This is based on a true story. In September of 1997, a close friend of mine was shot six times in an attempted robbery / carjacking – and survived. He’s still alive, albeit with a tiny bullet fragment lodged in his body. I’ve changed the names of everyone involved, along with a handful of other personal facts.
You know how they say you’ll always make one really stupid mistake in life that you’ll regret forever? Well, mine had to do with my driver’s license. I know those things are important. But, at three in the morning?
I didn’t think twice about it after getting home from work. I’d walked into my apartment, pulled off my work shirt and started settling in for the night, when I realized my license was missing. I dropped my wallet onto the dresser and it fell open. My old license was there – I could see it through the plastic sheath or thing or whatever you call it – but the new one was gone.
I looked all over the damn place for it. I couldn’t make too much noise. My roommate, Jake, was asleep and waking him up was like waking up a grizzly bear. I mean, he would literally get that mad! I kept telling him he just needed to get laid. That sort of pissed him off even more.
But, I started to worry that I’d lost the new license. I had just turned 35 and drove around for a month with an expired license. It was a grocery store clerk who reminded me it was expired.
Damn! Now, it was gone. I stood in the middle of the front room, scratching my head. It was almost 3:00 A.M. Then, I thought it’s probably somewhere in my truck. So, I made my way back down to it, making sure I locked the door behind me. The neighborhood was starting to go to hell. It seemed fights were breaking out every weekend. People had been throwing shit into the bed of my truck. I caught one guy doing that and jumped his ass. I actually grabbed him by his little finger and walked the bitch back to my truck. I made him crawl into the bed, pick up the soda can and toss it into a trash can that sat just a few feet away.
“My truck ain’t your fucking trash can!” I yelled at him. “There’s this fucking trash can over here! Are you too fucking lazy to walk over here?”
He and his two buddies walked away, making racist comments: ‘White bitch,’ ‘White boy,’ ‘honkee.’
‘Honkee?!’ I hadn’t heard that since I was in grade school! Didn’t that word go out of style with bell bottoms? I guess I should’ve pointed out that I’m Hispanic, but I was tired that night. I’d argued with more than a few people in that dump and didn’t want to get into it with three teenaged assholes who were probably too stupid to read their own fucking names.
But, that’s the kind of shit we had to deal with, almost every day. The lease was up for renewal in three months, and I’d already told Jake I needed to move. I couldn’t stand the place anymore. He wasn’t too happy about that, but I didn’t care.
So, there I was, sitting in the passenger side of my truck; looking through a large brown envelope for my fucking license at three in the morning. I’d already searched the glove compartment and under both seats. I remember stopping for a minute, wondering why the place was so quiet. Usually there were a group of guys on the other side of the parking lot, drinking beer and staying stupid shit to every female who walked by.
But, it was quiet, really quiet that night. And, just when I turned back to the envelope, I heard a noise. I looked up and saw the black barrel of a gun pointing at from between the truck and the door frame.
“Don’t move, muthafucka!” said the guy.
I could tell he was Black, before I noticed another Black guy standing directly in front of the truck; that one had his hands on the hood. And, I had just realized he didn’t have on gloves, when I bolted towards the rear of the truck. I really didn’t think about it. I just started running.
And, the guy with the gun started shooting. I could hear those tiny pops. You know how they say gunshots actually sound like firecrackers? Well, that’s exactly what they sound like. There was no booming sound. Just those tiny pops – ten of them, I found out later.
Six of them found me; two in my back, one in my left leg; two in my right leg; and one in my right shoulder.
I felt them, but then again, I didn’t really feel them. Does that make sense? I don’t know why, but I didn’t realize I’d been shot that many times until later that day. Or, maybe the next.
I don’t know how, but I managed to make it back to the apartment. For some reason, I thought I’d dropped my keys and began banging on the door; shouting for Jake to let me in.
When he finally came to the door, he was – well, pissed.
But, I don’t really remember what he said to me, except something like, “Goddamnit!”
It wasn’t until I got into the apartment that I realized I had my keys in my left hand.
