SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 20, 2014

So Many Bullets

 

I was taking count this morning, and it occurred to me that if Iíd had regular and easy access to firearms between the ages of four and the present, I likely would have shot myself in the head roughly 18,557 times. Of course thatís just a rough estimate, and does not take into account the number of other people I wouldíve shot first. Thatís a hell of a lot of bullets.

               I look back on every humiliation, every stupid misunderstanding, every misspoken word, bad decision, miserable potentiality, and my immediate, reflexive visceral reaction is to wish Iíd been able to shoot myself in the head at that moment. Beyond the grotesque mistakes of the past, I approach nearly every major threatened disruption to my comfortably hermetic existenceómy first marriage, the move to New York, a book tour, any public eventónot with the eager anticipation one might expect, but with visions of shoving that muzzle against my temple and squeezing the trigger without hesitation, without any thought. Just ďoh, wellóboom.Ē After which I wouldnít need to worry about it anymore. Thereís nothing romantic or dramatic about these visions. I donít imagine all the mourners at my funeral (Iím not an idiot) and I donít linger on the bloody scene or the preparation. Itís all quite quick and banal, and about as romantic as flipping off a light switch.

               I settled on the gun simply for its immediacy and efficacy. Iíve been through the whole tired suicide game before, but since I never had access to firearms I was forced to do what I could with razors and nooses and poisons and overdoses and other peopleís vehicles, and none of it worked worth a shit. It grew tiresome after awhile. Guns seemed to be the only sure-fire solution, should I ever decide to get back in practice.

               I remember Rod Steigerís late-seventies appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, when he described in detail his plan to row out into the ocean, hang over the side of the boat, and blow his brains out into the water to save his daughter the horror of finding him splattered all over the walls. I thought that was mighty clever of him. Then there was my friend Paul, who shot himself in the head while sitting on his front porch. Then there was the bouncer in Philly who played Russian roulette every night after work for years until he finally lost. I realize those were all very different circumstances. The first two suffered from clinical depression, and the bouncer was just kind of a macho asshole. I donít suffer from depression, but nevertheless I look at those cases and think ďhmmm . . . Ē

               As long as I can remember, Iíve always kept it around as the third option to anything. ďI can go to school and take this test even though I know Iím gonna fail it, or I can tell my mom Iím sick and study some more, or I can shoot myself in the head.Ē ďI can go ahead and do this book tour, or I can cancel and just do some phone interviews in my underpants, or I can shoot myself in the head.Ē ďI can open another can of clam chowder for dinner tonight, or I can make a sandwich, or I can shoot myself in the head.Ē (Okay, so that last oneís kinda pushing it.) Youíd think after all these years, after surviving everything I wanted to avoid in the worst way and realizing it wasnít really so bad, that Iíd come up with a more mature, rational way of confronting the unpleasant and my own failings, but nope. That third option still sticks out as the most attractive in any given situation. Itís still ďboy if I had a gun right now I could be done with all this nonsense.Ē

               This is perhaps not the healthiest of ways to approach things, but what are you gonna do? Itís been my hard-wired response to stress since I first came into consciousness. That Iím still here probably says something stupid.

               As Morgan and I dive headlong and screaming into the miasmic finger-popping fiasco known as ďhouse hunting in New York,Ē that imaginary handgun of mine (usually a snub-nosed .38) has been coming to mind with alarming frequency. For the past fifteen years weíve been talking about finding a place where we might actually live together, but now that weíre into it, dealing with lawyers and accountants and accountantsí assistants and shady real estate brokers and less shady real estate brokers and thieving contractors and other future residents of Hellís fifth circle, the old reflexes are at it again. Of course I donít tell Morgan my days are plagued with visions of pumping a bullet into my brain, as that might detract from the romance of the house waiting at the end of it all. Weíll make it, of course. Itís one of those deliberately torturous rites of passage supposed adults are expected to go through, but in the midst of it all itís about as much fun as anal rape. And like anal rape, all you want to do is make it stop by whatever means necessary. Like a bullet to the head, for example.

               Itís all very childish on my part, these ďsuicidal ideationsĒ as the shrinks like to call them, and never anything I would inflict upon my wife. Oooh, she would be so pissed. More importantly itís simply a moot point given I donít own a gun, and no reputable dealer would sell one to a man with a white cane and a long history of mental problems (unless I went to one of those gun shows in Virginia). So, alas, the gun will remain imaginary, as will the bullets.

               The real topper in all this nonsense, though, is that itís something I may not have to worry about much longer anyway. If I simply combine the current stress levels around here with a quarter-century of chain smoking, heavy drinking, blood pressure Iíve been told is off the charts, and a genetic predisposition toward heart attacks and strokes, this time around the situation may take care of itself without my having to resort to any insipid and overblown teenage histrionics. So letís keep our fingers crossed, shall we, and hope I can get out of this thing with at least a few dust bunnies of dignity still left me.

 

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