In the spring of 2019, right before I leave for my writing residency in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my mama tries to give me a gun. A Ruger P89DC that used to belong to my daddy, it’s one of the few things she kept after his death. Even though she doesn’t know how to use it, she knows that I do. She’s just had back surgery, and she’s in no shape to come and get me if something goes wrong up in those mountains, so she tries to give me this. I turn the gun over in my hand. It’s a little dusty and sorely out of use. The metal sends a chill up my arm.
Even though it is legal for me to have a gun, I cannot tell if, as a Black woman, I’d be safer with or without it. Back in 2016, I watched the aftermath of Philando Castile’s killing as it was streamed on Facebook Live by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. Castile was shot five times at close range by a police officer during a routine traffic stop, when he went to reach for his license, registration, and permit to carry a gun. His four-year-old daughter watched him die from the back seat. In his case, having the proper paperwork didn’t matter.
I’ll be in the Smokies for six weeks in early spring, the park’s quiet season, staying in a cabin on my own. My local contact list will be short: the other writer who had been awarded the residency, our mentor, maybe a couple of park employees. If something happens to me, there will likely be no witnesses, no one to stream my last moments. When my mother isn’t looking, I make sure the safety is on, and then I put the gun back where she got it. I leave my fate to the universe.
Before I back out of our driveway, my mama insists on saying a protective blessing over me. She has probably said some version of this prayer over my body as long as I’ve been able to explore on my own.