Going to a Party, Going to Get Shot
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because while guns may not kill people, bad decisions definitely can.
By Leslie dela Vega
I was one of those lesbians who thought they were cool as shit. How cool? Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll cool, with heavy emphasis on the drugs and the rock ’n’ roll.
It was the Bay Area, in the early ’90s. A good place and a good time to be there. I was 19 and reckless. I used to graffiti walls and spend a lot of time socializing with friends.
Once we threw a party in an empty apartment in our building. Because: Why not? We invited the world, had a few kegs in the bathtub, a DJ and, eventually, the police. It turned out our neighbors were property rights sticklers and took offense at us pirate-partying in an apartment we had no right to be in. People.
I also spent a lot of time with my father. He was not your average Filipino dad. He quoted Gandhi and Saint-Exupéry, enjoyed calligraphy and billiards. He was generous, gregarious and wise.
He was also a gun collector. He didn’t have them for protection, although he did wear a small pistol in an ankle holster most of the time. He also kept one under the driver’s side seat of his car. Gun collecting was a part of who he was; he also collected pens and wrote love letters to my mom until the day he died.
He started taking me to the shooting range right off of Coyote Point, in south San Francisco, when I was 13. I’ve never been one of those people who feels like they need a gun to protect themselves. I just love target shooting.
There’s something about the precision and speed, and the power that the gun releases. You have to be exact, and when you hit a target, there’s a sense of satisfaction. It’s also about the ability to be good at something most people don’t expect a girl or a woman to be good at.
I remember going to a party with my parents. I knew no one there, so I hung out in the backyard, which bordered a huge field. A bunch of boys were trying to shoot tin cans with a BB gun. They asked me if I wanted to try. I’m sure they didn’t think I’d come close to hitting anything. I took the gun and hit all the cans.
One day I was with four friends, the same crew I did drugs and rock ’n’ rolled with. We did everything together. We were young and believed we were invincible.
We drove to the local Toys R Us and bought toy Uzis and AK-47s. It was when you could still buy toy guns that looked like real ones. I can’t remember why we bought them. Really. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you; I honestly can’t remember why.
We were on the 101 Freeway, south of San Francisco. The four of us started waving the toy guns around like we were gangsters. I was behind the wheel, and right in front of us was a sheriff’s transport van driving some prisoners to their new home. I had a thought: How funny would it be if they thought we were criminals about to start some shit? Why not pass, pretend we don’t see them and see what happens?
We pulled up next to them, waved the goddamn toys and then sped up.
I laughed it off. We all did.
Then we noticed they were following us. And once again, we didn’t think anything of it.
We drove a few more miles, right up until their lights started flashing.
We pulled into the far right lane and then started pulling over, when a voice said over the loudspeaker: “Go to the next exit, make a right and pull into the parking lot.”
As we turned off the exit, we saw cop cars in front of us. When we pulled into the parking lot, there were more cop cars. And then we were surrounded by cop cars with their doors open, cops with guns drawn and pointed at us.
“Get out of the car and put your hands in the air!”
We opened the car doors and stepped out as slow as molasses. We did not want to die in that parking lot.
“Put your hands in the air now!”
Well, fuck, I thought, how much higher can they go?
“Turn around, up against the car and place your hands on it!”
The cops grabbed the toy guns.
“Who owns the car?” one demanded.
“I do, sir.”
“Open the trunk. What are you doing with these?”
“We bought them for fun … for a party.” At that point, I’d have said anything. I thought we were about to go to prison. Images flashed through my head: strip searches, orange jumpsuits, a pile of blankets and a toothbrush, prison gangs.
“You know you could’ve gotten killed if you made the wrong move. Put them in the trunk when driving.”
The cops returned to their cars and drove off. My friends and I put the toys in the trunk.
I really wasn’t cool as shit. What I really was, was stupid as shit.
We got back in the car, drove home and never took those toys out of the trunk again.
Thankfully, my father was spared from learning what you just have. It was the least I could do.
- Leslie dela Vega