The dude who broke into my apartment lives right next door.
I don't have any hard evidence, other than the fact that he went from flashing me toothy smiles and friendly words to going out of his way to avoid crossing my path or making eye contact in the three weeks since it happened.
Now, I consider myself a pretty progressive, peace-loving guy. I shop at Whole Foods. I occasionally let cars break ahead of me in traffic. I've even dug change from the bottom of my cup holder to give to that hungry panhandler at the corner of North Avenue and Northside Drive who always looks like she's on the verge of tears. So instead of going Rambro on the brother next door and kicking down his door with guns ablazing, I decided to pray for him.
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's shit, you dumb muthafucka," I found myself mumbling the other day while staring at him through the slit in my mini-blinds. I thought about how I would describe him to the police when I called them back to snitch his ass out: Dark-skinned black dude wearing a white tee with a big Kool-Aid grin and beady little eyes. Of all the cats in this city who might fit that description, I had to move next to this one.
Bitching and complaining about crime is supposed to be a rite of passage for Americans of a different class, an act that separates the impoverished from the privileged, the perpetrators from the victims. But nothing's ever as black and white as it seems. Which leaves most of us somewhere in the godforsaken middle.
"I want to go buy me a gun next week." I got the text at 10:30 on a Saturday night. It was from my mother, an all day, everyday church-going, part-time job-having retiree who, despite recently reaching the age of consent for Piccadilly's senior discount, still considers herself hip. Snoop Dogg is her favorite rapper.
"I thought i heard something here @ the house earlier and i again realized how venerable i am." She meant vulnerable.
The morning after my break-in, she awoke from a dream in which her house was being burglarized while she was at home. About the same time, on the other end of town, my grandmother-in-law was fighting for her life after being shot during an all-too-real home invasion that left a bullet lodged in her brain.
When I told mom about both incidents at the end of the week — being careful to leave out the part about the drops of blood left all over my apartment by the clumsy burglar who had cut himself and rummaged through the medicine cabinet in search of a Band-Aid — it was too much for her to dismiss as mere coincidence.
So I Googled "gun shops" and "Atlanta" to plan us a little field trip. The first thing that popped up was a link to an AJC story about gun sales skyrocketing across the country in the wake of the Colorado movie theater massacre. The story could be summed up in one word: "Fear." Maybe our fear of suspicious neighbors with off-putting smiles turns us into victims long before the crime occurs. And maybe the resulting hatred of monsters who run up in houses and shoot grandmothers up — or mass-murdering nerds with orange hair — has the power to turn us into premeditating perps, too. You can go crazy trying to make sense of senseless violence. But sometimes I think our worst fear isn't that there is no logical explanation for such acts — it's that there is one.
When moms and I got to the gun shop, a man with a well-worn baseball cap and a Clayton County drawl waited on us. You could tell he was used to having virgin customers by the way he took each .357 Magnum out of the glass case and gently laid it at an angle on top of the counter. He showed her how to hold it and load it, calmly talking her through her first time.
I watched my 5-foot-zero mother two-fist a stainless steel Smith & Wesson. She looked scared and dangerous at the same time — the worst combination. Then she turned to the man behind the counter and asked him point-blank, "Where are your sawed-off shotguns," sounding like Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies."
While he tried to talk her out of buying a 12-gauge, I picked up a Ruger and imagined me and my grinning neighbor playing a friendly game of catch-the-bullet-with-your-teeth. I think I won.
"That was fun, wasn't it?" I asked moms as we left.
"Yeah, I felt powerful!"
"But remember, your power is in the Lord," I said, teasing.
"Oh yeah, I'ma call on him to help me pull that trigger."
Turns out, the problem with my neighbor is history now, too. He moved out yesterday. Apparently all of his stuff, and mine, fit inside a little Budget rent-a-truck. Before he handed the key over to the apartment manager, I overheard him tell her that he hadn't found any employment since graduating in May. No jobby job and fresh out of college in this economy? He was about to catch his own version of hell, whether he knew it or not. As I watched him drive off, I murmured another silent prayer on his behalf.
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord with a snicker."
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