*same as previous installments regarding fictitious nature
MEN WHO CARRY
They were somewhere between a hook-up and a relationship when they broke up. The passion was still explosive, but it had moved from lust to anger. After a couple of bruising fights, abashed and blaming each other they called it quits. But it was not completely over. She was two months pregnant.
Maybe out of spite or maybe she meant it, she said she would have an abortion. Prior to hearing that, her pregnancy was a distant cloud on Winston’s horizon, unlikely to affect his weather. Now with electrifying clarity he knew what he wanted: he wanted that child.
Winston consulted a lawyer who told him that until the child was born he had zero rights. Zero, he said again. She could do whatever she wanted.
It drove him crazy, it was so unfair. He wasn’t violent or vindictive, despite her accusations. He wasn’t a misogynist either. He believed that equal rights were a good thing, but the operative word was equal. He was someone who would be a good father.
He tried discussing it with her reasonably, but she cut him off after threatening to call the cops on him. It required willpower to stay calm. Anything rash he said would be used against him in court which is where things would end up once the kid was born. If the kid was born.
As the weeks passed—the due date was early February—a sense of urgency built up inside him; he could almost feel the pressure on his rib cage. The window of time to assert his claims after birth was small, not that he would have many rights even then. He would be able to prevent her from giving up the baby for adoption.
Several times he parked outside her gym spying to see if she was showing. He never saw her. All of her friends had unfriended him on Facebook. In late January, he contacted Kurt S, the last one they shared, someone so peripheral that he wasn’t worth blocking. Winston sent him an invitation to a fictitious art opening. There was no chance of Kurt attending since Kurt had moved back to Ohio. Winston added a personal touch, a window for response. “How’s everything in Toledo?”
Kurt, obviously lonely, responded almost instantaneously. In no timeWinston had the news he was fishing for: “saw the baby pix, there goes yr life.”
“LOL” Winston wrote back.
“yr last laugh” Kurt posted.
One of the Likes on Kurt’s Wall was something called A Voice for Men. Winston followed the link and soon was in a labyrinth haunted by the voices of men victimized the way he was. He discovered that there was a men’s rights group that met once a month in a strip mall thirty minutes from his house. The Red Line Brigade. Their website explained that the red line was the event that caused them to devote themselves to the righteous battle against the pussification of America. The rhetoric was juvenile but these were serious men. A sub-group of the Brigade was Men Who Carry. One of them was pictured in a T-shirt with the words “We Pack and We Carry” framing a sketch of a Glock.
With no further misdirection,Winston told Kurt that he and his ex were fighting for custody and he asked him to forward all posts regarding his ex. Again he got an immediate response. His ex was living with her family in Minnesota. The baby was a girl. She arrived two weeks early. Five pounds, twelve ounces. Named Mariella. Despite himself, Winston liked the name.
Through his lawyer, Winston contacted his ex. She was, as expected, uncooperative. Also as expected, she had not acknowledged his paternity on the birth certificate. Winston petitioned for genetic testing. He could do that. The test proved he was the father. Through Kurt he sent her a message on Facebook: Fathers matter. Maybe not to women and other idiots and certainly not to the legal system but they matter. We matter. She emailed him back in block letters: COME NEAR MY BABY AND I’LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED.
She had pushed him across the red line. Winston drove down Highway 17 to the strip mall. The meeting got started late. Most of the men—there were ten counting Winston—seemed like grizzled losers, but Winston tried not to be judgmental. They sat in a circle and told tales about custody battles, alimony payments, how boys in some Balkan country, or maybe it was Baltic, were testing lower and lower in testosterone. They all got a big laugh hearing the story of the woman who shot herself in the heart while carrying a gun in her bra. Winston was mostly disengaged until one of the Men Who Carry displayed his new purchase, a fine black instrument, the very opposite of all that was soft and rotten in society. The gun shop in the strip mall didn’t stock this particular model, the proud owner said, but it could be ordered and would arrive in less than forty-eight hours.
At the gun shop the next day Winston didn’t bother ordering the same gun. There were dozens to balance and weigh in his palm and upon his shoulder, each with their particular satisfaction. In spite of his excitement, or perhaps because of it, Winston didn’t buy one. On the drive home he lambasted himself for chickening out. He was pussified.
Self-lashing got him to return to the gun shop before a week passed. The man who had waited on him last week, who had seemed like a fond uncle, was not there, replaced by an impatient, overweight woman in green coveralls who was the man’s wife or maybe mother. She didn’t look anything like Winston’s ex-girlfriend but she irritated him in exactly the same way. The same dismissive attitude.
Winston inspected a beautiful pistol. He felt how the skin on his palm and the hard black steel conjoined; the gun was instantly intimate and familiar. He pointed it at the fat woman to see her response and she flinched. He bought it.
That was not the end of it, of course. Neither was a gunshot. He buried the gun in the sock drawer. Putting it in his underwear drawer was something a feminist would make hay out of.
The nights he went out cruising he packed the gun in a holster strapped to his ribs. He wanted to know what it felt like to be a man who carries, but he never loaded it. The story about the woman who shot herself in the heart had made an impression.
Not loaded, the gun soon seemed no more dangerous than a cell phone which may explain why one evening at the bar he took the gun out and started pointing it at people. It was a joke. Panic broke out. A couple of cops cuffed him, and he woke up in jail with a pain in his head like a bullet embedded. He had seven counts of disorderly conduct against him. He called his lawyer, but his lawyer said it wasn’t his kind of case.
Three days in prison gave Winston a lot of time to think. The thought that came most often was how much he loved and missed his daughter. Mariella.