By Danielle Susi
I was born in Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and hadn’t thought much about that until January 20, when a doctor was shot there.
News reports said the shooter asked for the surgeon by name. And the people they interviewed on camera recalled panic and fear. Like employees in many modern workplaces, those who work in the hospital had trained for an armed shooter situation.
In my first semester teaching in Chicago I had to perform a shelter-in-place drill with my students. We were all huddled in a corner away from the locked door, lights off. We played a quiet game to keep our minds off of the gravity of this preparation.
Guns and the politics around them are unavoidable. The affects of shootings rear their ugly heads too frequently. And too frequently they are ignored.
I’m still working through how to describe Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle, but it’s probably the best damn book I’ve read in my life. The book was released in September, 2014 and I’m late to the party having not finished it until the end of last month.
The narrator, Sean Phillips, was disfigured by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his life is significantly more complicated and lonely because of it. Everything that happens in the book—everything Sean feels, everything someone says to him—relies on his disfigurement and the reader is constantly reminded of the impact of this gun.
The reader can assume from actions in the book that this gunshot was an act of suicide gone “wrong.” Whether Sean wanted to live or not, I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure about much in this book except that it was powerful and still lives on inside me.
What’s haunted me most of all, is a part in the book when Sean and his father approach the family friend who sold Sean’s father his gun. Ray, the family friend, goes on about how guns are a weapon and should not be played with. This beautiful chunk of exposition sits in my chest:
I wanted to stop him, to explain to him that I had already known about guns when I walked down the hall from my bedroom to the living room while everybody was asleep; that I probably knew more about guns and bullets now than him or anybody he knew.
That’s where this book had me, really. This was a version of what had been lodged inside of me from the very beginning, when I found out the source of Sean’s disfiguration. You don’t need an ammunitions expert to tell you about guns. You need someone whose life has been changed by a gun. Whether that be a shooting, a suicide, an accident, or otherwise.
I’m in love with Bianca Stone’s poem “The Future is Here.” I first read it when it was published in Souvenir in February of 2013, a few months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
I was living in Connecticut at the time and my good friend—an incredible reporter who doesn’t back down from anything—was the first person I knew who got there and had to report. She had to interview parents, write memorials, watch new scars form.
I threw up more than once that day and cried silently while I, too, had to report about it from a distance. I still cry about it sometimes. I cry for what happened and for my brave friend who had to see the aftermath of it all.
Stone talks about the poem in a January 2014 interview:
I wrote it last year when so many shootings had happened. Thinking about my youth, then thinking about guns. Last year I think the whole country was wandering around baffled thinking ‘GUNS. What do we do with guns? We shoot them. Do we need them? WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?’
For a long time I wanted to write about the shooting in Newtown, but couldn’t. After I read Stone’s poem I no longer felt I had to because I didn’t think I would ever be able to get as close to what I was feeling as her poem got.
The novel, the poem— and so many more novels and poems and pieces of prose and writings that can’t be defined—help us learn more about what guns mean and what they do. Through a series of narratives we are able to better understand what happens after a trigger is pulled, and sometimes what happens before it.
Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, Lines+Stars, DIALOGIST, and Midway Journal, among many others. She is a READ section contributor for The Angle and Newcity recently named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.