Guns by Alana DiGiacomo

I just dreamt that I shot someone. Right in the chest, and then in the left leg, to be sure. And he went down, silently, mouth stretched out wide, crumbling in slow motion, in shock and in pain. To be fair, he was going to shoot me. And so when he went falling down, I felt not just guilt and horror, but also relief.

But that’s not the scary part. Well, yes it is. It’s why I’m awake at five a.m. with sore and bloodshot eyes, waiting for sunrise when it might be safe to go back to sleep and maybe safe to dream again. (Think of puppies, think of flowers.)

I once heard it takes only two minutes to dream, even when that dream seems to last for hours. Is that how long it takes to kill someone?

But that’s not the only scary part. The scary part is that the man, or boy, I shot, used to be my student. I never particularly liked him. But I never particularly disliked him. (Maybe I did. A little.)

But not enough to kill him. Not nearly enough. How much hate would that take?

I’ve never wanted to kill anyone.

Does that mean I never would?

In the school where I teach, it’s assumed that all of my (black and brown) students have guns. The security system is built upon this notion. It’s why the students go through a metal detector, belts off, the boys’ low pants hanging even lower, guards present, every morning.

But me, I’m a (white) teacher. It’s assumed (correctly? I’ve always thought so) that we don’t have guns. Those with versus those without.

I’ve never feared a student. Even the ones who’ve been arrested. Even the ones who tell me they carry a gun, because they have to.

(Except that one time.)

That kid who looked much more like an adult. The one who was about to graduate. He plagiarized, and I had to fail him. Even though it was the last credit he ever needed. It was a matter of integrity. (Maybe too much?)

He was angry, and I worried, briefly, that he might wait for me outside. It was a passing thought. I never really thought he would do anything.

(Maybe I did, a little.)

Still, the fears I occasionally have at work go unspoken. They stay invisible.

(Like my students’ guns.)

We barely talk about those. They don’t bring it up. (I never do.) That would reinforce racial stereotypes. Like the metal detectors do. The ones I’ve always deemed unnecessary.

(Are they?)

But, just like my fear of that angry student, I know that, under the surface, never seen, the guns are there.

Why?

Because, say the students who’ve been caught with guns, they need them. Guns protect them. Because, when they walk around their neighborhoods, the guns make them safer. I never understood that. Guns make you less safe. (Don’t they?)

More guns, more dangers.

More guns, more chances of being shot.

But when I woke up with a shock tonight, twisted in a sheet and swathed in drops of cold sweat, simply because of a dream, I turned the light on as quickly as I could find the switch while groping in the dark. Terrified, because the dream had seemed so real, so vivid, and because I felt, after killing someone (in this dream), not altogether bad about it, what was the first thing I wanted?

Something I had never before touched, held, or felt.

Under my pillow, and in my hands.

A gun.

Then, I thought, I could sleep.

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One Response

  1. Hi Alana,

    Much in this piece rings so true. Instead of the achievement gap, or even the access gap, you write about the respect gap, the trust gap. I especially like the anecdote about the failing grade you insisted on, as a matter of integrity (maybe too much).

    It’s interesting that for teachers with “high expectations” who teach in “troubled” schools, integrity — theirs, yours, mine — becomes so important. I’m with you here. But I wonder, what does it mean to enforce integrity in this context, where the institution claims but itself lacks it and where students are presumed to have none? I think the discourse of integrity is so fascinating because it is predicated on being the one who defines the terms of the debate, and so it reveals something we’d rather not acknowledge about the history of popular, or public education in this country, which is that it has been and continues to be organized for the maintenance of the status quo.

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