Guns and Kittens
September 11, 2001. My mother’s kitchen. Sandisfield, Massachusetts.
My newborn is in my arms, and the Twin Towers are falling on television. Outside, the day is yellow and warm and I see my 3 year-old pretending to be a Power Ranger on the lawn. On television, sirens blare. Dust is everywhere. People scream. They show the same footage over and over again – of the towers crumbling in on themselves, folding down to the ground in clouds of gray, as unreal as a pair of toy statues into ashes.
I look down at my baby boy. His eyes latch to mine, intense and unwavering. I know he’s been waiting for me to look at him.
I ask myself: What world have I brought him into?
Two months later I sit in my knock-off Pottery Barn rocker in Bali, nursing my baby. I hear Zephyr – my 3 year old – laughing outside the tall fence that rings our property. He is with Uut, our wonderful helper. They’ve been hunting for worms.
“Mommy!” he shrieks, bursting through the door and running towards me with something in his hands. “Mommy, look what we found?” Uut, walks behind him, calm as ever.
“Mommy, we found them in a ditch!” Zephyr says, holding up a tiny kitten in each hand. “Uut says we should keep them mommy can we keep them?”
I study the kittens. They are mangy, big-eared and clip-tailed –ugly and skinny, like all Bali cats. I do not need more to take care of, and I know Mel won’t approve, though he’s not here at the moment to chime in. Mel is from Java. He’s my husband. He hates cats. I love cats, and anyway, how can I possibly resist Zephyr’s beaming smile. The warmth of his joy aims straight for my heart.
“Oh alright…we can keep them, I sigh.”
We name the kittens Zipper and Nala. Zipper because it starts with a Z and Nala because that is Simba’s girlfriend. Zipper is lively and scampers around after the palm frond Zephyr drags behind him. But Nala is traumatized and pathetic and hides behind the refrigerator and only comes out at night to eat.
I, however, have other things to worry about.
For one, Zephyr is obsessed with getting a plastic gun. For weeks now he’s been begging me for one, but I refuse. No. Not with the image of those falling towers so vivid and dark in my mind. I need to keep the darkness outside my house. I need to keep Power Rangers at the level of Cowboys and Indians, not Rambo. I will wage my own little War-on-Terror by at least keeping its instruments far away. Zephyr, of course, does not understand. His little Balinese friends all have toy guns.
Six weeks later and its Christmas, but there’s no hint of it on this Hindu island. I wake to the sounds of birds and motorcycles and go to the kitchen for a drink. But what I find instead are dark red lines slashing across the kitchen floor like a drunken ticktacktoe. I inspect more closely and see that they are tracks of blood converging into a dark wide blotch around the fridge. I wake Mel and together we move the fridge to find little Nala, cold, hard, bloody and very dead.
When Zephyr wakes, we’ve cleaned the floor, and we tell him about Nala, but he is not sad. Instead, he looks at me and asks, imploringly, “But Mommy, when are you going to buy me a gun?”
To distract him I wave the palm frond for Zipper, who doesn’t seem to care either that his sister is dead. Mel alone is outraged by Nala’s death. Not that he had any fondness for her – as I said, he doesn’t like cats – but he cannot abide that a tom cat would come over the wall and kill a member of our family. He tells me that tonight he’s going to wait in the rocker for the Tom Cat to come, and then he’s going to shoot it with his BB gun.
I’m surprised at how re-assured this makes me feel.
The next morning I awake from a deep sleep to a click click clicking sound. As I open my eyes. I see the distinctive shape of a barrel of a gun. I know that’s what it is because it is black and has a hole at the end that is pointed at the middle of my forehead. The gun is so close that it takes me a moment to make out Zephyr behind it – his expression one of stolid concentration, his little hands wrapped round the grip.
In a spastic reflex, I yank the gun away.
“Zephyr what are you doing?? Never EVER point a gun at someone!!”
Zephyr is scared. We have a what-is-happening-is-this-happening moment. I shove the gun under the sheets and Zephyr starts to cry. Giant tears fall down his cheeks onto the pillow. And then when he realizes that the gun is actually gone, he starts to scream.
I back out of the bed, gun hidden in the folds of my nightgown, and run to the closet where I thrust it under a suitcase on the top shelf. Zephyr’s screams split the air. I stand with my back against the closet door, breathing hard.
