Can I run from this? - #40
Who we are and who we want to be.
CW: this piece includes brief descriptions of assault.
I was late, and the dust was flying. The dirt road rolled under the looming drape of the trees while I fishtailed on top of it. White tee and cut-off shorts perfumed with bonfire and beer, I had a curfew to meet and even the horses would be in their stalls when I pulled in.
I was late, brushing up against 90 mph in my Mustang on the freeway through downtown, the high rises swapping secrets high above. A cassette of Eazy-E’s “It’s On” playing at top volume. Mini skirt, what was more rag than top, platform heels, and every intention to leave the club with someone’s number, smelling of vodka and cigarettes I’d never smoke.
As a kid, I danced that line. I had big city dreams, imagining being a fashion editor in New York while I mucked stalls in Ohio. My high school was a teen movie, from the cliques to the Friday night lights to the solo cups to the Homecoming Court — and I lived next door to the Queen Bee. I would watch from my window as cars pulled into her driveway after football games. Youth Group drinkers and cheerleaders and football stars. But soon enough, she started watching cars pull into my driveway and see people she’d never meet get out of them. She would hear laughter from my backyard, the sound of beers cracking open, and at school the next day, she’d ask me, “who were those boys I saw at your house?”
City boys, I’d say. Private school, I’d say, as if each word was a rung on the ladder out of the pasture, out of this place where football coaches handed out As to athletes in the history classes they were struggling in.
I joke now that Ohio is a great place to raise kids if you want them to leave, but the reality is, most people didn’t leave. Most people loved it. But I didn’t understand how. In my high school of 900 kids, 2 of them were Black. They both left. One girl was Jewish. She’s in New York now. And when my guidance counselor told me I needed to apply to a school in-state, I laughed in her face.
I went back to that town once. I was 24, in town to see my grandmother after a surgery. With her well and good, I went to one of the local bars where I heard my old classmates hung out. No one recognized me. I’d say my name and they’d hug me like a long lost friend and I wondered who estranged who. I have a history of leaving, after all. The next day, I left and never went back.
Recently, I looked up the voting records of that ole town. A republican sweep of the ballot. An overwhelming favor for Trump. And yet, yeses across the board for increased taxes for schools, the fire department, town care.
When Ben and I were looking for a place to call home, we looked at voting records. We wanted to be somewhere that all of our friends would feel welcome. Somewhere that supported the arts, environmental protections, and women’s autonomy. When we drove into this town to look at our now home, the message was clear. Nearly every single house had a Biden/Harris sign. Every run down cabin with a dirty old pickup out front was proudly claiming their stance. Colorado is no longer considered a swing state, but you wouldn’t know it living here. We are in an enclave surrounded by “Let’s go Brandon” banners tacked along farm fences. Bumper sticks abound with things like “I’ve got more guns than you’ve got guts.”
When we closed on this house in June of 2021, long after the election, most of the signs still stood. I asked why. “So the Jeepers know whose town they’re in.”
Past our house, there is a pass road. A pass road, if you’re not familiar, is a car-friendly way either through a mountain range or over a ridge. Not all passes are friendly to all cars. Some you can race a Porsche over, others recommend a roll cage. Ours is somewhere in the middle. It’s certainly more pleasant with 4WD and a locking diff, but you could probably make it without them, assuming you had good enough clearance — and a lack of vertigo. Last year, a truck lost their topper in the high winds on the narrowest part of the pass. The topper dropped some 500 feet below, where it stayed all winter. When it emerged from the melting snow earlier this month, it was flattened paper thin.
People use the pass for all kinds of things: hiking, running, mountain biking, skiing in the winter, but in the summer? It belongs to the Jeeps. And the majority of the Jeeps are from Texas and Arizona. There are, of course, trucks and SUVs of all shapes and sizes, but the Jeeps reign supreme in their off-roading pursuit. Ben worried it would be annoying, all this traffic. I was more optimistic. How bad could a bunch of people eager to see the mountains be?
For every quiet truck with wide-eyed kids in the back, there’s another with a snorkel and a light bar, driving 35 mph past the 10 mph sign, kicking up the lethal dust our town is built on. They turn into people’s driveways, go up closed forest service roads, and leave trash along the pass. And when they drive by our house, they gawk. In our little fish bowl, I am the fish and they are the customers of the aquarium.
At first blush, it felt like fantasizing, dreaming of this life they drove through. Could they want a cabin in the high mountain valley? Could they leave something behind too? Wilderness loving, respectful, enjoying their vehicle the same way I enjoy my bike — feeling that sci-fi oneness with machine that’s almost embarrassing to write. But many of these passers-through feel different. Stickers of AR-15s on their bumpers. Trump flags. MAGA hats. The careful drivers and sweet waves struggle to compensate for the behavior of the others. Those drivers — they want gasoline and guns and they want you to know it.
This little piece of heaven is in the 3rd District of Colorado, represented by Lauren Boebert. Boebert’s website slogan is: PRO-FREEDOM, PRO-GUNS, PRO-CONSTITUTION. Here is an actual piece of her merchandise.
