I just realized that another anniversary went by, and I completely forgot about it.
It’s been nearly two decades since that night back in grad school. I’d met a friend over in San Francisco and we’d seen a movie. I can’t remember what the movie was, but it wasn’t particularly good. I think Ron Howard had something to do with it. That it was Good Friday has allowed me to easily remember the date.
Back driving on the way home I felt something hit the side of the car hard and smack my leg. My first thought was, “dammit, some rock just hit the car and probably screwed up the paint, now I’ll have to get it fixed. Pain in the ass.” But then it occurred to me that if it was a rock that had hit the car, why did I feel it hit my leg? Shit, did I just get shot? I put my hand down on my leg, expecting to find blood but there wasn’t any.
I drove down the road a block and pulled over to a gas station where there were a bunch of police cars. No blood or wound, but there was a giant bullet hole through the side of the driver’s door. I went over to the police, who were there questioning somebody for something that appeared unrelated to the shooting, and told them what happened. As one of the officers came with me over to my car, a guy in a Sentra pulled up and he said he had just been shot at too. Several squad cards ripped down the street towards the direction we’d come from. The officer inspected my car and pulled out a 45-caliber bullet that was sitting on the floor below the steering wheel. The bullet had passed through my door, through the map pocket and its contents, and hit my leg. Amazingly I was only bruised, but somewhere in my belongings I still have a map of the East Bay with a bullet hole through the center.
I was pretty freaked out for a few weeks afterwards. I no longer drove the same route at night. I started wanting to sell my beloved car, which I’d just bought a couple years earlier as my first brand new adult purchase. The story was a hit at parties, but eventually I got tired of telling it, and started not wanting to talk about it anymore.
As luck would have it, the Saturday night after the shooting I met a guy at a bar who I fell head-over-heals (at least for a few weeks!), so I was fortunately distracted from dwelling on the event. Randomly I was on my way home from visiting my parents and made a stop at the Midnight Sun. I was never good at picking up guys in bars, but somehow we exchanged numbers. Even though nothing came of our little romance beyond a few weeks of fun, I credit him with getting me through that time. We’ve been in touch off and on over the years, and though I’m sure he just recalls our fling as nothing substantial, I always think of him fondly as keeping me distracted from mind-tripping on the whole thing. “I’m from Fresno,” he told me. “That kind of shit happens there all the time.” He would then recount times of windows being shot out and various stay bullet near-misses experienced by him, his friends and family. Just get over it, he seemed to suggest.
Maybe another reason I was able to shrug it off in due course was a certain inevitability I’d felt about the potential for such a thing to happen. When I was an undergraduate at the same university, it had the sordid distinction of being the most dangerous college campus in the nation on a statistical, per-capita basis. Muggings were in the news regularly, as well as assaults and burglaries. In my senior year a gunman took over a popular local bar and held the patrons hostage for seven hours, ultimately killing one before police gunned him down. One summer I was a counselor for the orientation program and part of the script was to convey the importance to the new freshmen to be aware of their surroundings and on guard, while not unduly alarming them and their parents. But all through my undergraduate years I kept thinking to myself that hopefully I’d get out of there without being a victim of crime or an earthquake. Is that too much to ask? So when I got home late that Good Friday night with a bullet hole through the door of the car, I morbidly thought to myself that it was just a matter of time, and my luck had finally caught up with me.
I didn’t sell the car, at least not until I decided several years later I needed a fancier yuppster car for what I considered a new important job and traded it in for a BMW (oh, the follies of youth!). But for the next few years, the coming of Good Friday would remind me of the event, with the knowledge that it could have turned out much worse. Other than that, I have to admit I haven’t really thought about it at all.
Some anniversaries are meant to be forgotten. When my sister was in college she was sexually assaulted by a creepy guy who had apparently been following her around campus for weeks. Though she was not physically hurt, she suffered a huge mental toll. Each year as the anniversary of the attack approached she would get anxious and depressed. We all wished she could forget the anniversary, and I’m sure she wishes she could too, but can someone ever get over something so awful? Now decades later she doesn’t talk about the anniversary as it approaches (at least outwardly to her family and friends), but I can’t think she’s forgotten.
Maybe there is a difference between getting over something, as opposed to memorializing its anniversary. For me, each Good Friday now comes and goes and I completely forget about that night all those years ago. Then, like this year, I won’t realize I forgot until several weeks or months later. Sometimes I have to count backwards to even remember which year it happened. But there is still an imprint, and that is the part about never totally getting over it entirely: part of me knows how truly random the event was, and how easily something like that could happen again with nothing more than pure bad luck.
Then again, there are anniversaries I forget that I’d rather remember. My partner and I met exactly one week after Valentine’s Day (again many years ago). I can remember because on Valentine’s Day, I’d been dating a guy who had a drinking problem and we were supposed to go out for Valentine’s. He got drunk, forgot our date, I ate dinner alone, and we broke up that night. The next week I mustered up the courage to ask my future partner out, and we had our first date exactly one week after Valentine’s Day. It was a whirl-wind romantic date, and we’ve been together since. But for the life of me, even with the anniversary pinned to a significant holiday we both still forget half the time. We exchange cards on Valentine’s and the next week flies by, and then many weeks or months later realize we forgot again.
What other anniversaries have I forgotten? Coming out to my parents… I remember the restaurant, the look on their faces, and that it was not as bad as I expected, but I can’t remember the year or even the approximate month. How about losing my virginity? I remember both instances (a guy first, followed by a gal about a week later), but have to do math to even remember how old I was. My first job? Buying my condo? Shooting my first porn? Nope and nope and nope.
There are ways to easily remember anniversaries of course. With the advent of digital assistants and later smart phones, it’s possible to remember every anniversary forevermore. Just click the box for “annual reminder” and it will be waved in front of you once a year. But then again, maybe it’s better to just keep the box unchecked, let the worst of it fall to the wayside, and let the rest just find its place wherever that may be.
* * *
A couple of weeks ago I’d thought about the shooting and realized it will be twenty years ago next year… interesting, but not really sure what to make of it, if anything. But then Good Friday came, I went to work, went to the gym, had dinner with my sister who was visiting, and completely forgot about the “anniversary.” It wasn’t until a couple of days later I realized it had passed. Probably just as well.