[Author's note: This post is inspired by a viral Facebook meme which has been circulating the past week. Most experts believe the meme is a summation of a 2013 Examiner.com article by William Hamby. A link to the article can be found here]
My partner put his hands on mine.
"Are you absolutely certain this is what you want?"
I nodded and gently wiped away the last few tears that had been streaming through my tear ducts for the past hour.
My partner nodded. "And you'll be okay with everything that...comes...with this decision?"I managed a half-hearted smile. "I know it won't be easy, but if others can find the strength to do it then so can I."
My partner kissed my forehead. "You're sure you don't want me to come with you today?"
I shook my head. "No. No one should have to go through what I'm about to go through. Least of all you."
"But I was part of this decision..."
"I know but still. The things they'll make me do and see. I don't wish that upon anyone. Especially someone I care about as much as you."
My partner sighed. "You shouldn't have to endure any of it. Stupid politicians and their asinine laws!"
I grabbed his hands. "It's alright. It's what has to be done in this day and age. We might not agree with it but we have no choice if we want to do it legally."
My partner smiled. "You're much stronger than I am. You know that, right?"
I nodded. "Just remember that next time you ask the neighbor to move those heavy boxes in the garage and not little ole me."
That night I couldn't sleep.
Despite what I had told my partner, the truth was there still was some doubt in my mind. It was the biggest decision either of us had ever made. We'd been together for over two years and I knew Derrick and I would spend a lifetime together. The decision we made wasn't based out of fear but rather out of necessity. The truth is that we both felt this is just something that had to be done to give us peace going forward. Out of all our immediate friends and families we didn't tell anyone what we were going to do. In fact, we didn't even tell them it was even a possibility. We knew they'd judge us harshly and the last thing we wanted was to upset our families, especially the older generations who would never approve of our decision.
So we talked it over.
Pros and cons. Cost benefit analyses. Online articles. Personal narratives. Heck, we even made the mistake of seeing if TLC might have something on the topic before we realized the network doesn't do actual educational programming anymore. We did our best to keep the research purely academic. We avoided the partisan websites and news channels because we know how they politicize the issue in favor of their target audience. The last thing we wanted to see was people in our exact situation get vilified simply for making an important family decision.
Even though I was wide awake, I feigned sleep as Derrick got ready for work. Before he left, he kissed me on the nose and whispered the words, "You're bravery inspires me every day." I couldn't help but smile as he gave me a sweet kiss on the lips before heading out the door.
After he left, I got up and prepared myself for the day to come. My appointment was at 9 A.M. I wanted it to be early so I could get it over with. I also figured earlier in the morning would mean that fewer crazies would be out protesting. Ever since the recent news, it seems more and more people have taken to the streets to have their voices heard on this particular issue. Unfortunately for us, our center was the only one in a 200 mile radius so it happened to receive a particularly high volume of protesters as of late. I figured if I got there around 8:30 the damage would be minimal at best.
I could not have been more wrong. After a 45-minute drive along the rural roads, I came up to the center but could already see people amassing. Even now at 8:30 on a Monday morning there were well over 50 people in the center parking lot with hand-made signs and posters. When I saw this, I briefly considered turning to the right and parking on a side street so I wouldn't have to endure their hate. But no, I couldn't do that. That was the coward's way out and I told myself I was no coward.
As I pulled into the parking lot, my car was accosted by people, mainly White evangelicals who shouted many phrases, some of which I know their lord and savior would not approve of.
"Thou shall not kill!"
"Fuck you you fucking fuck!"
Despite their colorful vocabulary, I felt compelled to continue my walk to the center. If that was the best they could do, I felt that nothing else I saw or heard would have much of an impact on my decision.
