Crossfire


WORD COUNT: 2721

Well folks, this has been one of the most intense weekends of my (relatively) young life, and as per my wont, I find myself called to write on these pages. But before I begin, a word of caution.

Look, I am an open-minded and tolerant person. I get a lot of flak on this blog (and elsewhere) from people, and that’s okay, I can handle it. People regularly accuse me of being a pedophile and other ridiculous stuff, and to me it’s all just part of being who I am. But this story involves some other people, so if you feel the urge to write something nasty, please take a moment and think again. Thanks.

It’s hard to know where to begin, except to tell you what happened this morning, when I almost, and thankfully did NOT, kill a child on the streets of Chisinau on a quiet Sunday afternoon. If that’s not intense enough for you, there’s much more, but first let’s start with Moldova.

I’ve been living here for a year, and like all new places, it’s thrilling at first. It’s exciting, for a while, but then it becomes ordinary after a while. And yes, while there are huge differences between Moldova and Romania, frankly I thought I was getting used to this place. At least, until this morning.

It’s August, which means it’s hot. Today is Sunday, which means it is a quiet and relaxed day around here. Most of my neighbors are gone somewhere, so it’s been extra quiet, and my “big plans” today consisted of walking 100 meters down the street and buying a little food. Nothing special.

The store is large, and air-conditioned, so there’s a transition period when you step outside and the hot sun blasts you again. I stood there for a moment, eyeballing my receipt, before tossing it in the garbage and walking back home. That’s when I noticed a young man standing outside the store, talking to a woman. I paid it zero attention until the kid started shouting in Russian, which caused me to look over.

That’s when I saw it:
sten_mkII

Folks, I don’t know much you know about guns, but that picture above is of a Sten Mark II submachine gun, a very military style weapon. The kid I heard shouting in Russian was carrying one of these on a shoulder strap, exactly like many soldiers do. And then he swing it up, pointing the muzzle right at me, and in a moment I thought my life was about to be over.

I’ve discussed this with a few smart-ass people, who seem to think it’s hilarious and funny that a toy gun was made by somebody to look exactly like a military-grade weapon, and that it was all just a laugh. Yes, it was just a toy gun, but this was far more serious.

Believe me, sometimes I feel like I’m living in 1950s America around here. Guns are far more prevalent, and I’ve seen plenty of (adult) neighbors carrying real ones, all seemingly legal. Every boy kid in this town has a cap gun, something I don’t think even is still legal in America, but something I remember from the old days.

Capgun

Back at my last apartment here in Chisinau, I had a neighbor with two twin boys about 9 or 10 years old, and they loved playing with cap guns. When they were done, I asked them for the packaging, which is what you see in the photo above.

If you’ve never used a cap gun, let me explain. First, the toy gun that you use looks pretty realistic. My neighbor now, who is a 9-year-old Russian boy, has a toy gun himself. It’s shiny silver and looks approximately like a .38 revolver. But somehow a little shiny pistol in a kid’s hand looks like a toy, you know? It looks plastic and cheap.

A cap gun “fires” by exploding one of the caps, and as you can see, this boy was using a ring of six caps to put in his gun. Mind you, while the explosive used in caps is real, it’s far less than ordinary gunpowder. Still though, each “shot” makes a small explosion, and if you fired off all 72 caps at once (say, if you threw the package of caps into a fire) they’d make one hell of an explosion.

Still though, a little kid with a toy looking cap gun revolver is pretty harmless. But who the hell makes a toy machine gun, especially one that looks so realistic? In America and elsewhere, toy guns come with red plastic tips and other safety features so no one ever thinks it’s not a toy. I’ve had people tell me this kid’s Sten submachine was some kind of a airsoft (trademark) toy gun, or something else, but that’s impossible. Those toy guns are for western adult children who like to make believe they are cowboys. This gun was just a cheap Chinese thing that doesn’t even make a pow-pow sound, but DID look realistic.

