It was a stray bullet, he tells me.
It’s always the stray bullet.
Not that I asked. I know better. I don’t want to know how he was shot. Where he was. Who he was with. I don’t want to know why bullets were flying around that area. If they were directed at him. If they had reason to be.
I want to ask if he’s safe now, but I do not know how to find these words as he tells me he’s back in his old bedroom, his soccer trophies on the shelf, his old comic books still piled on the nightstand. The blue-and-white checkered quilt with stars on it his grandmother made when he turned nine.
Were there bullets there when he was nine too? Was it just luck that it took 20 years for one to hit him?
I try and focus. Where were we?
His records say two months ago, he came in. Unidentified male. Trauma code. Gunshots. They opened his abdomen and took out a bullet, his spleen, and eleven inches of his small intestine. They braced his pelvis, where the other bullet was, and handed him a walker. That one’s too dangerous to take out.
From what I read, he stopped breathing on his way to the MRI scanner once. His heart never stopped. I wonder if he remembers that?
He wants something for the pain. Everything hurts. His back. His hip. No, his whole leg down from the top of his butt cheek all the way to his little toes. His abdomen. His shoulders. His neck. He’s had a headache for a month. He can’t get an erection. Sometimes, he wakes up at night and he can’t breathe.
I want to ask him if he remembers the moment the bullet entered his flesh, stray or not. What he was doing just before. If he’d had fun that night, had been with a friend or alone or with his sister? Was there warning before the shots? Did he know to duck? Is that what saved his life?
Or was it luck? The stray bullet being actually stray. His back turned. Walking down the street or helping his girl into a taxi, or bending down to tie his shoe. (He’ll never wear laced shoes again.)
I want to know what he remembers of the hospital. The lights, the nameless beings that pushed things in his IVs, that cut him open. If he remembers the moment before the surgery, the sensation of losing blood, the flowing of medicine into his veins, the anesthesia gas into his lungs. The softness of that sleep.
I wonder, if he had a choice, would he have woken up at all from that rest?
What does his mother think? Does she worry about him now, every time he leaves the house? Does he jump back ten feet when an engine backfires, as it does often in his neighborhoods?
Does he ever wonder—if things had been different, if he’d left ten minutes earlier, if he hadn’t tied his shoe, if he’d been born somewhere else, anywhere else, or into another body—would this have happened at all?