That all changed as I approached the front doors. There, off to the side were about a dozen women holding absolutely gruesome pictures. All I could see were pictures of dead children. Each picture was more gruesome than the last in terms of blood and gore. Each picture had a name, a location, and a date. These children were from all over. Connecticut, Colorado, South Carolina, Oregon...you name it. Rather than chant like their compatriots by my car, these dozen women simply said nothing as they held the pictures up and stared at me as I finally made it through the front doors of the center.
Once inside I took a deep breath. The receptionist looked at me.
"Last name, please."
"Last name, please."
"Oh, yes. Stevens. My last name is Stevens." I look back to make sure none of the protesters were attempting to follow me in.
The receptionist saw me do so. "I'm sorry about all this. Our security guard is running late. He normally is here at this time to usher the protesters away from the front entrance."
"Ok, I found your information. If you could just have a seat over there the specialist will be with you right at 9."
As I took a seat I immediately laid my head back against the chair. Something about those pictures had struck a nerve with me. Even though those situations had nothing to do with me, I couldn't help but feel for those children. For those parents. For everyone involved. I had to convince myself what I was doing was different. That my future child would never end up on a poster like that. That I would take responsibility for the decision I was about to make despite the negative stigma that still exists regarding exactly what I was choosing to do. That was the key term: Choice. It was my choice to do what I was about to do. Nobody, not even those protesters, could tell me any different.
"Right this way, please. Have a seat right here. The specialist will be in in a moment."
"Thank you." I smiled.
My head began swirling. This was the no turning back point. The point where it was make-or-break. I could back out now, run outside, and triumphantly look the protesters in the eyes and shout, "I didn't do it! Nothing happened to me! I'm going continue to live my life as God intended!" The protesters would shriek with joy and embrace me. They'd tell me I made the right decision. They'd tell me the world was now safer because of what I'd done. They'd tell me how proud they were of me and how they'd love to have me come down to the center and protest with them to show others the error of their ways...
My head turned to see a fifty-year-old balding gentleman enter the room. He had a clipboard in his left hand and wore wire-rimmed glasses. According to various online reviews this was the man who was widely regarded as one of the best specialists in the state. His reputation preceded him; he needed to introduction. "My name is Pete Richardson, I'm your specialist."
"Hi Pete, it's nice to meet you."
"Likewise. So today is our preliminary meeting. Do you have an idea of what that will consist of?"
Pete smiled. "Great. So unless you have any questions, what I'm going to do is ask you a few simple things today. This information will be taken down and as long as it checks out, we'll call you after 72 hours to set up the procedure. Sound good?"
I nodded and smiled.
"Ok, good. Well, let's get to it so we can get you outta here. Question one, are you sexually active?"
"About four times a week."
"With one or multiple partners?"
"Just the one."
Pete looked up from his clipboard. "Look I know some of these questions might be a bit intrusive but we need this information to make a fully informed decision. You understand, don't you?"
I nodded. "Yes. To both."
Pete smiled. "Ok. Let's see now. Church goer?"
"Do you identify with a particular religion?"
"Did you attend religious services as a child?"
"Does your partner currently attend religious services?"
"How do you identify yourself politically?"
I paused again. "I don't see why that's relevant."
Pete looked up from his clipboard and adjusted his glasses. "Look, I know it might not seem important, but it is. This is not a light decision as both you and I know. When it comes time for your procedure we want to make sure that you are completely capable of handling both the procedure as well as the after effects. We need to know exactly who you are and what you stand for and I can promise you every question we ask today helps give us a better idea of who the real you is. So please, will you answer the question?"
I stared at Pete for a good ten seconds. "I'm an independent."
The questioning ended up lasting just under an hour. Nothing was off limits. I was asked about my schooling, my work history, my family, my friends, my hobbies, my favorite types of music, food, sport, movie, my favorite actor, TV show, band, solo artist, video game, app. I was asked about my politics regarding immigration, education, foreign policy, climate change, social safety nets, women's health, income inequality, and police brutality. I had to recount my sexual history, any times I was bullied, and explain my DWI in 2004. When everything was over and Pete dismissed me, I felt physically and emotionally drained.
