I almost didn’t write this. A couple of days ago was the twenty-second anniversary of one of the worst days in the life of our family. As the years have gone by, we’ve stopped discussing it. The anniversary comes and goes, seemingly unnoticed. But tonight, as I talked to my brother, we both admitted that even though we don’t discuss it, we haven’t forgotten it. We don’t mourn it, but we realize that this event helped shape us and make us into who we are. And so, in an attempt to help the healing process in me and in my brother, I decided that I couldn’t not write this….
In the denomination that my Dad pastors in, all of the pastors who are moving each year move on the same day. With great creativity and originality, they refer to this day as “Moving Day.” I was nine.
It was one of those unbearably hot mornings in early summer. So hot that when you walked outside, it felt like you were trying to breathe hot syrup into your lungs. Miserable.
In the days and weeks before, we had packed everything we owned into an old, rickety farm truck because who needs to waste money on U-Haul when you have redneck connections. Mama’s little gray Chevrolet was filled to the roof. And now, Mama was furiously cleaning so that the pastor’s family following us would be moving into a spotless home.
I was sick of the pine-sol smell and tired of being asked to pack, clean, and carry. It was boring, hot, and sticky—and I had an ally—my ten-year-old brother. My Mother was pretty tired of being whined at by lazy, irritable kids and so when one of us suggested that we go play next door, my mom waved a dishpan hand at us and told us to stay close enough to hear Daddy holler when it was time to go. We fled before she could remember that she had asked us to scrub the baseboards in the laundry closet.
Chris and I raced up the paved road, past the stand of pines, and chased each other up to the back door of the little yellow rental house next door. Fifteen-year-old Shawn threw open the back door and invited us into the living room where he and his younger sister, Nookie, sat watching “Smokey and the Bandit”. Their parents weren’t home, but that was normal. We watched the movie and Nookie and I played with her Barbies. This was way more fun than anything my Mom had us doing. I was in no hurry to leave.
When Shawn came into the living room carrying a gun, I didn’t feel scared. It never occurred to me that it was a real gun with real bullets. Of course, because my Dad didn’t have a gun at home, I’d never seen a real gun. But the longer Shawn held the gun and the closer he got to me with it, it just seemed really different from the toy guns that my brother had. It was colder and darker and heavier.
I can’t quite remember when I first felt fear—whether it was before or after my brother asked Shawn to put the gun away. Shawn laughed and acted like it was no big deal and walked into his parents’ room to put it away.
I don’t think that I even realized that my brother had followed Shawn into the bedroom until I heard a terrifyingly loud clap of thunder and then, my brother yelling, “I’ve been shot!”
Time stood still and went into fast-forward all at once. I ran into the hallway to find my brother standing there with his arms up and blood spreading across the side of his dark blue-green t-shirt. I knew immediately that my brother had really been shot, but at the same time it was too unbelievable to be true. But the blood pumped through his shirt as he walked into the kitchen to the phone to call Mama.
At that moment in time, my whole world shrank to a single person—Chris. I don’t know where Shawn went. I don’t remember where Nookie went. I don’t even remember what I did or said or where I stood or sat. Dry-eyed and stunned, I listened as he calmly told Mama that he’d been shot and asked her to send Daddy and Mr. Jack (an EMT friend that was at the house that day). I watched my brother lie down on the kitchen floor and Daddy walk in and kneel on the floor by him. And then, I watched someone tear Chris’s t-shirt open to see the entry wound and I saw the red blood run down his side as my Dad lay beside him in the floor and coach him to breathe. In and out. Just keep breathing. In and out. It’s going to be okay.
Mama was calmer than I’d ever seen her as she came in and took my hand. She coolly led me across the street to a church member’s home where she asked if I could stay there for a while. The neighbor lady nodded, too shocked to speak as we watched the ambulance pull into the driveway of the little yellow rental house.
After Mama left me, I stood for hours in Mrs. Long’s living room and stared out the window at the little house. I watched the ambulance and my parents leave. And when they were gone, I watched for them to come back as though if I left my vigil at the window, they’d never return. The neighbor lady came in and spoke to me once, asking if I wanted something to eat. I didn’t and she left me alone at the window to watch.
When Mama came back for me, she told me that Chris had come through surgery. The bullet from the .38 handgun had burned a straight line through my brother—through his spleen, a kidney, a lung, and a vertebra. And somehow, we all believed that he would live.
And he has.
Tonight, twenty-two years and one day after being shot, he sits in my living room, watching Iron Chef and eating grapes. He is living proof that God protects, heals, and has a purpose for each of us.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“O GOD, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past. I will cry to the God of heaven who does such wonders for me. He will send down help from heaven to save me, because of his love and his faithfulness…” — Psalm 57:1-3a