Later Mel tells me that he waited two hours for the Tom Cat to come, but when it did not, he went to bed, putting the BB gun on the bedside table so he could grab it if the cat came. But then in the morning he forgot to put it away before he went out.
All day, Zephyr has been crying. He asks me over and over through tears why I took the gun away. I tell him “Zephyr, guns kill people. Guns are dangerous!”
Zephyr says, “But Mommy I want a gun!”
Mel thinks I’m being rigid. He thinks that a toy gun will get Zephyr over his obsession and that we can then teach him the difference between toy guns and real guns when he’s older. Mel is moderate. Everyone here is moderate, because they are Javanese, and because they’ve slept and have stable hormones and haven’t just watched the twin towers fall while holding their newborn in their arms. I need some support. Where are my strident progressive New England friends?
I have a headache and my baby is fussy and Zephyr just will NOT stop crying! But Mel comes to me and takes our baby in one arm and my hand in the other and suggests that maybe we could buy Zephyr a colorful toy gun that can’t be confused with a real gun. And I start to think – maybe he’s right. Maybe …just maybe…I could get some peace…. if it’s purple …and small.
When I kneel next to Zephyr and tell him I will buy him a toy gun, his crying stops and his face lights up with delight.
The next day we go to Matahari department store. I come here as seldom as possible, but Zephyr wants to come as often as possible. Today he’s extra happy because a) he’s going to go to Matahari and b) he’s getting a toy gun.
We head to the toy section where everything is made from plastic in China and breaks two days after you buy it. Zephyr takes my hand and pulls me to the gun aisle – somehow he knows precisely where it is. Seven styles of guns hang in their packaging, all of them black. I ask the bored-looking employees “Do you have any colorful guns?”
“Just these,” one replies.
“That one!” Zephyr shouts, his mind made up. He’s pointing at a long black semi-automatic sub-machine gun – the largest gun on the rack.
“He likes that one,” the clerk says, cheerfully.
The employees smile at him, and Zephyr grins jubilantly. And I’m STUCK!
I’ve already promised him a gun and I have no idea where else to shop for a colorful one. Kenny G is playing too loudly over bad speakers, my breasts are starting to leak and Zephyr is taking the gun off the rack and gazing at it through the plastic window of its box. And I think…Maybe I can spray paint the gun purple….or run over it accidentally with the car. And then all of a sudden, I just really don’t care.
After paying for the gun I kneel down and look Zephyr in the eye. “This is your gun now. You can hold it but you may not open the box until we get to the car. Do you understand?”
Zephyr nods, clutching the box to his chest.
Before heading home, we go to the cosmetics section. As I search for a brown eye-liner amongst the dozens of black ones, I hear laughter from behind me and I turn around to see not one, but FOUR Matahari female employees squatting around Zephyr. They are young and tidy; dressed in cream-colored blouses, maroon skirts and black pumps. They giggle and smile – intent on Zephyr, and I feel gratitude –as always – for how kind the Balinese are with my children.
But then I realize that they are looking at Zephyr’s box. No, they are holding Zephyr’s box. And now they are taking the gun out out of its box and holding it out to him, as if presenting a gold metal or a trophy.
What is consistency in parenting? When does sticking to principles become rigidity? Who’s to say?
That day, as we walk through Matahari department store, my son holds a giant black semi-automatic sub-machine gun in his arms. People stare. I am used to this because people always stare at us in Bali. But I wonder, today, what it is they really see:
Do they see a white woman and her brown child – adopted perhaps?
Do they see a confused mother unable to fend off the evils of the world from her 3-year-old terrorist in the making?
Or could it be, as their warm smiles suggest, that what they see is a little boy, an honest-to-god Power Ranger, marching along, head held high, mom by his side, holding his first toy gun proudly in his arms?
Anni Crofut describes herself as an in-depth-dabbler. Her eclectic path includes her profession as a jewelry designer at AnniMaliki.com, her beloved bi-cultural life and marriage (Indonesia and the US), her non-profit performance work, her children, family and friends. Anni’s joy is in the riddle of integrating these many riches. To this end, she writes, dances, designs, performs, travels and is a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.