I was so tired in fact that not even the protesters seemed to have an effect on me. I was in a daze. Their signs didn't have the same impact they had earlier. Being called a "fucking fuck" didn't make me laugh as it did the first time. No, all I felt was an awesome tiredness wash over my entire being. I got home and immediately put my head on the pillow. Derrick found me when he got home nearly six hours later.
The waiting was the hardest part.
Over the next 72 hours I tried my best to tell Derrick about all the questions that I had been asked on my background check. He was concerned that I had been abrasive in questioning Pete. I told him that I simply wasn't sure why they were asking me the things they were.
"It's a background check," Derrick said. "It's supposed to be thorough. If they have to err on the side of caution that's what they do."
"Yes, but what do my views on social security have to do with the procedure? Education? Foreign policy?"
Derrick smiled. "Maybe they just want to be sure you aren't a whack-job."
I glared at him and threw a roll at him from across the table. He laughed.
"See? Prone to violent outbursts!"
I shook my head. "You think that was violent? Just wait until bedtime. I'd sleep with one-eye open if I was you, buddy."
"Yeah, threats of violence. That will help you pass the background check."
"This ain't no threat." We both stared at each other before Derrick popped up and sprinted to the bedroom. I wasn't far behind.
Despite Derrick's concerns, I felt that I had done well with my background check. I was open and honest from describing my DWI all the way down to describing my first sexual encounter in the 9th grade. It wasn't easy by any means, but I had been truthful and I felt that was the most important part. I knew they'd access the police report of my DWI so I was extra detailed in describing the incident as best I could. Still though, despite my confidence I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous on Thursday morning when the 72-hour wait was officially over. I didn't want to sit by the phone all morning but I also didn't want to miss the call. I decided that a compromise would be a movie. I popped in Indiana Jones, and made myself comfortable on the living room couch.
Right when after the classic scene where Indy shoots his sword-wielding attacker in a crowded public area, the phone rang. I paused the movie and rushed over to answer it.
"Good morning, this is Pete Richardson calling."
"Hi! Yes, good morning Pete. I was expecting your call."
"Very good. Well, I just wanted to inform you that everything has checked out and you're good to go. We actually have time available later today at 4:30. I know it's short notice but we just had someone cancel a few minutes ago so we could squeeze you in if you want."
"Yes, that's perfect! My partner has a half-day today so he could take me to the office. You said 4:30, correct?"
"Correct. Please allow two hours for the procedures and prep work. We look forward to seeing you then. Good day."
At that exact moment, I heard Derrick's car pull up to the driveway. He walked up with his dark blue suit and his new, shiny grey tie that I bought him for his birthday. "Any news?"
"Today at 4:30. They had a cancellation. Can you...?"
"He smiled. Of course I can take you. And be there for you."
I kissed him on the lips.
"This is it though. After this, it's permanent. You still don't have any doubts?"
"Ok then. Let's have lunch and get you to the center!"
We left at 3:30 and arrived at 4:15. As much of a grind the 40 mile trek was, both Derrick and I knew we were lucky. There were those that had to drive 3+ hours to get to the center and those people would be coming in and out of the center right at rush hour on certain days. For them the journey was closer to 4 hours.
As we pulled up, there was again a sizable crowd.
"Jesus, not these fucktards!"
I put my hand on top of Derrick's. "Relax. They're just trying to intimidate people like me."
"Don't they have jobs? Why don't they petition their local official or call their congressman? Go to a town meeting. Something, anything but make people's lives miserable."
I nodded. Derrick wore his heart on his sleeve. It was what had attracted me to him in the first place. But to his credit, he knew when to put his emotions in check. He knew this was one of those times when he would have to suck it up and play nice even though it would eat him up inside.
"Thou shall not kill!"
"Fuck you you fucking fuck!"
