It was late Halloween night. I was 15 years old and had been out at a friend's house a couple of streets away from mine, in upper middle class suburban America. I decided it was time to head home, so I started walking, that's when the car rolled up next to me.
The headlights were off, which explains why I was surprised to suddenly be standing outside the passenger side window of a car with 4 older guys in it. I remember all of their eyes being extremely bloodshot. Then the window rolled down and the guy in the passenger seat called me over.
I didn't run. I'm not sure why. I remember being scared, but thinking maybe they just need directions, or had a question. I always try to assume the best in people. In this case, that turned out to be a mistake.
A small conversation occurred, but to this day, I can't recall the topic. I remember speaking and starting to nervously smile. Next thing I remember is the feel of cold metal against my forehead. I was confused, instinct took over, and I gently pushed the gun down and away from my smiling face.
The passenger got angry and proceeded to cock the gun. A real shell, of a real bullet, came flying out of the barrel and clinked on the ground. It happened in slow motion. Sometime during the bullet ballet on the concrete, the gun ended up back between my eyes.
That's when it hit me. I'm about to be shot. I'll be dead in a few seconds. How can I die so close to home? How did a guy like me end up with a gun against his head? Will that chick I was crushing on be sad about this?
Am I just going to be a tally mark on some gang banger’s tattoo?
In hindsight, the smart thing to do would be to run around the car and out of line-of-sight, not perpendicular in a straight line, but I wasn’t thinking about geometry at the time. I dove into a ditch as three shots fired loudly behind me.
I remember looking down at my chest as I fell to the ground, expecting to see my insides, on the outside. I fell into the ditch as I heard the tires screech and the car sped away. I laid there motionless, not because I didn’t want to move, but because I couldn’t. I was literally paralyzed with fear.
I’m not sure how long I stayed face down in that muddy ditch, it seems like hours. I also didn’t understand why being shot didn’t hurt as bad as I imagined, until I slowly realized I had not been hit. I slowly stood up, looked around to make sure it was safe, and walked to the front door of the house whose ditch I recently occupied.
I rang the doorbell. The owner of the house just heard three gunshots, a car speed away and now his doorbell is ringing. I can only imagine what was going through his head. We proceeded to have a loud conversation through his closed front door. I remember trying to explain that I lived down the street and I just got shot at, but it was so hard to talk, it was so hard to breathe.
Finally, the door cracked, he saw a scared, muddy kid and he let me in. We called my parents and they came to pick me up. The police had received calls and showed up within minutes. I tried to explain what happened, but at the time, I couldn’t recall much of what I can now. I remember the police saying that they found bullet shells, indicating that the gun was really fired in my direction. When I heard that, I remember feeling sick, thinking previously that maybe I had made the whole thing up in my head. After I got home, I slept through the night and well in to the next day.
As a guy, I like to think that I would be a hero in a crisis situation. I like to think that I would summon some martial art skill or pure feat of strength to overcome an enemy and restore peace to a volatile situation.
I learned I am not a hero.
I learned that survival instincts are powerful and funny. I casually pushed a gun away from my face while smiling. Who does that?
I learned that my final thoughts are probably going to be stupid questions that never get answered.
I learned fear is a quick adhesive but can take a lifetime to remove.
I learned that if a car pulls up next to you late at night, with the headlights off, don't engage in conversation, run away. Run around the car. Or, pull some Bruce Lee shit and ninja kick the gun out of his hand and into the drivers face, breaking his nose and temporarily disabling him long enough for you to deal with the two suckers in the back seat.
Scratch that, just run.