One end of the pistol is heavier, this metal so foreign in my waist-band, so cold, so uneasy—no exact center of weight to make it tangible. It doesn’t flow, feel natural like, say, a bicycle, how the crank becomes an extension of the legs, the spine telescoping from the seat post down to the frame. This gun isn’t like that. This gun is clumsy.
My brother is walking beside me, Lazaro is on the other side, there is also a pistol in his hand, held below his waist, behind his back, a BB gun though. I’m not sure why he brought it. Perhaps we, or I, didn’t think things through.
Anger runs me the way gasoline runs an engine. Runs through me, something sets me off, there is a spark, the catalyst that is needed. I act and react with combustion.
With each step forward the earth rotates once. Each time I look up there is a different silver tray cradling the underside of a different set of clouds. The moon’s white heat clashes with the cold air of September, forms a halo.
Bass rattles plastic Japanese cars. There are American cars as well—Chevys, low-riders, mostly older Impalas. Thirty or forty silhouettes are posturing in the middle of the street, some holding 40 ounce bottles of beer, some throwing up gang signs, waving their hands to music like something is stuck to their fingers and they can’t get it off. Some stand alert—baggy-jeaned meerkats in the moonlight—they all stop and watch our shadows catch back up to our bodies. We step into the circle of light raining down from the streetlamp. I see Nathan, the one we are looking for. Just remember, I think, Nathan brought this on himself, he deserves it. He’s standing in the middle of the street with two guys when he notices me.
This is a painting on the head of a pin. This is the creation of a new star. This is precise. I am no longer in control of my actions, I remind myself I am just an actor following an already written script, I am a pre-existing condition, I am Nathan’s fate—to change my mind now would be tampering with history, sneezing in a pre-historic environment—there is no turning back.
I pull the pistol from my waistband.
This is the first time I have pointed a real gun at anybody. I am not scared or nervous, every other day I’m like that, right now I am so immersed in this moment that emotions can’t reach me, this blue world revolving around me. I am not weak. This is not real. The implications aren’t registering.
He’s got a gun, a guy screams, rubber soles flap against the pavement, everyone darting into darker corners—ducking behind low-riders, behind trees, dying branches and bushes, inside the house—they scatter like marbles dropped on a hardwood floor.
Shouldn’t say pointing, I’m waving this six shooter around in big arcs, tracing a big rainbow above their heads with the barrel. This is as far as my plan went, to the tipping point.
And now it is quite, the movement, the disarray discontinued. The future seems like never when you’re young and have more testosterone than common-sense. I never thought about what would come next. I am twenty years old trying to prove something. That you can’t walk all over me? That I’m tougher than you? That I am a man? I am not weak.
It started like this:
Nathan lipped off to me at the skate park like a year before, called me a pussy or faggot or something, my head full of LSD at the time. His face up in my face, but he was really reaching because he’s short. God damn, I can still picture his rice-paper-skin, how the veins pulsed blue and crawled under it, his face a map, tree branches, tributaries—Dendritic flow systems. I called him a bitch or something and pushed him with both hands, knocking him onto his ass. Dumbfounded, that’s the only way I can describe the look on his face, he got up, ran to his chopped and lowered VW Bug in the parking lot grabbed something out of the back seat. He was known to carry a gun and pull it on people. My friends looked at me like, oh shit. Here we go. This dude had been shady his whole life, nobody trusted him, they just hung out with him because his dad died and he got a fat inheritance. He bought his friends like he bought his cars and guns and face piercings. My feet firmly planted, I stood and waited. I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me. Rushing back to us through the black Wyoming sky and zap! zap!—tiny lightning bolts, mad-scientist-type-shit jutting out from his arm. Not a gun, but a cattle prod. He lunged at me, the prod, just another irreverent crackling in the already heavy LSD-induced-electrical-air. I stepped to the side, he missed. That’s when I sprinted through the parking lot to my truck and insects, thousands, circled the parking lot lights. Watching them as I ran, I imagined them to be tiny helicopters banging against the sun. I grabbed a baseball bat from behind the seat, a bat I kept for such an occasion, ran back, chased him into his car. As his tires squealed off I was able to swing on the side of the VW bug cracking the Bondoed end panel. Out the window he screamed, I’ll be back with my boys. My acid trip was ruined. This is when our beef started.
War in a small town, it goes on and on, sometimes for generations. People whisper in ears, egg others on—he said-she-said-type-bullshit. These “beefs” don’t just fade away, usually there is a huge blow out. Nathan went around saying he beat the shit out of me that night. And I understand—ego is all any of us have as young men in Wyoming where there is nothing else except sky and fields of short grass, they keep going and going and we feel so so small.That ego wouldn’t let him just walk away, wouldn’t let me just walk away the way real men are supposed to do. If you have a reputation as a pushover or a pussy (Wyoming’s state word) everyone will try you. You have to show these people that you aren’t fucking around.