Like clockwork the exact same insults were fired at us as we pulled into the parking lot. Derrick and I got out of the car and made our way to the front. There were no women standing to the side of the entrance this time. Instead there were twelve children, all elementary age. It was them, not the women, who were holding up the gruesome images that I had seen on Monday morning. For some reason, having children hold the images rather than the women made me even more uncomfortable than it had the first time around. I nearly stumbled into the front door after turning away.
"Are you okay?"
I look at Derrick. "Yes, I'm fine. It's just those images..."
He nodded. "I know but that will never..."
"Last name please."
I looked at the receptionist. "Stevens."
The receptionist nodded. "Stevens. Good. If you would please head down to room 8."
I smiled. "Thank you." I turned to Derrick. "Well, I guess they knew I was coming."
He kissed me on my forehead. "I'll be here when you get out."
I squeezed Derrick's hand and walked back to room 8. I waited and wondered if this was the place where the procedure would take place. Then a knock came at the door.
"Howdy, my name is Fred O'Connor, I'm a counselor here at the center."
"Sure, we just like to talk to folks before the procedure just to make them aware of what they're about to do. That way they have a full understanding of the decision they're about to make. That okay?"
"Well, sure but I've already made my decision."
"Super. Well then you should have all the information you need but I'll just quickly go over some additional things here. First although we had the office here provide procedures, we make sure our patients know the effects the procedure can have. As I'm sure you're aware the procedure will change your life. You won't have any visible scars on the outside per say, but you will have emotional scars that will last a lifetime. These scars come from making a decision that won't only impact yourself but your loved ones and your future children as well.
"You see, this decision is one based on fear. A fear of not having control over your own life. A fear of not being able to protect yourself and the ones you love. A fear of the unknown. People fear things they don't know, it's human nature. But not all folks who fear something go out and do what you're about to do. No, you see most folks just make do with their situation. Some even refer to it as a blessing. Sure they might have concerns down the road about their safety or that of their loved ones but they if they do they can always go out and get a dog as means of protection.
"Making the decision your making today is a selfish one to be honest. You're choosing to take matters into your own hands. A lot could go wrong. People have these procedures and then accidents happen as a result of the procedures. Some people after the procedure find that they just aren't the same afterwards. Some get depressed. Some get to drinking. They fight with their spouse. They ignore their kids. For many people, having this procedure is a curse rather than a blessing. They don't realize just how much the procedure can take over every single part of their daily lives.
"In conclusion, it's not something to take lightly. You're here today because you believe you have no other options. I can tell you in good faith you have another option that you are choosing not to pursue. But all that's well and good. You're here because you see this as the best decision for you to make at this time. You've most likely done your research and now you've heard some of the potential effects of the procedure. With everything that you now know, do you still want to do this?"
I looked long and hard at the counselor. "Yes. Yes I do."
The counselor nodded. "Very well then. Let's get you to room number 12."
Room number 12 was an even smaller room if that's possible. It simply had a chair facing a portable TV that looked like it was from the 1980s. Next to the TV was a DVD player. Fred O'Connor left and returned with a DVD.
"The last thing we do before our procedure is have folks see an informational video about the procedure. Now, I'm gonna be honest it's a little graphic at times so if you ever feel you're gonna be sick just bend over that there trash can in the corner. The video's only about 30 minutes long, and there's a lot of screen shots with statistics so it moves pretty quick. I'm gonna turn the lights off and return when it's over. Sound good?"
I nodded. "Sounds good."
"Great, well enjoy!" Fred started the DVD, turned the lights off, and headed out the door.
The next 30 minutes were among the most disturbing of my entire life. The DVD showed images of children, dead and bloodied children. Some had been decapitated. Some were shown in the hospital, clearly dead upon arrival. There were screams, terrifying screams of women who the video later showed to be their mothers. They held their dead children in their hands and wept uncontrollably. Doctors and hospital staff tried to console the women but they were too hysterical to even talk to the doctors.