I think Jake asked me what happened, and I just said something like, “I’ve been shot!”
When the paramedics hauled me out of the place, I noticed lights on in almost every unit around there. And, there was all this noise. I guess people talking. I heard a couple of dogs barking, too.
That’s all I remember before everything blurred. And, I felt for a minute like everything and everyone was in black and white. That’s how they looked; everyone in black and white.
Then, I heard a swishing sound, and everything was solid white. That hurt my eyes. But, it was the light coming from the hospital room window to my right. I didn’t know what hospital. Everything finally darkened a little, but it was blurred. Something was stuck in my nose. I felt like I was handcuffed – no, strapped. My whole body hurt. Something told me my moustache and goatee were missing.
A large object leaned over me; a big darkness – with gold, wire-rimmed glasses. How the hell did I notice that?
“Well, you’re awake.”
I opened my mouth – at least that’s what I thought I was doing – but I felt like someone had poured sand down my throat.
“My name is Therese.”
Therese? I don’t know any Therese. Who the hell are you?! Damn that fucking sand!
“Don’t try to talk. Just rest, love. You’ve been through a bad situation.”
She sounded funny. Everything was already blurry. But, it got blurrier. And then, it darkened.
I heard that swishing sound again. My throat still felt like it was filled with sand. I could focus a little more. The room was still bright, but I could make out more details. Where was I?
Then, I heard a shuffling sound, like someone walking; someone trying to creep up on me.
It was that same voice – the funny-sounding one. Accented, really.
I rolled my head to the left.
“You feeling any better?”
I guess. Damn sand!
“Just nod your head,” she said. It was Therese.
How did I remember her name?
“You have a tube down your throat.” She was a big woman; a big Black woman with gold, wire-rimmed glasses. Jamaican? Haitian?
I couldn’t tell. Then, she smiled. The prettiest smile I think I’ve ever seen.
Things got blurry again. I think I started to cry.
“You’ve been through a lot, love.”
I felt a slight tap on my left hand – and I realized she was caressing it.
I’m not the emotional type. I’m really not. But, for some reason, Therese brought out the sensitive side in me. She was from Nigeria, she told me later. She’d been here for a few years.
Where am I?
“Parkland,” said Therese. “You’re in ICU right now.”
I couldn’t hear myself talk. What happened? I felt warm and started to tremble.
“I really can’t say, love.” Then, she seemed to disappear, and I guess I fell asleep again.
But, she came back and smiled so pretty again. She removed the tube from my throat. “You’ll be alright,” she said, caressing my hand. “You’re already getting better.” Then, she was gone again – and I really felt scared. I didn’t pay much attention to the other nurses. I’m sure they were nice, too. I just don’t remember them.
I took back everything bad I’d ever said about Black people.
A doctor came in around that same time – I think – to talk to me.
But, even with that tube removed – and after several cups of water – I really couldn’t say anything. What happened, I mouthed.
“I really can’t say,” the doctor told me. She was a skinny, blonde who looked sexually anemic. “I think the police will try to come by later – now that you’re awake. But, you’ll be fine.”
Gosh, thanks. That means a lot. I didn’t hear or see her leave. I just noticed after a moment – or maybe a hundred moments – that she was gone. So was Therese. I missed her.
The light from the window had gone away. It was so much darker now. Evening had settled in.
I could still tell my facial hair was gone.
“Yea.” I looked up.
It was Jake. He had a strange look on his face – one I’d never seen before. He looked – scared. This from a guy who’s mastered the bar fight and liked to drive his Harley in the triple digit speeds.
“I came by earlier,” he said. “But, you were asleep.” He cleared his throat.
“Okay.” I felt warm.
“You’ll be alright, man.”
“What the fuck happened?”
“I think someone tried to steal your truck. They shot you six fucking times, man!”
Goddamn! I spent four years in the Army and saw a little bit of action – nothing to get me invited to the White House. And, I get shot six times as a fucking civilian?
“But, you’ll be alright,” said Jake.
“No, I mean it. You’ll be alright. They’ll find out who did this.”
