out of the car when we were on our way to work one day (we worked at the same place) and told me to tell his boss that he quit, then turned around and walked down the street. I was livid. Seriously, people, I just sat at that stop sign thinking, is he serious? He’s serious! He can’t be serious. But he isn’t turning around, so he must be serious! Until the car behind me politely honked. I see now that it was part of a spiral that was taking him down.
When we moved to Tucson, I paid for the move. The reason I worked so hard and lived like a dirty hippie was so that when we did move, I could take my time and find a job that I wanted, not one that I needed. It took me two months to get hired at Bookman’s Used Books, and in the meantime, we were stone-cold broke. Thor had and left three jobs, and for weeks we ate nothing but food that he could bring back from the kitchen that he happened to be working in at the time, so that was a shitload of potatoes. One day, he went for a walk, angry at the boss that he had just been in a fight with, leaving him jobless again, and was gone for hours. When he came back to the house that night, he walked in, sat down, and said “I just enrolled in art school.” He went for a walk and came home enrolled in college. And not just any college, The Art Center, which requires payment in the form of solid gold babies! And he had never, ever, not even one time in our entire relationship, drawn a single. Fucking. Picture. So, I made him sell his gun. Because, dude.
That shit ain’t cool.
Eventually I saw that Thor was struggling in a way that I was not equipped to deal with. This person—who when I met him would not even kill a bug, was vegan, and literally only ate sprouted grain, which he once fed to a sickly bird, through a straw, after chewing the grain himself—began strapping a holster to himself with a look of determination and anger. The gun gave him a falsely created, cocky ego. The gun made him dangerous and heightened his sense of evil in the world. Once he became a gun owner, he looked at the world as made up of various aggressors. I saw it happen, and I believe that there is a slippery slope between feeling as if you need to protect yourself and feeling as if you need to be able to take someone out.
Once gone, the gun became a joke in a way. I would say, “remember when you used to pack heat?” and he would laugh, hard. Or, “remember when you made me turn around and go back home to get your gun because you thought that someone at the movie theater might need to be iced?” and again, he would laugh. But it was always there—the realization that someone I thought I knew so well, would feel the need to have access to something that could kill a person instantly.
Yes, there were addiction issues, anger issues, childhood issues, reality issues, and clearly money issues. He would go on to drop out of art school and enroll at the U of A, in linguistics, only to drop out again. There was credit card dependency that must have left him in so much debt that he is now in hiding. He and I remained good friends for as long as we were able, and I’d like to think that we both feel deep affection for one another. But there was that one moment, never lost for me, in which I realized that his affection for me was outweighed by his affection for power.
I live in a city of genuine kindness, where, a week after the shooting, a lone trumpeter plays the Star Spangled Banner outside Congresswoman Giffords’s hospital window. Yes, we are all coming together, whether out loud or in simple emotional solidarity. We are waking up to what has always been true, that we are a small, tight-knit community, in which the degrees of separation are minimal. The nation now knows our secret, and although we appreciate the support, we yearn for it to have never been needed. We look each other in the eyes as we pass, we offer a hello, and we all now know that in the wake of violence, all we need is love.