After each scene a statistic popped up on the screen. These statistics showed the amount of children killed by this procedure. The numbers were staggering. There was no part of the country that wasn't affected, despite what some people may think. This procedure took Asian lives, Latino lives, African American lives, and White lives. It took children in major cities and rural towns. It took both boys and girls in equal numbers. These statistics traced the procedure over time and found that we were reaching nearly unprecedented levels. At the very last slide the question was asked, "What will you to do ensure you don't add to these statistics?"
At that point, the DVD went blank and Fred popped back into the room. He turned off the TV and DVD player and looked directly at me. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"I need verbal confirmation. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes. I'm sure."
He looked at me, his blue eyes piercing directly into mine. "Ok then. Follow me."
I followed Fred to the end of the hall. There was Pete Richardson waiting for me.
"Hello there! Glad to see you made it to the final step. Ready to get down to business?"
I nodded. "Yes. I'm ready."
Pete smiled. "Terrific. So the procedure is pretty simple. We've got a lot of options for you depending on what you think will best suit your needs." Pete stepped aside and revealed what I had been waiting for this whole time: A selection of guns for home protection.
I nodded. "Well, Derrick and I have been talking about it and we want something small and durable. We've done a lot of research and we've settled on the Smith & Wesson Model 686."
Pete nodded. "Ah, a fine choice, especially for first-time gun purchasers. Is there anything else you'd like to add to that? Holster? Additional ammunition?"
I shook my head. "Nope, just the Model 686 should do it today."
"Excellent choice, sir. Now, your partner will be signing off on this correct?"
"Yes, sir. We require all our customers to have co-signers for liability purposes."
"But it's going to be my gun in my possession. The responsibility rests with me. I don't want my partner facing any legal repercussions if, heaven forbid, something happens with the gun."
"It's a mere formality, sir, we just simply need a co-signer to verify that there is someone else who is aware that you have purchased a potentially deadly weapon. We do that so we know that not only are you mentally stable yourself but you also have a support system in place if you ever fall upon hard times."
I nodded. "Ok, let me grab Derrick."
Derrick came back with me and signed off on my purchase. Pete smiled. "Great, that seems to be everything. We hope you enjoy your purchase today and it brings you the peace of mind you seek. Here's my card. If you would like to purchase a second firearm at any point, you will have to complete an additional background check, 72-hour waiting period, counseling session, informational video and have a co-signer, all standard operating procedure really. Best of luck to both of you on your purchase." Pete shook our hands and turned and walked away.
Derrick smiled at me. "So, aren't you gonna model it for me?"
I laughed. "Derrick..."
"Come on, Joe. Look what you endured to do it. You drove 40 miles to the only gun shop in town. You went past swearing protesters holding pictures of those murdered children from Newtown. You filled out a background check with questions that had nothing to do with your ability to safely operate a gun. You spoke to a counselor who I'm gonna assume tried to play devil's advocate and talk you out of making your decision. Hell, I've heard some of these centers even show videos of the aftermath of Newtown, Charleston, Aurora, and Oregon and put up statistics related to gun murders in this country. You did all that, Joe, to simply do something you felt would give you a peace of mind both physically and mentally and that was the best decision for you at the time. You deserve to celebrate!"
I smiled. "Derrick what I had to endure I wouldn't wish upon anyone. But I'm not the only person who needs a gun today and I'm not the only person who's gonna need a gun fifty years from now. I just hope that someday the decision becomes accepted and that people don't have to jump through hoops in what is already a life-altering decision. My decision shouldn't be lauded. My decision was made long ago and despite all these unnecessary processes and pseudoscience that these alleged "experts" to throw at you, I knew that I had made the right decision today for us. And that's all that matters."
Derrick grabbed me and kissed me on the lips. "You're a keeper, Joseph Stevens."
I smiled and placed the gun in my coat pocket. "And you're worth protecting, Derrick Howard."