“I called your mom and told her what happened.”
“She’s trying to get a flight down here.”
“She – she’s never been to Texas.” I’d been back to Montana a few times. But, no one in my family had been down here.
“She has my cell number and my work number. I told her to call me when she gets in. I’ll go pick her up at the airport.”
“Okay – yea.” It hurt just to take one measly breath. “She’s never been down here.”
“Well – I need to go.”
He left. Funny, though – how he looked. Like he was really concerned.
I noticed a phone on the table to my left. I guess I should call my own mother. Or, maybe my brother, Alan. Or, my sister, Amanda. Or, James. Or, Diana. Or, Michael. Or, maybe they should just stay up there in Montana and not worry about me. It was so goddamn long before any of them called me once I moved to Texas. Alan actually tracked me down about ten years ago. Dad wanted to make amends, he said.
“For what?” I asked.
“For everything,” said Alan. “Things are different now. They’ve kind of softened up a little.”
“Define ‘softened up’.”
“Come on, man! Don’t be such a hard ass. Things really are different now.”
I could hear him thinking.
“We miss you man.”
That shocked me. I mean, literally! No one in my family had ever missed me. Not when I joined the Army and wrote all of two times during that four-year hitch. Not when I took off for Yellowstone after getting out and was gone for almost two weeks. (Nothing can settle your troubled mind like Yellowstone!) None of them seemed to miss me, when that teenage girl ran a red light and slammed into my car. I was 17 and was in the hospital for a day, before anyone came out to see me. That one incident is why I joined the Army on my 18th birthday. And, no one gave a shit when I left Montana…what – fourteen years ago? Something like that. I guess being the youngest of six has its down side.
Dad wanted to make amends? Okay. I’ll bite. Amanda sent me an airline ticket for Christmas that same year. Okay, I’ll see how it goes. It actually went pretty well. But, I still didn’t feel ‘missed.’
Now, Dad was gone.
I picked up the phone – and called one of my closest buddies, Lance.
“I was running for my life,” I told him. He later said I was breathing hard – like I was at an obscene phone caller’s convention.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said. “Just hang tight, bro!”
I looked at the tubes. Yea, I think I’ll just hang out here for a while.
I didn’t hear Lance come into the room. “What day is it?”
“Saturday,” he answered.
The window was dark.
“Let me close these,” he said, walking around to the draw the drapes. “Have you talked to your mom or anyone back home?”
“No, not yet. Jake said he called my mother.” It still hurt to breathe. “She’s never been down here. None of them have.”
Lance is one of the few really good friends I have have – a true friend; the type who comes around even when all sorts of shit lands in your face. We’re about the same age, but from two totally different backgrounds. He’s a native Texan and has only one sibling: an older brother. He’s really close to his family. And, so am I. They’re the best people you could ever know. I don’t know what time he left, but he vowed to be back the next day.
He kept his promise – like he always did – but, that next day is when my mother finally showed up. I’d never called her. She hadn’t called me. Jake escorted her into my room.
“Oh, my God!” she hollered. I forgot how loud she could be. “What happened?!”
“Hell if I know,” I said. I can tell you why the sky is blue, but I can’t tell you why some dumb fuck decided to shoot my ass!
I think I can honestly vouch for most men and say that a hospital is the last place you want your mother to see you. But, here was mine – looking as disorganized as I felt. I was more lucid by then, so I could counteract anything embarrassing she said about me. But, she didn’t say anything that made me cringe – except that she wanted to return home.
I guess Jake and I thought she would just go back to the apartment with him. But, she didn’t want that. She was too scared. And, the hospital wouldn’t let her stay in the room with me. It was ICU – even if it did have a window – and they had to keep the room clear. The head nurse – who looked like a gym teacher gone wrong – told us so.
“Just take me back to the airport,” my mother told Jake.
“Oh, Jesus,” I remember saying. I was so warm and almost nauseous.
“That’s probably the morphine,” Lance told me.
“I don’t need this right now.”
The gym nurse told my mother that she could spend the night in the waiting room; security patrolled the area hourly. She, Jake and Lance checked it out and returned to my room.
