The above is NOT the gun I used, and I don’t know a darn thing about guns, but this one looks a bit like the one that was available to me, except that it had a silver handle.
When I was a junior or senior in high school, my mother said, “You’ll be leaving me soon. I’m going to have to find someone else.” Every weekend, she was going to the American Legion and coming home long after I’d gone to bed. One particular night, in the wee hours, I was startled awake by the light in my bedroom flicked on.
There was my mother with a man I’d only met one time, named Shannon Harger. And with her was another couple she was friends with. She announced that she wanted to get married, and was I okay with that? Thoughts of my beloved dad filled my head, and so rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I nodded approval. I scrambled from bed and threw on some clothes as instructed. Very soon, we were all in the car on the way from Little Rock to Ripley, Tennessee. Apparently one could get married in Ripley without a blood test (as used to be required in many jurisdictions) or a waiting period. I have only vague memories of the justice of the peace performing the ceremony… I know that before they said their vows, as we were waiting for the government office to open, we ate breakfast at a restaurant sitting at a table by a window with a view of the small town street.
Shannon moved into our home, bringing with him nothing but a pillow case filled with a few clothes. Or so I thought, but he must have a few more items, because I quickly realized he had guns and bullets stashed in my mother’s dresser drawer. The Story of Shannon will have to wait for another post, but suffice it to say that his only son, Marion Shannon Harger, Jr, is still incarcerated in a Missouri prison after several decades — he was convicted of double rape and sodomy. No, Shannon wasn’t anything like my beloved daddy, but he came with guns.
This is a photograph of Shannon with one of his rifles:
And the following shows the Missouri Department of Corrections info for Shannon’s son:
So one weekend when I was still in high school, my mother and Shannon took a road trip to see relatives and left me at home alone. Things had only gotten worse than they were before. I had never held or even seen a real gun, but I went into my mother’s bedroom and opened the drawer. There was the gun!! It was heavy to hold.
Once again, the fine details escape me, but I remember standing beside my mother’s bed with the sunshine streaming in the windows through the curtains. Each time, there was always sunshine. I didn’t know how to work a gun, as I’d never even seen one, but I must have cocked it. I pointed the barrel at my temple and paused. The shards of sunlight danced on the wall and I can still see the pink and green floral pattern of the sheets on my mother’s bed. A split second must have droned into a lifetime. I pulled the trigger…
I was not expecting the backfire. My hand jerked and with it, the aim of the gun. The bullet must have missed my head by a fraction of an inch? Now I had failed on my third attempt. I hadn’t even known for sure if there were bullets in the gun, though I’m sure I had tried to look… I was definitely certain that one bullet had whizzed past my skull, as I could almost feel the breeze. I searched for the bullet — had it gone into the mattress of the bed was or was it embedded in the wall? I was terrified that my intent would be discovered and I’d be in big trouble. So I gingerly replaced the gun back in the drawer, and prayed that what I’d done would not be found out. To her last breath, I never told my mother about this…
So quite clearly, I was “deadly” serious in ending my life and my pain. What happened next is material for a macabre dark comedy. I’d kept a journal from about the age of 14 onward. I recall writing in it by pen after school, while I waited on my mother to get home from work, and writing at every other chance as well. Once, my mother came home a little earlier than usual, and I swiftly hid the diary under a cushion. I was always hiding my journal…
However, my mother went on a cleaning spree, and she discovered the diary where I’d hidden it under a mattress. Now she could no longer deny what surely must have been obvious by then. She saw in my own scrawled adolescent handwriting that I wanted, WANTED to die.
As I had anticipated, she excoriated me. How dare I? And she took me to a psychologist who evaluated me. I was open and honest with the psychologist as far as I can recall, and I clearly remember sitting alone with him in his office, him telling me something like, “There’s nothing wrong with you. But I have to give you a diagnosis to get you help.” And so he decided that I had “adjustment” problems…
There was some consideration given to putting me into a school for “troubled” teens, but the school was meant for those who were the bullies and not for those who had been bullied. That idea was dismissed. Group therapy was recommended. I was placed in therapy group with other teenagers, and oh my word!, for the first time in my whole short life I felt “seen” and accepted and listened to and heard.
However, however, however… I’d only attended the group therapy for two or three weeks? Now, my mother had to take off work 1/2 hour early to get me to the meetings. I must explain, though, that my mother had managed her work situation (she was a legal secretary) such that she would not have her lunch hour on Monday through Thursday, and but would then take off a half day on Friday afternoon. This had been her regular routine for several years, So, really, using that extra half hour to get me to group therapy wasn’t such a burden, and she had plenty of flexibility at work….
But my mother complained about it and emphatically stated that I “was better.” I wasn’t better yet, I’d only had a small taste of what “better” might look like and the relief of having people listen and care. She refused to take me to group therapy any more. The two group leaders were alarmed and did their level best to find alternative transportation for me, but there was none to be had. And so the one thing my mother could have done right, that would have altered the course of my entire life, she chose not to do…
Through a miracle, I got my high school diploma. I’d had to quit school half way into my senior year because the bullying had been so bad I was assaulted at my bus stop — a story for another time. With a correspondence course, I finished the last portion of senior English. Started college at University of Last Resort (UALR) aka University of Arkansas at Little Rock in January of 1975. No question of what I wanted to do — major in psychology so that I could become a therapist and help other people who were in pain. Was forced to move out of the house because Shannon’s behavior was diabolical. Yet accomplished getting my BA in psychology in August of 1978.
The following photograph is how I looked in 1986, which would have been 8 years after getting my BA in psychology. I had moved from Arkansas to New York state to have access to public transportation and be as independent as possible:
Fast forward through two relationships, the first lasting 9 years and the second lasting 7 years. For seasoning, add in many years of stable employment with high regard. No therapy needed, no major incidents. Troubled in various ways, yes, and repeats of what I’d learned from my mother, but no treatment or intervention needed, and no more suicide attempts in that period.
I was on my third relationship by age 40, and it was the one I hoped would last. In the intervening years, I’d gone on to get a BS in computer science and had worked my way into a career as a systems engineer. But alas, my little glass house came crashing down, and all at the same time. Unhappy with my advancement in my current job, I accepted a position as a “computer scientist” making $75,000 / year at another company. But the job wasn’t what was promised to me. Meanwhile, I had finally faced the reality that I needed to transition from female to male, and had started on that journey. Other things were afoot, but the hardest part was seeing this last relationship with Kim crumble before my eyes.
From the depths of despair, I’d had financial and personal success. I lived in a condominium that was 1/2 block from the Cleveland Park metro station in Washington, DC, and I was as independent as a visually impaired person could possibly be. But what mattered to me was my relationship with Kim.
In the midst of all this upheaval, the same depression I’d had as an adolescent slammed against me. It wasn’t like I hadn’t had it between my teenage years and this time period, but I’d gotten by. Now I sought out a therapist and got myself help.
Read Part 4 to learn what happened next.