Why you should care

Because help comes from the wildest places.

Look.

This will only take you seven minutes.

OK?

It was a standard-issue, beat cop .38 magnum. I placed the muzzle beside my temple. I am 35 and have a 29-inch waist. The month is January. It’s 3 a.m. I’ve been drinking.

But go back.

My mother and I cleaned out my grandfather’s house not long after he died. We’d already sold most of the furniture and tools. What remained were the leftovers.

Like the five Playboy magazines stacked neatly in the top corner of the bedroom closet. His pajamas and clothes and suits and financial documents. Some jewelry. Photo albums. My grandmother’s teeth.

Typical shit you find after an old person dies.

…[H]e drank all day. Would take a bus to the bar and fist-fight the room. Sometimes he won. Walking back to the bus stop afterward with busted knuckles, singing jazz songs.

I opened up an unlocked lockbox. In it was a standard-issue beat cop .38 magnum. Looked like it was a prop from something Lee Majors starred in. Showed it to my mother. She looked confused by it too.

My grandfather used to pick off squirrels with a pellet gun. That was the only gun we remembered him having.

This other gun hadn’t been fired much, but the cylinder was a different color than the frame and the barrel. People call that “blueing.” Blueing happens when a conversion coating is placed on the metal and heated from propellant ignition.

Turns blue after it’s fired.

Theoretically it protects the metal from rust. Some people “blue” their entire gun to keep it uniform.

I don’t think blueing made the gun look any better. Reminded me of the ugly seafoam color he painted the wood paneling in the family room. It just fucked it up.

Honestly, my grandfather didn’t particularly like guns. The pellet gun was more of a novelty than anything. He needn’t protect his stack of Playboys. So it was weird for him to have one.

Then I remembered Lester.

Oh, right. Lester.

My grandfather’s uncle who shot himself at 35.

Friday, June 21, 1951.

His ex-wife popped out a kid a year before, and there were whispers that it wasn’t Lester’s. She incurred a considerable amount of debt before she ran off. It ruined him financially. Lester was living with his mother, that June evening in 1951. Emptying cans and opening envelopes.

Past due. Past due. Final Notice.

His nephew, Billy, was in the living room with them listening to the radio. He lived there too.

“I might as well blow my brains out,” Lester said.

“That’s the beer talking,” his mother said back.

He got up. Walked down the hall to his bedroom. Closed the door. Bang.

When they opened the door, Lester had blown most of the top of his head across the room. Blood was in all the places you can imagine it to have been in.

There he was. John Lester Cox. Still breathing.

Died a little while after that.

My grandfather drove over. He helped Billy clean up the bedroom. Things you can imagine having to clean up. The mess of a life. Two young men wiping up what was left of their uncle.

Lester.

The guy looked like Cary Grant. Big arms. Big legs. He could bench press a foreign car. When he came back from World War II, he sometimes drove a truck and sometimes was a roofer. Sometimes he drank all day. Would take a bus to the bar and fist-fight the room. Sometimes he won. Walking back to the bus stop afterward with busted knuckles, singing jazz songs. All that tottering on a 29-inch waist.

I thought about that as I pressed the muzzle to my temple. Right at the spot where the gray had begun spreading.

I’d always been fascinated with Lester. His suicide mostly. And there certainly were parallels between the two of us besides age and waistline at time of death.

I looked at the bookcase across from my bed, holding that position, and realized why my grandfather had gotten the gun. To protect my grandmother and my mother from whatever he thought they needed to be protected from. Robbers. Drug dealers. Some doom lurking around the corner. Who knows?

Maybe even Lester.

Maybe to protect them from something awful like that. Doesn’t mean it made the most sense, but I understand where he was coming from. He meant to protect. And he’d use every piece of that gun if he had to.

Maybe that’s what the blueing was for. To preserve the moving parts. So the forgotten gun would always be there.

Just in case.

If I pulled the trigger on that particular .38 magnum, he’d never forgive himself. The irony. The humiliation. I couldn’t do that to him. Never mind him being dead.

He’d still know.

And I couldn’t let him know that.

I put it back in the drawer I keep it in. Put some crap on top of it. Got in bed. Went to sleep.

It’s June now. Almost 67 years since Lester pulled the trigger. I’m four months sober.

Male. 35. 29-inch waist.

The gun is still there in the drawer. I keep it for protection. From whatever doom is lurking around the corner. Robbers. Bill collectors. Who knows?

Doesn’t mean it makes the most sense, but maybe one day you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

And it’ll always be there. Just in case.

So. In a way. My grandfather’s revolver saved me from killing myself — with my grandfather’s revolver.

Or maybe it was my grandfather. Or somehow it was Lester.

I’m probably wrong.

I was certainly wrong about one thing.

I’m sorry.

It’s been seven minutes and twenty-seven seconds.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.