“I’m not staying there!” my mother announced. “Just take me back to the airport.”
Then, Lance said something that surprised even me. “Why don’t you come home with me? It’s Sunday, so I can just bring you back here on my way to work in the morning.”
My mother looked at him kind of strangely; wondering, I guess, if he was sincere. Jake looked at him funny, too.
I finally spoke up. “I know him! I trust him. He has a spare bedroom; he has food; you’ll be safe there.”
“Okay,” she said. She relented.
They all left at 9:00 P.M.
Lance brought my mother back down, as promised, the following morning and then headed on to work. At some point, before that, though, I managed to call my boss, David.
“What the fuck?!” he said. The ‘f’ word was one of his favorites. What do you expect from someone who’s worked his entire life at a muffler plant?
I stayed in the hospital four more days. My mother stayed at my apartment, sleeping in my bed. She stayed two more days after I got out. Jake drove us to the airport to see her off. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I missed having her around.
“Are you alright?” Jake asked me on the way back to the apartment.
It was a while before I could return to work. Building mufflers is tougher than it sounds. But, working around a bunch of guys who railed my ass about getting shot made up for it. Even Lance joked – in front of mother, no less – that the gunman should’ve aimed for my head. “That way the bullets would have just bounced off!”
I regrew my goatee right away, which I hoped – like working again – would bring some type of normalcy back to my life. Even if I had a memento from the shooting: a tiny bullet fragment in my shoulder.
And, that’s when things started to happen very fast. I moved out of the apartment with Jake and into the home of another buddy whose girlfriend suddenly decided she wanted to be single again. That arrangement lasted for all of three months.
Then, I found a place closer to North Dallas, but further away from work. When I heard a popping sound late one night, I left that joint – even when I found out the popping sound was a guy beating up his girlfriend in the parking lot.
I found another place closer to work. That seemed okay for a couple of months – until the couple upstairs started a screaming match at five almost every morning.
“Why don’t you just move back up here?” Alan asked me one Saturday night.
I was already drunk on Coors. “I can’t.”
I couldn’t say. “Well – I can’t afford it right now. Not all the way up there.”
I just couldn’t bring myself to say I didn’t want to be so close to them. When I joined the Army, I vowed never to return. I did, of course, but for all of four months. My dad still wasn’t satisfied with me. I could never please that man. I don’t know why. That youngest child thing, I guess.
But, I really couldn’t afford to pack up and move. I was tied down to that apartment – and those screamers – for eighteen months. When that ended, I moved yet again; this time just south of Dallas. It was actually a nice little one-bedroom apartment. And, the area was quiet.
It was amidst that quiet when I first gave serious thought to that tiny bullet fragment. By the time I’d moved to Southern Dallas it had migrated down to my elbow, just above it actually. If I pressed down on the area, I could feel it. If I drank enough Coors, I couldn’t even tell it was there. In fact, I forgot about it. Then, I’d forget about the license – and the truck – and the gun – and the firecracker sounds.
It’s so nice to forget those things. It really is. It means everything in the world to me. Just forgetting.
I still don’t know who shot me. The police dusted my entire truck for fingerprints. There was so much fucking fingerprint dust it almost looked black instead of blue. I don’t remember talking to the police in the hospital. But, I remember saying bye to Therese the day I left. She had the prettiest smile.
I’ve lost touch with Jake, but I hear from Lance all the time. Lance is one of the few friends who actually remembers what happened – but doesn’t hassle me about it. He just has a different way of asking.
If I stand naked in front of the mirror, I’m glad all those fucking surgical scars have disappeared. I’m not conceited. I just didn’t like looking as if I was a rag doll patched together and sold at the Salvation Army.
So, I look at my new truck and the now ten-year-old license and try not to drink too many Coors – even if it means I’ll feel that bullet fragment. Even if it means I’ll sit up at three in the morning and see the barrel of that gun. Even if it means – even if it means I finally understand I’m not stupid.
It means there’s a lot more to me than just that once incident.