A friend called me a few days later saying he’d make sure Nathan would be at the skate park. I took off work early to beat the shit out of him, and I did, I beat him up pretty bad, bad enough to send him to the hospital, bad enough to make him piss blood, bad enough to make him cry and beg and make him address me as sir. But as soon as he was discharged from the hospital, him and his three hundred pound brother both showed up at my friend Richard’s house looking for me. Glass shattered. I watched through the curtains. His brother had taken a sledge hammer to my truck, the headlights were gone, the side mirrors bent. I wasn’t going to go outside where my head would be next.
Anyway, I moved away for almost a year, came back. The day I returned to Cheyenne my brother just happened to run into Nathan at the grocery store and to get back at me Nathan maced him in the eyes. These “beefs” involve families, first fists, then weapons. The Hatfield and McCoy’s was a true story. Isn’t this the way most war starts? I had to react, to do something that would terrify him so greatly that revenge would be out of the question.
So here I am, holding the wooden handle of a gun on a calm September night on the west side of town, a gun Lazaro stole from his dad and handed over to me so I could prove my point and I can hear the highway, see the headlights going somewhere better than here and I wish I was in one of those cars watching the big moon out the windshield instead of in this situation. No, I don’t plan on killing anybody. I’m just planning on scaring the shit out of Nathan. I didn’t plan on him being at his low-rider club party but this is where we found him. I didn’t plan on there being so many people, that’s just the way it is.
The street has emptied, but I can see shadows peering through the windows and from behind things. Lazaro is holding his BB gun out. First, two people walk towards us carefully, then two more, then there is a crowd of ten in a semi-circle in front of us. I don’t want to have to shoot anybody. The crowd is walking towards us. I extend the gun and say, Stay the fuck back. Fear finally makes itself known in my heart beats. I can see their faces and the anger in their faces, the crowd is getting bigger.
A girl yells from the yard, the cops are on their way.
Lazaro screams, my gun isn’t real. It’s a BB gun.
You dumb ass! I say to Lazaro. You don’t tell them it’s not real.
My brother doesn’t say much, he takes it all in.
Two of the biggest guys go in on Lazaro. A fist lands on Lazaro’s eye. Lazaro swings the gun like he’s going to pistol whip one of them and the black gun goes flying onto the black pavement, someone picks it up. I hold them off. This one is real so step the fuck back, I say cocking the hammer. We’re here for Nathan. Only Nathan.
Beyond all the yelling, the fuck yous, the you’re fucking deads, the I’ll catch you slippin’ fool, a siren wails, wails louder and louder in concentric circles. They are coming for us. The three of us back-peddle as more people become brave and step out into the street. Run! I say.
My brother’s VW bug is parked two blocks away. We are running and now the fear is really coming on. Now I am feeling regret. I took it too far, again, like I always do. There is a loaded .38 in my hand; I’m not this type of person—a bad ass—it’s just a role I had to play. Really, I want to be a poet with a soft heart, one who does stupid things sometimes, right? I am no gangster, I was just sticking up for my brother.
The VW whines as my brother shifts into third. I’m in the backseat unloading the gun, the weight of the ammo hitting the floor goes thump thump thump… I’m kicking the six bullets under the seat with the toe of my All-Stars. I figure it’s probably more jail time if the gun is loaded when they find it. It has to be. My brother is driving and Lazaro is sitting shotgun. God, you guys are fucking idiots sometimes. Why did you pull the gun out right away? My brother says.
The red and blues are swinging through the back window. We are going to jail, I say. I have never been to jail before. I am twenty years old.
The cops are right on our ass, at least four cars. Jerm, you’ve got to pull over where there are people. So the cops don’t shoot us, I say. We need witnesses. Just in case. Finally, he pulls over in the parking lot of the Cowboy Bar and Drive-thru Liquor. Turning around I am blinded by spotlights. A stern voice comes over a mega-phone, Driver put both hands out the window where we can see them. Fuck around and we blow your brains out. Particles of dust and hair float lazily in the light from the ceiling down onto my brother’s head. I watch this in slow motion, my little brother putting both arms out the window in surrender, these fibers drifting calm like a perfect winter upon him. Now I am terrified. I picture a bullet splitting his head, his brains like party streamers twisted and deflated across the liquor store parking lot mingled with cigarette butts and empty bottles. I can’t believe I put him in this position—our get-away driver—so stupid. He is still in high school, a juvenile, he didn’t touch any weapon, maybe they will go easy on him.
Below the sign—a neon-cowboy tipping his hat over and over—a crowd of drunks hurry out of the bar, gawk, hope to witness our blood. The smell of stale beer and cigarettes blows out the door like a burp when it’s opened. Next door at the laundromat two women keep folding clothes on a table, the dryers spin, the washers agitate.
Driver, reach down and open the door, from the outside. My brother does it. The door is hanging open, his arms are out where they can see them. Get out and put your hands behind your head. Walk backwards towards my voice. In the rearview I watch a bunch of black-clad officers rush in and throw him to the ground. He disappears behind the car.
