Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death of a Woman

You can knock off the good cop bad cop grilling routine. If you'll shut up and listen, I'll tell you my story, then you can decide if I need arresting, or what.

I've had a carry permit for six months, not because I see myself as a superhero or some sort of right to arms ideologue, but just because I thought it would be a cool thing to do, and because I believed a few people would back away from violent crimes if enough of us are packing. Looking back, if I'd known what a pain in the ass it is, the classes, giving up private data and biometrics for FBI files, the cost, the liability; I'd have run from the idea. But I didn't. So there I was, sitting in the lecture hall, bored to death listening to the whiny foreign grad student monotoning the same stuff I'd read online, my little Beretta (a lady's gun, ironically) tucked in the shoulder holster, when a crazy looking bald dude ran in waving his own pistol and screaming his head off.

I don't flinch much anymore. Maybe my fight 'n flight sensors have died, or perhaps I've just learned that you panic in the wrong direction often as not, but I didn't budge. I do remember the rest of the class all sucked in their breath; all together, you could hear it. If my brain had clicked right then, I might have been able to stop the whole thing, but it'd be my luck that I'd shoot some squirt gun prankster. I started gathering it in. Say what you want about when and how you think you'd act, but until you've got some wired asshole waving a cannon in you're face, don't presume. What? Yeah, it was a 45. Looked like a cannon from my angle.

A wide eyed kid next to me tried to sneak a pic with his cell phone but the gunner saw him and ran growling over. He raised his gun like he'd hit him with the butt, and a bunch of folks screamed. But he grabbed the phone instead and smashed it. That's when he noticed me. I probably stood out, older than the rest and wearing a blazer.

He said, "Do nothing stupid. I will kill you." He was standing over the kid, but he was looking straight into my eyes. I believed him.

When the gunman backed away, I checked on the kid. He was in a trance, frozen, staring at the crushed phone on the carpet.

What did he look like? Jesus. Where do they find you guys. Come on. You know what he looks like. Come to think of it, he looked like Jesus. A bald Jesus with the back half of a mullet. No, I didn't recognise his accent. Could have been any guy, El Paso to Montreal, I don't know.

Anyway, he made everybody stand up and moved all the women over near the side exit, and roared at them to sit down. He was watching me again. I might have been able to draw my weapon in the shuffle, but there would have been folks between us, and I never saw an opening. Even if I could have got the jump, I don't think I'd have fired at that point. I'd have just told him to drop his firearm. I still didn't know the situation.

Some of the women were cowering, and some were glaring. The men just sat helplessly, staring at the floor like kids in class, afraid they might have to answer a question.

Then a tear rolled down his face, and he spoke to the women, emphasizing his points by wagging the barrel, moving it from face to face.

"Look what you have done." He raised his arms. I might have been able take him then, with his vision blurred, but I wanted to know what this was about.

"My Serena left me. She took my babies. And it's YOUR fault!" He screamed the last part, then refocused.

Aw for cryin' out loud, I thought. All of this 'cause his girlfriend left him? "Dude," I wanted to tell him, "get over it. You're blowing your life up over a woman. That's the way it goes today. You're just a sperm donor and a walking wallet." But I didn't say anything.

"Feminists!" He almost spit the word. "You are hate mongers! You are destroyers of civil society!"

So that's where we're going, I thought. I've got to admit, I've had similar thoughts. Women's rights started with voting, grew into the workplace, and changed dramatically with access to contraception. Equal opportunity was the goal. It has morphed, at least in its more radical form, into a movement bent on destroying half of our population in order to achieve a sick balance of power that demeans us all. None of these women were alive of course, in the twenties, or the sixties, when the real and necessary gains for women were made. The female rights bus has left the station, in my opinion, but women's studies programs at many a college are popular and profitable, so they won't go away soon. But waving a gun in these women's face won't change any of that.

"Serena took a vow. All she wanted was to be loved and to raise a family. She had that. But now, no. She wants to 'experience' other men. She wants to have more money and time. She dresses my daughter like a whore. She 'understands' why the teachers in my son's school ignore him! And I can't negotiate these things!"

Wow. Welcome to the real world, dude. Did you not watch 'Sex and the City'? Size matters. Every woman wants Mr. Big. Big dick, big portfolio, big jerk, but that's unimportant. Your little girl is just modeling today's successful woman, and your boy will get little from today's public schools. Look at the test scores. As to compromise in a relationship, geez, what fundamentalist country have you been hiding in?

