Bullets in My Family MAG

September 16, 2012
By floragj GOLD, Brooklyn, New York
floragj GOLD, Brooklyn, New York
19 articles 0 photos 8 comments

There is a history of bullets in my family. Bullets for different reasons, thousands of miles apart from one another. Some passed from hand to hand in silence. Some were fired from clandestine weapons that were not quite quiet enough. Floating on different oceans, one warm and glistening, the other icy, roiling, opaque, men on two different islands chose their bullets, and delivered them with purpose.

My great-grandfather's house had a television in a time when a television was enough to bring a whole neighborhood into a single living room. And so my great-grandfather's house was where the bullets were seeded. The young people from the university across the street gathered around the flickering box. They talked about the state of things. The way that ­uncles and cousins and sisters were disappearing. How El Jefe was swallowing up small pieces of their lives. They murmured with the cilantro-fresh spice of Dios, Patria, Libertad in the back of their throats and their words crackled like the static from the television set.

The bullets were seeded in his house. They ­flourished into a network of plans, of allies and alibis, and “si ellos le preguntan, no conoces a mí.” In the end, the whole thing finished just as it began. After the months spent protesting and postering, the nights spent planning and praying, after las mariposas had flown away, they came back to my great-grandfather's living room. A polaroid froze them all in their places beside the couch, at the dining table. Their mouths were all closed. The bullets broke their ­silence the next night. They broke the silence of a road just outside Santo Domingo, the ­silence of May's last puff of spring breath. These bullets broke the windows of a blue Chevrolet Bel Air and not a single one bounced off the ­General's chapitas. They drew blood.

But not all bullets do. Decades later, and on a different island where May clings to April's chilly skirts and resists the pull of summer, my father doled out bullets, too. He learned that art was a way of saying things so that people would listen. He learned that saying things that made people listen was art. And so he collected names, and bought ammunition. He still looked across the ocean at a smaller island and watched as people died because they could not agree to love the same God with slightly different words. He watched the conflict in Ireland and made sure not to look away as each person fell. He did not let their names touch the ground. He swept them up and kept them in his art-school dorm. He attached each of them to a bullet, and he gave them all away to strangers who would not have known them otherwise. A metallic way to remember pressed into the tender palm of a hand. And this was the art. The thing that made people listen and look. My father placed a bullet in his own father's hand and found it many years later, framed in felt, the name ­engraved on its casing.

There are bullets in my family. There were those with names, and those that were nameless, delivered in the nighttime by machine guns that could not betray just whose shots were whose, even after the trigger ­fingers were found out. There were those that destroyed life and those that preserved its echo within the shell that would remain forever pristine and unfired. But they all reached their intended destinations, nonetheless. Each was a tiny parcel of meaning in a larger gunpowder intention. Their trajectories linger in my lineage.

The author's comments:
This is the true story of my Dominican great-grandfather and my English father.

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