Juice, are we going to prison for this? Lazaro asks, still facing forward.
Maybe, fuck, maybe, I say. Probably. Shit, I fucked up. I’m sorry.
Lazaro and I, we are just waiting on our turn to be roughed up by the cops. Passenger, put both hands out the window where I can see them. Don’t fuck around, comes from the megaphone. Lazaro does the routine: hands out, opens the door, steps out, hands behind head, walks backwards. There’s a loud oof, the air coming out of him as the cops swarm in for the tackle.
My turn. My arms go out the window, open the door, step out and as I’m turning I see all the guns pointed towards me just beyond the light, two men with shotguns, two with hand guns, perched behind the doors of their cop cars. There are at least eight cop cars forming a barricade. A quick glance and I see my brother and Lazaro handcuffed face-down on the crumbling asphalt. I begin stepping backward until I am grabbed from behind and forced to the ground. A shotgun barrel is shoved into the base of my skull. My spine shivers against the freezing metal, goosebumps like braille raise on the back of my arms. You think you’re bad now motherfucker? Huh, do you? Punk piece of shit. Where’s the fucking gun? There is a knee in my back, my head is pushed down, the gloved hand slick and leathery against the back of my head, my cheek scrapes the asphalt, jagged and crumbled from Wyoming’s long winters. I think it’s under the seat, I say as best as I can. My world is horizontal. All around are black shoes inches from my face, radios crackling, side-ways cops congratulating each other, leather gloves slapping high fives. I am flat against the ground next to Lazaro, so close I can smell a rotting tooth in his mouth. You ready for jail, I say to him.
I guess, he says. At least we can look out for each other in there.
Boy o’ boy. Here we go, right here, a cop says, proudly. And what the fuck is this? Fucking cop killers? Check this shit out John. Straining, in one hand I see the .38 Special hanging from his index finger, in the other, one bullet held up between thumb and forefinger. The bullet he’s so interested in is one with buckshot capped on the end of it. This is an extra charge right here. These thugs were out to hurt someone. I want to say I wasn’t out to hurt anybody, I was sticking up for my brother, but even in my head it sounds pointless—I just pulled a gun on a whole party—I don’t say anything. I’m not going home tonight, it’s sinking in. Clouds cross over the moon in the corner of my eye
They yank us to our feet one by one, put each of us in the back of a different cop car. The local news is there now, their camera another bright light nailed into the wall of illumination. On the other side of the wall, where darkness lies, that’s where we were free. And I’m positive, although I can’t hear what they are reporting, that these news guys are making it sound worse than it really was, playing it up towards people’s obsession with crime. They, the cops, drive us the half-mile back to the party, the scene of the crime, everybody is out in the yard, the music is back on, dancers bounce on the brown grass when a cop pulls me from the back seat, shines a spotlight in my face so the witnesses can identify me. The crowd can see me, but I can’t see them. Aglow, I am a jack rabbit, frozen and confused. That’s him. That’s the bitch ass pussy that pulled up on us. Have fun in jail nigga.
Lazaro and I are both charged with carrying a concealed weapon and a ridiculous charge that I have never heard of before, violent and tumultuous act. We are transferred to the Laramie County jail. As a juvenile, my brother is also taken but will later be released to one of my parents.
The lights come on, this is where the bad dream starts, reality. I remember where I am. It’s 6am. I wake up wearing a V-neck T-shirt with yellow arm-pit stains, white boxers also with yellow stains, a bright orange top that is way too small for my lanky frame and orange pants way too big. I have to fold the waist over three times for them to stay upon my bony hips.
Through the bible-sized window I can still see a few remaining stars and the blue of the sky pushing the night away. Last night I felt what it was like to hold power, literally, in my hand, if only for a few moments and in those moments I stood at the pinnacle of the tipping point, until I lost my balance, grabbed my best friend, my brother and I slid, slid, tumbled and now here we are, at the bottom. Then I remember how when I got here, after sitting in a cold holding cell for six hours, another man, because he wore a gold star on his chest and a uniform, made me strip, bend over, pull open my asshole and cough, lift up my balls, open my mouth. It makes me sick to my stomach—I’m not in control of anything in here. Trying to be in control of the people in my universe is what got me here, I am not the sun, now I am the one controlled and I hate nothing more.
The cell doors click. Heavy steel pops open. There is a migration, a rush of noise and yelling, laughing, slap-assery. The animals are allowed to venture from their cages into a bigger cage—the pod. I follow their lead, do what they do—leave my cell, grab my breakfast tray, sit at a table where a guy with a long white beard smacks himself in the head. Lazaro rubs his eyes emerging from his cell, ambles down the stairs confused, grabs his tray, sits next to me. His face is bruised where he was hit last night. How long we will be here, when we will see the judge, how do we get a hold of a lawyer? Neither of us know anything.