Why I Forgave My Next-Door Neighbor For Almost Killing Me

This past weekend, something happened that I never thought I would ever experience first-hand. Sure, I’ve read about stuff like this, but on Saturday, May 7, 2016, it happened to me.

At about 2:40 in the afternoon, I was lying on my bed in my apartment, Netflix and chillin’ with a container of some leftover high protein chicken burrito slop I was snacking on. A Sons of Anarchy episode was playing on my laptop when all of a sudden, I heard a loud pop/bang, and the shattering of the bedroom window. I was stunned for a few seconds, not comprehending what had happened.

“What the fuck was that?” I said, as my boyfriend came running into the room. He shook his head, also stunned, as he stood in the doorway. I got up off the bed, raised the window blind and saw a very large hole in the window, along with many cracks and bits of shattered glass.

“That looks like a goddamn bullet hole,” I said, as I looked behind me, attempting to find a hole in the wall opposite the window. There wasn’t one. At this point, my boyfriend was outside on our porch, trying to determine where the shot came from. He said he heard sirens in the distance, but didn’t see anyone on the vast grassy knoll behind our apartment building.

I continued to stare at the bedroom walls and carpeting, attempting to find something that I thought crashed through the window. Then, I finally spotted a hole on the wall opposite the bed. It was in the shared wall between our apartment and the apartment next-door.

“I found the bullet hole,” I called to my boyfriend, who was still out on the porch. He came running in to look at it.

“Yup, that’s a bullet hole,” he said. He had been sweeping up broken glass off the porch, and I asked if he had found the bullet. He said no. I went out onto the porch to take a look, and as I opened the door, I saw a dark gray spot on the white-painted metal door, where the bullet ricocheted, and likely wound up somewhere in the grass beyond our building. At that point, I dialed 911 to report the gunshot.

After examining the bullet hole in the bedroom wall, my boyfriend said he was going to go next-door to check on our neighbor. We knew he was an older gentleman, and we thought he’d recently lost his wife. After he left, I kept staring at the hole. As I sat down on the bed, I envisioned myself lying on my stomach, facing my laptop and hearing the pop/bang. I proceeded to have a monumental hot flash when I realized that had I been sitting up instead of lying down, the bullet surely would have struck me in the head instead of exiting through the window. That thought simultaneously shocked me and made me freak out.

When my boyfriend got back to our apartment, he told me that our neighbor was pretty freaked out himself, because his legal, registered firearm accidentally discharged when he removed it from its holster. He apologized profusely and was prepared to face the consequences once the police arrived. I was sitting in the recliner I work in, trying to grasp the concept of almost getting shot. It was the first time in my life I had ever been that close to a bullet, and in the vicinity of gunfire. Don’t for a second think that it’s because I’ve lead a sheltered existence; neither I, nor the majority of the people I’ve been surrounded by for big chunks of my life ever had any reason to own or fire a gun. If I was in contact with any gun owners, they never mentioned it, nor did we ever have any conversations where the subject of owning a gun ever came up.

When the police showed up, they examined the bullet hole, the broken window, and the damage done to the porch door. They proceeded to search the porch and the area beyond it to see if they could locate the bullet. They could not find it. I was then asked to write a statement for the record as they went to speak to our neighbor.

About 10 minutes later, I looked out one of my living room windows and saw one of the officers walking around out on the knoll. He was still trying to find the bullet. My boyfriend was out on the porch talking to him as he looked. I had finished my statement, and was sitting quietly in the chair, still trying to process what happened. My boyfriend called to me from the porch, saying that the officer found the bullet, and I immediately jumped up to go outside to take a look. Here is what he found under a shrub next to the porch:

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As I stood gaping at the twisted piece of metal that almost brought about my demise, I uttered, “That thing could have killed me.” The officer, a sergeant, replied, “Yes, you would have been a hurtin’ unit had it struck you, but you would have likely survived.” He proceeded to explain why:

The sergeant explained that it was a round-point .45 caliber bullet that is, in most cases, intended to injure, not kill, as opposed to a hollow-point .45 caliber bullet which is usually lethal. He pulled out his clip of hollow-point bullets to illustrate the difference. Okay, so I would have been brain-damaged, but alive. That didn’t make me feel any better.

He then went on to explain that our neighbor engages in the dangerous habit of “packing heat” which means that he always leaves a bullet in the chamber. Being a gun neophyte, I needed a more detailed explanation. Leaving a bullet in the chamber means that the person shooting the gun does not have to “cock” it before he or she fires. Since I have never fired a gun, I never quite understood what that meant. I always thought it was the act of carrying the gun, not skipping the important step of having to release a round from a clip before firing. This explains why guns can sometimes go off accidentally. For me, it was quite an education.

