Four men held a gun to my son's head.
These are the words I use. The word he used was “mugged.” “Mom, I was mugged.”
Four men in a car drove him blocks demanding money while one of them held the gun to his head.
He had no money. He said they could have his credit card; they didn’t want his credit card. He said they could have his phone; they didn’t want his phone. They yelled at him for money. Finally, they dumped him out of the car onto the street and drove away.
He tells us all of this on Saturday – from three states away, on the phone. I can hear his friends in the house. He’s not alone. “I’m fine, Mom,” he says. “I’m fine.” “Mom, I’m fine.”
“They didn’t do anything to me, Mom.”
After we hang up, we call him again.
His brother calls him.
His cousin calls him.
His grandmother calls him.
Sunday I call him yet again. He texts back that he’s in the library. “What’s up?” he writes. As if it’s all over. As if doesn’t think we should talk and talk about it. I stare at his words and then go back to what I’m working on, rewiring the wall switch in the laundry room. It’s a three-way switch wired next to two more three-way switches. I can’t keep track of the wires; this is unusual and I notice it as if I am watching myself from a distance. Suddenly, I feel very tired. I sag, from the shoulders down, and my hip hits the dryer. My hands shake; they tremble. I need air and take my keys with me, out the laundry room door, into my car, down the street.
When I arrive at my friend’s house, I start to cry. I cry and cry and cry and between breaths try to tell them “It’s ok. He’s ok. I’m ok,” when clearly I’m not. I don’t want these two dear friends to worry too much. I’m aware this is ridiculous as I cry. They lead me to the table, sit me down, ask me over and over again “What happened?” I tell them. Four men held a gun to Lucas’ head. I tell the whole story. Gene gets up from the table and moves behind the counter into the kitchen. In the back of my head somewhere I hear them discussing. “She needs the sugar, Gene – get her the white grape juice.” Their voices are in a tunnel. They only have purple grape juice. “And bring potato chips.” They sit with me and push a bowl chips closer and closer. “Eat them.” They nudge the juice glass. “Drink this.” They make me drink glass after glass of purple grape juice.
Now tell us again. Start from the beginning. Tell us again. I don’t want to say it out loud again – I think I can’t – so they help me. They say back to me what I said to them.
“Four men mugged your son”, says Gene. “Four men held a gun to my son’s head” I correct.
He’s ok, they remind me. Tell us again. They make me tell it again. Then they talk about other things; they tell me stories and direct my about-to-tip-over mind back to some sort of balance before they circle around and make me tell the story – again.
I say I am terrified that my son won’t talk about it, won’t process it, will stuff it way down inside of himself until it rears up and strikes at him.
They remind me that my son isn’t me. That he will process it in his way. As will I, his mother.
The next day, I take my dog for a walk. We go around the basketball courts toward a fork in the concrete path – I take the one that runs south, past the recycle bins, the trail signs, and the skate park. I hear the thump, thumb, thumb of basketballs. A woman pushes an empty stroller, her toddler runs ahead. My dog sniffs the concrete to my left, deeply, like a vacuum. I glace down to my right at the mowed grass, spring grass - half green, half brown.
A snake, as thick around as a water bottle moves in tight, fast “S’s” backing up into itself compressing like an accordion. It’s sharp head moves back and forth, back and forth, parallel to the ground. I see brown and black – diamonds and stripes huge down the length and spread of it.
I don’t know how I end up 15 feet away looking back at the snake – I flew or hurdled or leaped. And, then I’m suddenly unable to move. Unable to breathe. I don’t know what to do. I can’t believe what I am seeing. I can’t believe the zoo animals are out loose, though there is no zoo anywhere near and of course snakes live here – the foothills of Colorado. I know this. Everyone knows this. It’s cold outside. No sun. They shouldn't be out yet, my brain says. But there it is and I’m walking as if no snake could bite me. I’m walking as if I don’t have to worry.
I was walking as if the world might be a safe place.
I look around for someone to warn, someone to tell. No one is near for the moment. Finally, I take pictures with my cell phone, feeling modern for a moment – like a regular person. It isn’t until I back even farther away, that I begin to shake, to tremble, to cry. I’m so angry I could scream. “Seriously?” I think. I just wanted to go for a walk. The whole world is screwed up. We are all bad and nothing is safe and the giant snakes hang out by the basketball courts.
Later that night, I examine the image on my cell phone. The snake is well over 5 feet long. I send the picture to my son. “Be careful.” He writes back.
And then I call him and tell him more; I know instantly I’m not just talking about the snake. I tell him every detail - how strange it was that everything sped up and then slowed down and then sped up. How, moments later, when I was safe, my body felt poisoned with adrenalin and how it lasted for hours. How I can still taste it in my mouth.
“It was like that for me, he says. “Everything was so clear. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I was very focused. And then it all went away when they dumped me out. I mean I was a mess, but my friend’s house was right there and he took me home and I was fine, mom. They didn’t do anything to me.”
I tell him about my friends and the grape juice and potato chips. “Do you have any grape juice?” I ask and he laughs. I tell him to call me if everything speeds up. “I’m fine, mom. I’m fine,” he says.
That night in bed, I think about the snake instead of the men and the gun. On purpose, I drag my head back to the snake over and over. They’re in the grass. They’re on the concrete. They’re beside the basketball courts where the mamas and the strollers pass. They’re near the dogs, the skaters, the soccer kids. “Be careful,” I think. Be careful. And then I say it again: four men held a gun to my son’s head.
For information about ending gun violence, and making our country a safer and saner home for all of us, please visit www.everytown.org