The other day I was feeling a little bit bored, even complained about it to friends, in DMs, on texts, in person, while socially distancing in someone’s backyard. I was between drafts, and felt rudderless for the moment. In non-pandemic times I would have caught up on all the things I’ve been putting off but I actually haven’t put anything off for the last ten months. I wished something would happen but I knew there was nothing good that could happen, that maybe it was just better to do the same old thing, and suffer through the boredom. As if I had a choice.
The next day, I was face-timing with Isaac, when I heard some gunshots go off outside. I was sort of jokey about it with him, but I knew the drill: close the French doors, go to the rear of the house, hang out there until it was all over. There’s been an uptick in shootings in this neighborhood during the pandemic, although things had calmed down in the new year. I went to my bedroom and Isaac and I continued to talk about something completely unrelated to the shooting although occasionally he expressed concern and I suppose interest, too. After all, that shit had been close and loud.
Ten minutes later, I went to the front of the house to see what I could see. The floor was covered with dust and chunks of something — what was all that? Had that been there before? Had the dog gotten into something? Isaac asked me to show it to him, but it was hard to tell from the phone what it was beyond dust. Finally, I looked up. There was a hole in the wall, where a bullet had blasted through, and then another in the facing wall, where the bullet was now stuck. The blast was maybe an inch in circumference, with another maybe two inches of damage to the wall around it. I gasped. The noise distressed Isaac. He couldn’t see what I saw. What, what, what, he said. I showed him. He cursed.
Things happened after that. I had to call the police, a thing I am absolutely loath to do, but I didn’t know if I could get at least some of this covered by insurance and I wanted a formal report. Now I had a policeman in my house. We were both in masks. He said they had caught no one, just found a lot of bullet casings. It was not clear if anyone had been shot. Then he gave me a piece of paper and told me I would go down on the record as a “victim” and I hated the sound of it.
I had this strange feeling that I wanted someone to apologize to me but no one was ever going to apologize to me. I had friends who said, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” and I appreciated that. But the creator of this moment, the instigator, was never going to offer me any kind of apology. I wrestled with that for a moment. That so many bad things happen, and so often no one ever takes responsibility for them.
Almost immediately I wanted to fix this hole. My instinct was to figure out what I needed to do to make it go away as soon as possible. I didn’t want to have to look at it or think about it ever again. It would make me feel safe and secure to solve this problem. It would soothe me. I felt bad for myself, and this would help.
The next day a man came to the house to look at the hole in the wall. Another masked stranger in my house. He offered me sympathy, examined the damage from a distance, gave me his assessment. We talked about painting it. I decided I might just want a fresh paint job entirely, the whole room. A thing to do. We talked about his family, how the pandemic had impacted it, and I felt sympathetic to him. My dog tried to hump his leg. I said, “Sorry, he does that sometimes.”
Soon the man will be in my house for a day. Then the room will be a new color, but few people will see it. I will post a picture of the paint job on the internet and people will say supportive things about the color. Will I enjoy it? Will I enjoy this fresh coat of paint? Do I enjoy anything anymore?
What I believe will happen after the room is painted is that for the first few days, whenever I enter it, I will remember the bullet. I will think: I turned lemons into lemonade. And I am lucky to be alive. And that I can afford some paint. Also, I will think again about how this room is an example of how we apologize to ourselves on behalf of others.
And then a few days after that, I will mostly forget about it. It’s just a wall, after all.
I bring this up not so that you feel sorry for me. (I mean if you want to, that’s fine, although it’s not that big of a deal, but don’t try telling that to my mother who is probably reading this aghast right now.) I bring this up from a storytelling perspective, which is that if your story is slow or boring or nothing is happening and you wish you had something for your characters to do, might I suggest a stray bullet through a wall?
You are reading Craft Talk, a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). Last week I donated to Southern Solidarity.