Home Sweet Home at Midnight

It’s not paranoia if they really do want to kill you.

I’ve started to contemplate the genetic predisposition for middle-of-the-night fear. My parents’ farm is at the end of a road. One night last year, just before dawn a car came creeping into their driveway and stopped. My mother raced downstairs from her bedroom to investigate. She opened the porch door and, to her absolute horror, a man got out of the car. He lifted his arm and pointed something at her. Convinced it was a gun, she screamed and fled into the house. She couldn’t think and so, instead of siccing her friendly Labradors on him, she crawled into the dogs’ kennel and huddled with them, calling for my dad.

My dad managed to pull himself up from the bogs of sleep and looked out the window. From there he called out to the guy to leave the newspaper in the mailbox.

The fear of strangers in the night pervades my husband’s neck of the woods. Though my mom might decide to hide in the dog kennel occasionally, for the most part the place where I grew up is assumed to be pretty safe. In Bing’s hometown, on the other hand, people sleep with guns between the mattresses — believing that not only will strangers come in the night, but they will also later sue.

The first time I thumbed through a concealed weapons magazine at Bing’s parents’ house, I questioned the ability of a law-breaking trespasser to take his victim to court.

“It happens all the time,” Bing’s dad replied.

“Really?” I was skeptical.

He nodded gravely. “These fuckers will come onto your property and fall in a hole and the next thing you know you’re paying their hospital bill.”

(Bing’s dad, like most of the people where Bing grew up, uses profanities as both adjectives and nouns. Because swearing has always made me nervous, I’m not able to tell when he’s upset or when he’s just telling a good story.)

“See, the thing is,” I responded, carefully, “I’m taking a class on this and they really shouldn’t be able to sue, because they are trespassing. Like, if you invited them onto your land, or if it was the UPS guy, then you’d have a different responsibility to warn them about dangers. But, if they’re trespassing …”

“No, no. Some guy who’s shining for deer on my land, he hurts himself on a piece of metal, he’s suing my ass.”

“Well, if you gave him permission to hunt here …”

“I don’t give permission to anyone to hunt here! Fucking DNR won’t do anything about it. They’ll come after me, ask me a bunch of questions.”

I retreated and found Bing. “I think I upset your dad.”

“What did you say?” asked Bing.

“I’m not sure. But, the DNR came up again. Anyway, have you seen this catalogue? There’s a shower holder for a Glock.”

Bing sighed. “Those catalogues come from my grandparents.”

“Do they shower with a gun? Are things that dangerous here or are they paranoid?”

“Who knows,” Bing dismissed. Bing easily lets go of incongruities. As a result, it’s easy for him to fit in. Where I struggle to get to the bottom of why people act the way they do, Bing just lets people talk. I held on to what I viewed as contradictions. Such as: Bing’s dad is a man who sleeps with a rack of guns over his bed, but who takes photographs of flowers. He has cared for and released orphaned baby deer at the same time that he hunts for venison.

Trying to understand a foreign way of thinking, I went online to read threads about guns in the shower.

One guy wrote: “If I have pants on, I have a gun. I kinda drew the line carrying when I’m naked. But, back of toilet works when I’m reading the paper. I guess it would work showerin’ too.” I appreciated that he used an apostrophe to correctly dictate his off-handed, slightly Southern manner. Still, if someone who used proper punctuation carried a concealed weapon at all times, maybe I was being na´ve to the true state of affairs in our country.

Instead of deconstructing the stereotypes, the posts started to make me paranoid:

  • Photo from www.everydaynodaysoff.com“The wife doesn’t shower unless I’m here.”
  • “I was raised in an environment where security was a high priority, even as a kid, the fear of me getting kidnapped and held for hostage was a concern.”
  • “Personally I’d recommend a good back-serrated push-knife for a shower or bathroom, assuming anyone breaking into your bathroom would probably try to Blitz you.”
  • “If you can’t afford an armed shower guard, consider bathing less frequently, or stock up on a quality rust/water repellent for your shooter.”
  • “The only time I ever had a burglar, he broke in while I was in the shower. Naked and dripping wet I beat the tar out of him. A gun would have been a nice thing to have.”
  • “Well, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only person in the universe who considers shower carry to be an essential component of comprehensive home defense strategy. I’ve found that suction cups do a great job of securing the gun. However, there is a downside. The suction cups leave a series of perfectly round hickeys in the vicinity of one’s waistline. Try explaining that to a hot date.”

My comprehensive home defense strategy consists of trying to be nice to everyone and calling out “Hello?” in the dark when I’m frightened. I’ve lived in big cities and even been in Central Park after dark, I’ve camped in the off season and slept at rest areas, and still I don’t feel the need to keep a six-shooter strapped to my thigh. (Do people even use the term six-shooter anymore? I don’t know.)

Where did the people who showered with guns live? Bing’s parents’ farm is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere Michigan. According to true Michigan convention, when the hand is held in the shape of the state, his parents are an invisible speck on the trigger finger. Were there truly criminals haunting the woods?

For our honeymoon, Bing and I decided to hike across his state, from Lake Michigan homeward to Lake Huron. We read what we could about the Shore-To-Shore Trail and, ignoring the naysayers and sage advice of more experienced couples, we landed in Traverse City the night of our wedding and took a bus to Empire, MI, the next day. Again using the Michigan hand-map, Empire is on the pinky — right where the pinky crease would fold to pull the trigger of a Glock 17, if you were holding the gun upside down.

My backpack weighed about half of my body weight, and at the end of the first day — nine miles into the hike and at a long-forgotten campground — I started to worry. The second day we hiked 18 miles. The third day, 26.

Apparently most of Michigan is the middle of nowhere. We saw no one for days. The trail was sand, and so as we walked we sank under the weight of our bags. The roads were endless and barren. On the fourth day we went off the trail, thinking we’d carve our own more scenic and people-friendly way. When what I thought was a town on our backcountry map turned out to be an abandoned couple of houses, I broke down in tears.

“I can’t do it,” I wept.

“Here, have a fruit leather,” Bing offered.

“I don’t want a fricking fruit leather! I want a meal. I want a drink. I want to be on the beach with all the normal people on their honeymoons.”

We found a town that consisted of a few trailers and a woman who allowed people to camp in her yard. Having already hiked close to 30 miles that day, we paid her to pitch our tent under a tree in the pouring rain. We looked at her map and talked about shortcuts. In the morning she told Bing that if he and “the wife” wanted to hitch a ride for a few miles, we could stick around and wait for Scruffy to wake up. Scruffy drove truck, but he’d had a wild night and so she wasn’t sure when he’d be movin’ again.

I was desperate enough that not only did I not pull out my feminist membership card to discuss my loathing of the term “the wife,” but I actually made us wait an hour for Scruffy. As the sun rose over the long stretch of highway before us, some of the things I’d read on the gun websites started to creep into my thoughts. We were probably the only people there not carrying a concealed weapon, and I’d seen enough movies to know better than to get into a stranger’s semi-truck.

“Run, Bing!” I proclaimed. “Let’s blow this Popsicle stand.”

“Where are we going to go?” he asked.

“Anywhere. Somewhere safe.” We shuffled off under our enormous packs down the lonely road.

At twilight we found a tiny, empty airport parking lot. There we stretched out our sleeping bags. We slept to the lull of the security announcements coming through the outdoor speakers:

“The current threat level is orange. For security reasons baggage left unattended will be removed and destroyed.”

It was strangely comforting. “The current threat level is orange.” Is that what connects us all? In the middle of the night, isn’t it always?

Article © 2013 by Laura Johnson