Our neighbor was advised to stop packing heat, and to get himself to the nearest firing range where he could practice the “cock and fire” method. The officers recommended that he spend at least 200 hours practicing firing his weapon in that fashion. Since the gun was purchased legally and registered, and no one was hurt, there was never a chance of him getting arrested, or having to pay any fines.

After the ruckus died down and I allowed myself to think about what just happened, I got angry. The American obsession with guns had entered my life, and I was lucky to escape unscathed. I thought about all the times I had encountered danger, and I realized not once was I ever threatened at gunpoint or come anywhere near live ammunition. Sure there was the time someone stole my purse when I was in college, and the couple of times I almost got mugged riding the New York City subway. In that respect, I have lead a sheltered existence.

On Sunday, May 8, I decided that in order to attain closure, I was going to have to speak to my neighbor about what had happened. I politely knocked on his door, and when he opened it, I said, “Dirty Harry, I presume?” We both laughed, and I said, “Seriously, you almost shot me in the head yesterday.” I could see tearsĀ  begin to well up in his eyes, and he said, “I am so, so sorry about what happened.”

My neighbor and I stood in the breezeway outside his door, and talked for about half an hour. I found out that he spent 22 years serving in the U.S. Navy, and that he felt he needed to carry his gun “for protection.” I learned that he is in his late 70s and has a couple dozen grandchildren. His wife unfortunately, now resides in an extended care facility, and he tries to work about 50 hours a week to keep himself busy. We never touched on the subject of gun laws, gun control, mass-shootings, or politics. It became clear during our conversation that we likely had deep philosophical differences about these topics, and I didn’t think they were worth mentioning. I did, however, tell him that I’ve spent the last two years being treated for breast cancer, and that the last way I want to end my life is by getting shot – accidentally or otherwise. He told me he lost one of his nieces to breast cancer, and he completely understood. He asked if he could add me to his church’s prayer list, and I said, yes, telling him that I appreciated the gesture (even though I’m not a religious person).

As we parted, I told him I accepted his apology, and we agreed never to speak of the incident again. He promised me that going forward, his gun would remain unloaded while it is in his apartment. I certainly hope he will never shoot anyone, accidentally or otherwise, while out with it in public.

Of course, I regaled my Facebook friends with this tale, and most of them were horrified by it. When I told them I had forgiven my neighbor for almost shooting me, some of them thought I had lost my mind. Some said I should move immediately, or sue him, or take a handful of Xanax to calm my nerves. Honestly, I could have used a Xanax or two Saturday night, but I managed to get by without it. As for moving, yeah, I’d like to one of these days – into a bigger apartment or maybe a cute little house somewhere. But for now, I’m staying put.

The forgiveness actually came pretty easily, and I need to explain why: In the 49 years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve been wronged by some people in ways that are much worse than accidentally getting fired upon. I’ve been metaphorically stabbed in the heart repeatedly by people whom I thought were my friends. I’ve been cast out by my own brother, who is too worried about what others might think about my life choices to have a relationship with his only sister. Even my cancer diagnosis failed to mend our relationship; we’ve barely spoken to each other over the past eight years.

I’ve been cruelly humiliated by a sociopathic aunt who willingly rescued me from dire financial straits, only to tell anyone who would listen that I stole her life savings. She, in turn, stole what few valuable possessions I had left, donated them for a sizeable tax credit, proceeded to sue me, and told the rest of my extended family that I was a lying thief who couldn’t be trusted. That put the kibosh on my remaining familial relationships, leaving me with my boyfriend, whom I love dearly, and a few close friends who have hung in there with me through the darkest period of my life.

The people mentioned above have a better chance of getting struck by lightning (or getting shot) than getting a speck of forgiveness from me. That’s just how I roll.

After all that, why would I not forgive someone, who for all intents and purposes is a total stranger, for accidentally almost killing me? I have no history with this person, and I’m still here. This experience has provided me with fodder for countless future cocktail conversations; I’d much rather talk about this near-miss than my hopelessly dysfunctional family. Most importantly, it gave me something to write about. Think what you will, but as someone who makes a living (such as it’s been lately) as a writer, you can’t ask for a better story.

I hope that by sharing this story, anyone who reads it can relate to my feelings about forgiveness. We all have different experiences in our lives that make it easy for us to forgive some, but not forgive others. These have been my experiences, and I will use them from now until the day I die to guide my conscience, and live my life the best way I know how. After all, when you live in the United States of America, you never, ever know who around you is packing heat.

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