I’ll be honest. If I would’ve had a gun or some other weapon, I would’ve shot that boy this morning. From my perspective, I walked out of a cold store into a blast of hot air, then I heard some shouting in Russian, and then I saw a military weapon being put into use. As it was, I was about five steps from the kid, so part of me wanted to throw what I had in my hand (a bag of oranges) to distract/confuse him, while the other part of me wanted to dive for cover.

What ended up happening, at least from the kid’s perspective, is some weird old guy stepped out of the store, stumbled, nearly fell down, and then went on his way. What happened from my perspective, of course, was a thousand times faster, as I quickly went from shock at seeing a young man with what looked like an old army machine gun into deciding what to do to save my life. I ended up sweating buckets, but thankfully it’s August, so no one noticed. I stumbled a bit, regained my balance, and then went on my way. But one step closer, or if I would’ve had a real weapon, and it would’ve been game over for that kid.

Frankly, that scared the shit out of me, even though nothing happened, and all I had was a bag of oranges and my keys, not a gun or knife or something. But if I had been half a step closer, who knows what would’ve happened? It turns out the kid was around 12 years old, and was just horsing around with his mother, but in a split second I thought it was a life-or-death situation, and it almost ended quite badly. Thankfully, everyone went home unharmed today.

In other news, perhaps as some kind of cosmic balance to the life I almost took today, or the life I thought I was about to lose this morning, some good news to even the scales. It’s a little hard to describe what happened, as it has to do with my life from more than 20 years ago, and I’ve never once mentioned that era on the pages of this website.

First of all, again, people get confused, so let me be crystal clear here. I did not find out today that I am a father, or anything of the sort. I have no secret family, secret wives, or secret kids. I am still me, the same as always, and still living the same life. Instead, what happened was someone from my distant past reached out to me, and it was joyous news, but not quite THAT joyous, okay?

Frankly, we all have two lives. We have our childhood, which we largely can’t control, and we grow up with people we don’t choose, and are raised by families we didn’t volunteer to be part of. Sometimes it works out great, other times, not so much. But then when we become adults, we all get to enjoy that second phase of our lives when we do what we want, and be with whom we want.

A long, long time ago, when I was still living my “first life”, I met a girl. Nothing unusual about that, as it happens every day. We began a relationship, as boys and girls do. After a couple of years, it didn’t work out anymore, and so we broke up. She went on her way, and I went on mine. So far, nothing special or ordinary or unusual in the least.

I know that some members of my family read this, so I’m going to proceed cautiously as this isn’t my personal therapy time. Essentially, my relationship with this woman caused a lot of tension with my family, and so there were a lot of struggles. Add in there the usual stresses of being a teenager, being dumb, and being convinced everything is of paramount importance, and you can see how it was a rather tempestuous relationship all around. Which happens, but along the way there were some dark times, and frankly there was a moment when she almost didn’t make it.

But she did make it, and we broke up, and the years went by, and we lost contact. Somehow, I managed to hang on to an old photograph, the paper kind that once existed before digital photography took over. It wasn’t a photo of my ex-girlfriend though, at least not when I knew her. For some strange reason, it was a picture of her when SHE was a child about 9 or 10 years old, many years before I met her.

We broke up, and I ended up moving to Romania, and living my life there that I had, and the photograph disappeared somewhere in the years, and I rarely gave much a thought about it, except to just hope that my ex-girlfriend was doing well out there in the world, wherever she was. And then….

Well, I think you can guess by now what I saw this weekend: my ex-girlfriend is not only alive and well, but married with several children. Again, I am NOT the father, and there is no scientific chance of me being the father. Sorry to get all grossly specific, but these kinds of rumors can hurt people if they fly around unchecked.

And amongst her kids is a daughter, who looked out from that photograph at me with 30 year old eyes, the eyes of her mother in an age so long ago that it feels like a museum exhibit, when the internet and mobile phones and Facebook didn’t even exist.

