Summers seemed endless when I was six or seven.
My world was
bounded by the houses I could see from my front porch, and my friends
were those children who lived on my block. On one of those long, hot,
lazy Summer days, when time seemed to stand still, a shot was heard
that changed my life, and that of my sister, forever. This was the
day I learned about life and death.
I had been playing by myself in the house that day.
were next door working in their grocery store, and my sister, who is
two years older than I am, was across the street. She had decided,
despite the heat, to help her friend rake their yard. When the shot
was heard, my sister came running into the house, screaming that
someone had been shot. I ran outside with her to see what had
happened. The news of the shooting quickly spread around the
neighborhood, and before long there were people everywhere standing
outside the house across the alley.
This house seemed a little mysterious to my friends
and I, and it
gave us an endless topic of conversation as we walked to our school.
The shades were always drawn and the people in the house kept to
themselves. We knew that a middle-aged couple lived there, and that
their eighteen-year-old niece came to live with them that Spring --
but that was all we knew. On this particular day, we soon discovered
what really went on behind those shades.
As I stood surrounded by the crowd waiting for the
come, I looked at the girl on the back porch. She lay still, barely
breathing, a long rifle at her feet. I could see a small hole in her
chest where the bullet had entered her body. I saw her take one long
shuddering breath, and then she did not move anymore. When the police
and ambulance finally arrived, I could sense the mounting anticipation
of the crowd. I listened to the people around me as they wondered why
she had done it. The men finally lifted her from the porch, and I
could see that her body was limp and her eyes were closed. But then
blood seemed to be everywhere. Her back was covered with blood. The
porch where she had laid was covered with blood. I knew then that she
That night, and for many nights after that, my sister
herself to sleep. She told me much later that she had seen the girl
come out on the porch, put the barrel of the rifle to her chest and
pull the trigger. I could not understand why she cried so much. What
did upset me later was that I heard the girl had gotten pregnant by
her uncle and shot herself because of it. The couple moved away right
after the shooting, and the house stood empty for months. All I could
think about the rest of that Summer was the blood on the back of that
girl's dress and the realization that you could get pregnant without
being married. My sister cried a lot that endless summer, and I
thought a lot about life and death.