What to do when your neighbor asks you to stash her gun
A lesson in getting to know the people who live near you without causing a shootout.
What to do when your neighbor asks you to stash her gun
Robert Nelson via Flickr
I only had two substantial encounters with my old neighbor. The first: She invited me out on an impromptu date. The second: She gave me her gun.
This was 2006, long before I got married and bought a house. I was new to Charlotte, living by myself in a modestly upscale apartment complex on the east side of town. Everyone who lived there seemed to be, like me, in their mid-20s. I didn’t know them too well. I’d only seen my next door neighbor, a short, blond-haired dental hygienist, a few times in passing.
One Saturday night, I was coming back home. She was getting into her Jeep. “Whatcha doing?” she asked. I was tired, as I usually was on the weekends after a full week of working the overnight shift. I’m just going to go to bed, I said.
“Come on,” she said. “My girlfriends and I are going to the Cheesecake Factory for drinks. You should come.”
I had a perfectly nice time. I met two more perfectly nice women who woofed down perfectly nice cheesecake and expensive drinks that I didn’t pay for. Afterward, they left. My neighbor invited me back to her apartment, where we both watched the movie Saw, which is about people cutting into their own limbs in what appeared to be the dorm bathroom from my freshman year in college.
She abruptly launched into an aria about how she had just broken it off with her fiance. Her voice was sure. She’d made the right decision. He was, by her account, a despicable man who, despite being from the land-locked city of Charlotte, spent all of his time trying to go surfing. He was a damn-dirty alcoholic and a jerk; the kind of pedigree that treats women like dirt but is somehow able to keep them coming back for more. My neighbor said she would spend a tender and loving night at his place, only to have him wake up in the middle of the night, drunk and maybe angry about some ten he didn’t hang. Like clockwork, he’d kick her out of the house. Two weeks before I went to the Cheesecake Factory, she decided she’d had enough.
It hit me as I sat sipping a glass of wine, watching Cary Elwes take a hacksaw to his own leg. Wow, I thought, I’m apparently being groomed for her rebound relationship.
I just left it at that. She was cute, but after two hours of watching a horror movie and listening to her explain ex-boyfriends, family problems and important plot points moments before they happened, I decided that maybe now was a good time to get some sleep. I finished my wine and went home (ten feet away) to have nightmares.
I didn’t talk to her again until a few weeks later. I was in the bathroom on a Tuesday night with shaving cream all over my face when someone started pounding on the door. It was at nine o’clock. “I’m coming!” I yelled. I didn’t stop shaving. I had to get to work soon.
The pounding came again, louder this time. I put down the razor, wiped my face, and stuck my head outside the apartment. I saw my neighbor walking across the way to go knock on another door. She saw me and scurried back.
“Hey,” she said. “I… I… I need you to do me a favor.” She looked around nervously, like she was getting ready to cross a busy street. “Can I come in?”
Before I could answer, she was inside. “Close the door,” she said.
She was twitchy. Her voice wavered. “Look, ummmm… My fiance is coming over, and, well, I think he might be trying… to…” she said, running out of breath. She composed her thoughts and started again. “I think he might be trying to kill me.”
I didn’t have time for that sentence to sink in before she started talking again.
“Anyway, I wanted to come over and ask you if you could hold on to this,” she said. She handed me a box. The whole time, she’d been holding it and I just hadn’t noticed.
It was brown, cardboard and shoebox-sized. It was heavier than I thought it should be. I wondered what was inside. German Bearer Bonds? A shrunken head? A pet salamander?
I opened the lid. Inside, shiny, new and black, was a Saturday night special.
I don’t like guns. I don’t know much about them. But, if someone was coming over to, say, kill me, I’d sure as hell like to have one handy. My neighbor had a different viewpoint. She was very much afraid she’d kill her fiance, if he didn’t kill her first. To avoid a shootout, she decided to hand her piece over to the first neighbor that answered the door. Me.
At first, my only thoughts were logistical. Where would I put the gun? Under my bed? In the closet? Do I point the barrel toward the woods out back, where it’d probably do the least harm if it went off? Is it loaded? Is the safety on? Do I have to register this with the sheriff? Is this even the appropriate box to store a gun in?
It wasn’t long before storage concerns gave way to the actual consequences of the decision I had to make. Do I call the police? Would they show up? Shouldn’t she make the call? And, the immediate question: Should I actually take the gun? If I don’t, bullets might come whizzing through my wall. If I do, and officers show up, they’ll come looking for me.
It was a tricky situation involving a woman I barely knew, and a man I didn’t know at all. My neighbor and her fiance might work things out. They might not. Soon, there might be one person with a gun next door. Or none. Or two. I didn’t know what would happen, but suddenly, I felt responsible. I’d become an accomplice simply by answering the door.
At least I wasn’t a target, I thought at first. Or, maybe I would be. Maybe later that night, my neighbor and her fiance would drink. Maybe they would fight. “Where’s that gun?” he might say. “I know you have it! You were planning to shoot me dead!”
“No I don’t!” she’d reply. “I gave it to my neighbor!” And then I’d get a knock at the door from an unstable, possibly armed man who probably wasn’t in the mood for rational answers.
My silence was only seconds long, but felt like an eternity. She looked up at me, waiting. I took a deep breath. I closed the box and handed it back to her.
“Well then,” I said, speaking in my calmest voice. “Why don’t you just take this back and get out of here?” Maybe she should go stay at a friend’s place for a while. If she wasn’t at the apartment when her fiance showed up, he couldn’t do anything to her.
“Yeah, ummm… yeah. That’s a good idea,” she said. “Yeah, good idea.” She kept mumbling it as she turned around and walked out the door.
I tried to avoid her, but inevitably, I saw my neighbor again. It was about three weeks after the incident. I was coming home as she was locking her door to leave. Her confidence had returned. “Oh hey!” she said, cheerfully. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about, well, you know, that thing.”
She went on to say she was going to court that very morning to get a restraining order. She said it in the way that someone talks about buying a new car or throwing out some old appliance. “Well,” she said. “It was about time.”
Later, I saw some note stuck in her door from a guy, saying he wanted another chance. I didn’t know if I should take it and throw it away. It might have been bad for their relationship, but sometimes love means never having to say you’re sorry about the gun.
Jeremy Markovich is a senior editor and writer at Our State magazine, and was formerly a columnist at Charlotte magazine, a utility infielder at WCNC-TV and a raft guide at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. He lives in North Carolina with his wife Kelsey, his son Charlie and his dog Lucy. Follow him on Twitter at @deftlyinane.