For many years, I wasn’t sure what to think about my former relationship. It had been very intense, and very passionate, but then it ended. A few months later, she called me for what ended up being the last time ever. The only reason she called was to tell me that her twin brother didn’t make it, that he had taken his own life just a year after graduating high school and finally making it to freedom.

Had our struggles been for nothing? Had all those tears and discussions and arguments and fights been just an old anecdote from the past, or had the balance of the cosmos truly shifted? I vote the latter, and since I was there and none of you were, my vote is all that matters in the end. Her brother suffered similarly, and so it’s so painfully clear just how close she had been to joining him.

But she didn’t, not even when cancer almost killed her. She lived, and had a daughter, and then more kids, all of whom are healthy. And so now there’s a beautiful little girl out there in this world that I honestly thought would never have her chance, and that eases a very, very old pain inside of me. I thought I had done the right thing as a teenager, but I never had any way of knowing.

And now, more than a quarter of a century later, I finally have my answer. Friends, that brings me more peace than you will ever know. I know I’ve had my recent struggles, and I know every one of us goes through a bad period in our lives. Sometimes we wonder if it’s all worth it, or what the point of it all is, especially when it ends in heartbreak and tears.

But you know what? I’m actually proud of myself, as stupid and dumb as I was back in those days. I did something difficult, and I did it with everyone (including my ex-gf, at the time) opposing me. Nobody could see the merit of it, and life continued to march on without any miraculous improvements or something. But you never know, do you? You NEVER KNOW. Whatever small role I had to play in all of this, it makes my heart melt with happiness to know that it wasn’t all for nothing, that it really did matter, even if I never thought I’d get to find out for sure.

And so a child now lives who almost never got her chance, and another kid almost lost his life today due to a stupid mistake. Instead of a double tragedy, it’s a double blessing, and considering my run of bad luck lately, I will fucking take all the good news I can get right now.

Hey, I know I’ve fucked up plenty of times. I’ve hurt people too, and disappointed them, and lied, and broken my word, and done everything else disgusting and despicable. But I know I’m not a saint. I just wanted to do the right thing, and I struggled mightily over it, and in the end I made my decision. I’ve made thousands of decisions since then, all equally without enough information ahead of time to ever be sure.

But you know what? You are sure. Deep inside, you feel it when you do the right thing. And I think that people feel it inside when they are called to step up and deliver. My brief moment came more than 25 years ago, and I did my small part, and for that I am eternally grateful. It’s easy to beat yourself up thinking of all the mistakes you’ve made in your life, so it’s nice to find out a really old one turned out to be not a mistake but the greatest success (so far) in my life.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have kids of my own. Or maybe one day that little girl’s mother will let me meet her and talk to her, if only for a moment, just to help my heart ease its pain a little. Or maybe this is my last week alive, as a bus or a kid with a real gun will spin the wheel and call out my number. The point is we just don’t know, so we have to do the best with what we have, and trust that it’s worth it.

Well, today it was worth it. And I am very, very grateful that this weekend happened, kid outside the store and all, because I now have a new and deeper appreciation of life and the important things that truly matter.

Folks, never give up hope. Life is always worth it. Love is always worth it. Do the right thing, even if you’re not sure it’s the right thing to do, or even if everyone opposes you. At the end of the day, it’s you who has to live with yourself, and you’ll sleep a lot better knowing you at least tried.

And maybe, just maybe, if you are really lucky, you’ll get to live long enough to witness something that fills your heart with light and happiness until it breaks :)

Lyrics (written by Natalie Merchant and Peter Buck):

These are days, you’ll remember,
Never before and never since, I promise,
Will the whole world be warm as this.

And as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky.
It’s true that you are touched by something,
That will grow and bloom in you.

These are days, you’ll remember,
When May is rushing over you with desire,
To be part of the miracles you see in every hour.

You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched by something,
That will grow and bloom in you.

These are days.

These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break!
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face.

And when you do, you’ll know how it was meant to be,
See the signs and know their meaning.
It’s true, you’ll know how it was meant to be,
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.

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