No. I Love You. No Gun.
I watched my husband through our kitchen window and my heart ached. He had gone outside to take the call. I thought it was probably not so much for privacy but to shield me from yet another unsettling conversation. He sat at our patio table looking out towards the shimmering, blue Pacific. His favorite wispy clouds dotted the sky on a glorious autumn day. He loved those clouds. But I knew his focus was not on nature’s beauty and that there was nothing about Mother Ocean that gave him any peace that day.
His left arm seemed to be supporting the weight of his entire body as he leaned hard against the chair. His hand clutched the phone too tightly. His head seemed to hang lower each time he finished his side of the conversation.
“I know. . .I know. . .yes, I know. . . it’ll be OK. I know. . .I know.”
I was a newcomer to this anguish he endured. We were newly married, one of those knew-each-other-in-high-school-and-reconnected stories. We were deeply in love and so grateful to have found each other this late in life. Grateful, too, that we had overwhelming support for our new adventure together from friends and family.
We each had two adult children, one daughter, one son. The girls were each the oldest, in their early 30s, launching families, careers and themselves into a world so much more complex than either of us had ever had to confront. The boys were doing what many young men in their 20s do: searching for their place – sometimes naively confident, sometimes annoyingly dismissive of parental suggestions, sometimes frightened little boys unsure of how they would ever support themselves. In addition to sports, cars and the attention of young women, both young men had fascinating creative streaks which is where I found I could always find common ground and an entry point for conversation. But my husband’s son had a special challenge that, thus far in his young life, the years of counseling, medication and love couldn’t beat back; agitation, depression and internal voices were becoming a constant in his life.
“No. absolutely not. That’s not a good idea. No. You don’t need that. No. I can’t do that. No.”
I walked away way from the window, unsure of what the other side of the conversation sounded like but certain about the weight of my husband’s words. The words were spoken softly but they were adamant and yet sorrowful. They still haunt me.
He held the phone for a moment, rested his hands in his lap and glanced out at the ocean. He stood and I watched his shoulders rise with his breathe then drop with his weariness of the situation. He turned to walk back into the house. I wanted to run away, not from him but from what I knew he as going to say.
“He wants a gun.”
I was wrong. My premonition about the conversation had been incorrect. This was worse.
His son did not get a gun that day or anytime else during the several remaining weeks of his young life. He most likely could have, somewhere, some way, and it’s a miracle that he didn’t. But he did find another way to shut out the pain and we miss him every day.
I do not have a solution to the perplexing tragedy in this country of how to care for and treat those among us who suffer from mental illness. I do not have a solution to the chronic refusal of Congress to make progress, by whatever means possible, to move us as one nation towards a less violent future.
I only know what my husband, a loving and terrified father, had the strength to tell his only son who was angry, frightened and clearly suffering from the mental illness that gripped him: “No. I love you. No gun.”
Pat Cochran-Lockwood is a long-time resident of Laguna Beach. She and her husband author Dennis Lockwood are supporters of Everytown for Gun Safety.