A petite woman with long brown hair always finished in barrel curls, Boebert almost always has a gun on her hip. In one of her campaign ads, she said she’d wear it into Congress, which is illegal. In Boebert’s list of intentions she calls her “Contract with Colorado'' she highlights her major stances, including:
“I will never vote to give away our personal freedom to socialists, globalists or other left-wing lunatics. Watch out AOC and the Squad, here I come!”
“Drill baby, drill!”
“There shouldn’t even be a federal Department of Education”
“I won’t let them take away our guns.”
“I’m against the national popular vote.”
Boebert also owns a restaurant called Shooters Grill, famous for their staff that “proudly open carry” when they serve customers.
In Colorado, gun sales have averaged around 38,000 guns a month since March 2020. That’s around 900,000 guns in two years for a state with only 5.6 million people. Boebert herself accounts for a few of those.
Here she is with her children around Christmas time.
Her youngest is around 9 in this photo, holding a rifle as long as he is tall.
There are 756,569 people in this district with some 65% of them living in rural areas. Rural, like where I grew up, like where I left, like where I sped down the highway to find somewhere I belonged. Rural, like where I’m settling down, like where I live, like where I belong. 45% of Coloradans say they live in a home with guns. We aren’t one of them. But I used to be.
I was 18 the first time I went to the shooting range with my dad. I shot a Browning semi-automatic 9mm. My dad called me his little Annie Oakley. I saved that target practice, almost every shot a kill shot. It’s still folded up in a plastic file bin. My dad still has that gun. For years, I would hold that memory tight, like being a straight shot somehow made me more powerful. Until I needed to be powerful, and wasn’t.
My senior year of college I was drugged and violently assaulted just off campus. The man kneeled on my arms over my face while I pleaded to a god I’d long since lost. And the only thing I remember with crystal clarity were his words, “God doesn’t exist and no one’s going to help you.” But I escaped, and a policeman found me, and when he touched me, I attacked him. I couldn’t tell the difference between him and my assailant. He threw me in the cop car. I missed my chance at a rape kit. He took me to jail where I was strip searched and booked. An officer told me she was moving me from my own cell to the common cell. She warned me, “just don’t talk to anyone and you’ll be alright.” I was covered in bruises, limping in the jumpsuit. I walked into the common holding cell and immediately, people asked me what I was in for.
“I beat up a police officer.” They wrapped me in blankets, braided my hair, and gave me what was left of their lunches while I tried to tell myself the worst was over. But I was convicted of a felony: assault on an officer. I had to take drug and alcohol classes, write a formal apology to the police officer, sit on a panel with other felons where victims told us how our actions had ruined their lives, and serve 200 hours of community service. I spent an entire semester watching my body from the outside, watching her start to cry any time she had to walk by a police officer. My record was expunged. My nightmares were not.
My mom was the daughter of a mounted police officer. My grandmother grew up in the mob, losing her biological father to murder. My dad grew up in the West, he and his brother both bearing the names of guns. And I fantasized about holding that 9mm to a face I couldn’t piece together whispering, “no one’s going to help you either.”
A friend I miss dearly told me the year it happened that she was almost glad it happened to me — because I was the only one she thought could handle it. But we handle what we have to.
Some years later, I got a rifle tattooed on my thigh. It’s an homage to my dad, his namesake. Above it are inked the antlers that sit on my parents’ mantle. I got it when I was living my dream in New York, longing for what I’d run from. I’ve never shot a rifle. Years after my first time at the shooting range, a handful of years after the assault, I went back with my family. I wanted to feel that old power I felt, the explosive energy of control, but all I felt was fear. Scared of the people around me. Scared of myself. I was struggling privately and quietly with complex PTSD, depersonalization, and panic disorder. I shot poorly. I never went back.
I never went back to the fantasy either. I could see clearly that whoever had tried to ruin me so many years ago was already ruined themself. However frightening it was being in my head, it was worse in theirs.
When I wear those old cut-off shorts, you can still see the rifle on my leg. I love that tattoo, I love what it means to me and who it reminds me of, but it feels like an advertisement to a false allegiance. I’ve been drawing ideas to change it, neutralize it. A porcupine shoving a quill in the barrel. Prayer flags draped from end to end. Turning the antlers into a jackalope with the rifle in his teeth. Anything to not be mistaken for someone I am not.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and the pass road is officially open. The overlanders have begun to roll in. In the cloud of dust, they all look the same. It’s easy to pass judgment on them. It’s easy to lump them together. It’s easy here especially to see big trucks with big wheels and make big assumptions. But what is a person’s assumption about me when I jump out of my own big truck with a rifle on my leg? What is their assumption when they see me reading “Billionaire Wilderness” drinking a chai latte with a Frenchton? What is their assumption of me when they see me leaning on my shovel outside my cabin as they drive by in this valley of wonder?
Who I used to be will only ever be a roadmap to who I am. Maybe it’s worth telling the story about a girl who is scared of the police but cried through her grandfather’s police funeral wishing he was still there. Maybe it’s worth telling the story of her grandmother who left the mob to marry him. Maybe it’s worth knowing that a girl who loved guns, who comes from a family of them, who has one needled into her skin would gladly melt them down, gladly hand them over, gladly do whatever it takes to get out of this hell we’re in. Maybe it’s worth knowing that people can change, and that this one did.