"She has a lawyer. Thirty percent of what she takes from us will go to the lawyer. I will get the kids occasionally if I can afford to travel to them! Child support will keep me from doing that."

There are women who make a living marrying dolts and breaking them. I knew a case where she didn't get the house, but took the fixtures. In our state, child welfare folks will garnish your wages for twenty seven percent of your pre tax income for two kids. Forget ever owning anything or getting to see your children. Prenups dull the romance, but what's the value of romance today? God. I'm actually listening to this... terrorist.

"I can't earn enough money to make her happy. Five times I've been passed by for promotions by women less qualified."

Yup, The legendary glass ceiling has been shattered. Only three percent of CEOs nationwide are women, but fifty two percent of upper and middle management jobs are now filled by females. Considering the different career choices females make, it's hard to argue the equal pay for equal work take. I asked one of my coworkers why so many women seemed to carry a chip on their shoulder where men were concerned. She told me the chip had been put there back when she took a position in a traditionally male industry. I suggested that thirty years was a long time to carry a grudge against half the people she'd meet. You've got to be careful, though. Women are a protected category in the workplace. She can tell all the dirty degrading jokes she chooses in whatever company, but I'd be fired. I'm wondering though, what does this guy expect to gain by complaining here?

"Serena watches talk show television for women and sitcoms where men are all idiots. She goes to a women-only club. She gives money we need to politicians, breast cancer research, and women's support groups. She says 'You Go Girl!' for every woman's success and scowls at every man in the news."

Sounds to me like this guy's wife is addicted. He's slowed down now. More sad than angry. Maybe he'll just say his bit and leave. Some of the women are sobbing; more from fear, I suspect, than anything he is saying. One woman with very short hair starts to speak, but he cuts her off.

"Are you gay? Maybe you are, born that way. But most people who say they are, aren't. They play at being gay because it's fashionable. You recruit them into your lifestyle. You gain numbers and power. You deprive their future partners of their soul mate."

Uh oh. He's winding up, again. Pacing now.

"Serena disrespects me. All I have ever done is love her. But she treats me like a date rapist or a child molester. I can't horseplay with the neighbor kids because some might get the wrong idea. I cannot tease the cashier at the store because I could appear to be letch. I can't have spontaneous sex or share a romantic moment with my own wife. She acts like I am using, taking advantage of her. Our children are her children. My input is unwelcome. I am a man, but if I act like one, she ridicules me. I get angry, but she knows I could never harm her. I have no leverage. No power. She has emasculated me."

He swings the gun our way. "Go, all of you over there. Get out!"

Several of the younger students bolt to the top of the lecture hall and out the doors. The rest of us file slowly up the aisle. The kid who lost his phone looks sadly back at it, gathers his backpack and study materials, and follows up the stairs.

What? What do you think I was thinking? I had actually listened to this guy's speech, and I was LEAVING. I was justifying my inaction, telling myself I hadn't managed a clear opportunity, that the police would handle the hostage situation better than I could, that I'm abandoning those poor women, that chivalry is dead in me, that I'm a coward, that I'm still unbelievingly walking away for my own safety...

"And that," he said as I reached the top step, "is the saddest part of what YOU have created. I'm not alone. Look at them. They are sheep. They used to be conquerors and guardians. Fathers, heroes. Look at them now."

Yeah. That stopped me. I thought, "You bastard. When the SWAT team blows through that door, I hope they take you out!" And I kept walking.

I'd barely made it through the door, I could see flashing lights silently approaching in the distance, and there were screams, followed by two thuds, then several more. I think I screamed myself. It felt like the adrenaline exploded in my head. I ran back into the building, pistol drawn. I dove halfway down the steps, pulled up behind the mixer table and took aim. He was just firing into the group of terrified women, the deafening shots and echoes dulling the groans and screeches from the huddled students. I fired twice, changed position, then fired twice more. He didn't stop except to slap another magazine into his pistol, which thundered again and again compared to the hand clap of my little gun. I thought he might be wearing a vest, so I shot him in the leg, and he stumbled. He looked over at me, and without raising his gun, mouthed "Thank you!" I put my last round into his neck, and he collapsed. Then I noticed the seeps where he bled from my first ineffectual shots. I went to help the victims. I remember there was so much blood. I remember the deceased had a N.O.W t-shirt. I remember one lady shot through the arm told me she was pregnant, and she didn't want to lose her baby. I remember suddenly being surrounded by cops and medical personnel. It happened so fast, and I'm remembering more, and I don't want to...

Still pretty drafty fiction.