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Five: (Ad) Vantage Point
(TW) Gun violence
I am the grandchild of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, living in northern Philadelphia. Scotch-Irish immigrants were the scum of northern cities less than a hundred years ago. Being treated like scum set in my grandparents a hardened anger, particularly my male ancestors. Some were hard drinkers and angry men. My maiden name in Gaelic literally means, “Son of the angry man” and a good percentage of my male siblings have our family crest tattooed on their bodies. Some of them are, in some ways, proud to be sons of angry men and angry men themselves.
I grew up surrounded by men who wanted to stick it to the man, beat the authorities, cheat the government of taxes due, and who sat around with their cheap beers swapping stories of oppression. There was no sense of being blessed for being in America and having escaped the potato famines and wars within their native countries and no sense of the privilege their white skin gave them. The message I grew up with was: “We are the oppressed. The government is the oppressor.” They had experienced the trauma of being marginalized and instead of seeking healing for the wounds that oppression caused, they lashed out at the oppressor. And they taught me, from a young age, from birth, to fight “the man” too.
Since I’m telling you a story about my story, I’m going to share how their brokenness caused brokenness in my life too. My father, having grown up in this atmosphere too and undergone his own traumas, decided the way to beat the system was to opt out of the system.
He refused to give us social security numbers to us when were born, believing the numbering system to be a part of an elaborate scheme of the government to track citizens and turn us into anti-christs. We were removed from public school and taught from a young age that the government could come take us away at any point. At the age of eight, I had a packed backpack under my bed with my most precious possessions (a diary, a sweatshirt, a flashlight, a stolen chocolate bar, some socks, a smooth rock I’d scratched my initials onto, and a red pencil with my misspelled name on it: L O R I A N N).
At eight years old the lack of a social security number meant nothing to me. I was more afraid of the Feds coming to get me than what would be withheld from me. But at fifteen years old, when all my friends were getting driver’s permits, the lack of an identifying number with which to get a permit of my own became starkly important. My father insisted it wasn’t necessary and taught us to drive on city streets without a license or insurance. I knew I was breaking the law but didn’t know what else to do. My guilt caught up with me within a few months though and I couldn't do it anymore.
By the time it was time to begin applying for colleges, I couldn’t understand why all of my suggested career paths were sharply deterred by my parents and accolades of being a “wife and mother was the highest calling” were commonplace, until I realized you can’t go to college without a SS number. You can’t get a job without a social security number. The summer job I’d volunteered for when I was 15 called my parents the following summer when I applied for a paying position and let them know I couldn’t work there without a SS number because they wouldn’t pay me under the table. No job, no college, no car, no insurance, no existence on paper anywhere. I had been planning my great escape since I was eight years old, always with an exit route, always with a plan, and now, all routes were closed. I was trapped.
There is more to this story than I’ll tell here, grievous and punishable crimes committed, but at 20, I refused to live under the thumb of the narrative anymore. I would not be a victim of the same fear-mongering and oppressive-regime talk my family lived under. My parents were going through a divorce at this point and, in what I can only assume was one of my mother’s final acts of liberation from their marriage, she marched all of us to the social security office and stood by while we all applied for and were granted numbers as United States Citizens.
I found a paying job, a driver’s license, an apartment, began and finished a Bachelors of English and Creative Writing in three years. Every single time I’ve been asked for my social security number since then, I give it with joy because I know what it’s like to live in fear for my life and I refuse to go back there.
For a long time I have had a minimal relationship with my father. His fears and seemingly irrational beliefs held me captive in ways I’m still sorting out in my forties. Any kind of domination or control or abuse of authority is apparent to me in a way it might not be to others. I am deeply suspect of impassioned men, in particular, men who won’t listen to the perspectives of others, or men who only and especially show emotion when their ideas are being countered.
If I sniff out a conspiracy theory, I tune it out. If anyone, liberal or conservative, begins talking about the evils of government, police, the presidency, or politics, I have to work very hard to stay engaged in what they say and truly listen. Every nerve in my body is activated when someone ignores or overlooks or diminishes their sin.
I’m sharing all of that not because it’s the worst story in the world but because it is my story, borne within me, carried still with me, and it informs how I view life even today, more than twenty years after leaving that home and belief system. I have harmed others by my avoidant attachment style, being quick to leave or passively let anything or anyone go their own way if they argue or abuse or avoid working through their own trauma. I have to work very hard—and I still fail—to make space in my life for those who are in process because the threat still feels real to me.
For half my life, the threat was real to me. It showed up in a father who ranted angrily, shoving his fist through walls, who let his growing and young children be surrounded by fear-mongering, narcissistic, and angry voices on the television, radio, and from his own person. It showed up in a mother who wouldn’t let us tell others about the fear, fighting, anger, and abuse in our home. Who, in her own trauma, just tried to keep the peace and keep it together, in order to not set off our father. And when I finally left, it continued to show up because I didn’t know how to tell anyone what had gone on in our home all those years without telling the truth and feeling like I was dishonoring my parents. I kept silent about it for years.
I pretended to be as normal as my college and church friends who came from healthy and safe and happy families. I assimilated with them, feeling all the time like a square peg in a round hole. I tried to keep stuffing down the threat of “You are not safe or protected,” and I did that until my 35th birthday, when all my illusions and attempts at keeping safe were fractured in 15 seconds and everything I did afterward only exacerbated how much my pretending for all of those years had actually harmed me further.
This is the fifth installation in a long form piece I wrote about gun violence. The gun violence I was witness to was not a school shooting, and yet it irrevocably informed and reformed my views on guns, gun violence, racial conflict, the real risks of policing, gentrification, assault rifles, and gun ownership. I am telling you my story, but here is another story:
“US consumers own around 393 million firearms, both legal and illegal, according to 2018 data from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based project from the Geneva Graduate Institute. That means there are more guns than people in the US.”1
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