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11 Things I Learned As A Survivor Of Random Gun Violence

On the morning of April 30, 2015, I was driving to work when a stranger pulled up next to me at a red light and quick-scoped me in a drive-by shooting (worst finals week ever). It was a bit of an eye-opening, life-changing experience.

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To be shot is to be exposed to the dark underbelly of the human psyche. I'm unaware of how much anger and disregard for human life is required to attempt to murder somebody, but I know firsthand that such a combination exists. Case in point: that time a stranger intentionally shot me with a .22 caliber rifle. I'll try my best to tell the story of my unsuccessful bullet-dodging attempt without embellishing the details.

Hark! It was the thirtieth day of April in the foul Year of Our Lord, two-thousand and fifteen. I awoke from a slumber that forenoon, ready to embark upon my daily exploits, namely my job at a restaurant wherein I would serve hummus and shawarmas to the wonderful people of Houston, Texas. I remember an abundance of sounds that morning as I drove my black Ford Ranger to the first traffic light of the fifteen-minute drive. To wit, the birds were singing, the wind was gently howling, my truck's six-cylinder engine was whistling, and Carlos Santana's Oye Como Va was playing on the radio. And then, a bang!

Alright, I'm over-embellishing and growing increasingly annoyed with my own writing style here. I can't possibly write a whole article in a such a pretentious voice without properly hating myself. But this much is true: spring 2015 was my first semester at the University of Houston. During this time, I lived in Houston's Third Ward, which is walking distance from the university. The Third Ward is predominantly African-American and full of vibrant history. Unfortunately, it's also an impoverished area with a high crime rate.

I was smoking a cigarette and sitting at a red light on my way to work one morning around 10 AM when a man pulled up in the lane next to me and shot my left arm at point blank range. There was no exchange of words -- he simply shot me and nonchalantly drove away when the light turned green. I pulled into the nearest corner store and dialed 911. Luckily, a few people were present to help me. I lost consciousness for five or ten minutes (I'm not sure how long I was out) and awoke to paramedics cutting my shirt off before eventually taking me to the Texas Medical Center, a mere two minutes from the scene of the shooting.

Several hours later, another man was shot at by the same person (which kind of hurts my feelings -- was my blood not enough?!). However, neither I nor the other man were able to get a decent description of him. He is still at large, and I doubt he'll ever be caught, which means I'm left filling in the blanks as to why this happened. If I had to guess, I'd say that it was related to the justified outrage of Freddie Gray's death in police custody, which occurred 11 days prior to my shooting and resulted in the Baltimore riots. If my guess is true that my shooter elected to shoot me because I'm white, then this is my take on the situation: he has a right to be angry about police brutality. It's a legitimate and justifiable grievance. I'm upset about it, too. But violence only begets more violence. Obviously, I wish I hadn't been shot, because I had to have a series of painful surgeries in the year that followed, and I'm still plagued by nerve damage, meaning I haven't had full feeling in my left hand for more than 18 months. I don't know how to answer America's racial tensions, but empathy and understanding are an integral part of the solution. As such, I choose to direct my frustration not at the man who shot me, but at the system with byproducts such as indiscriminate racial violence and easy access to guns.

If the above doesn't aptly explain my outlook on my experience, then maybe this will: sometimes life is absurd. The best I can do is keep a sense of humor and refuse to take things personally.

Anywho, here's what I've learned.

1. After getting shot, it's important for one to explain why one won't be able to follow through on that day's commitments.

Screenshot by Taylor Smith

Responsibility is important. I agreed to try to review my friend's paper about five minutes before the shooting, but getting shot and spending the next four days in the hospital meant that I wouldn't be able to help.

Also, I know I was in a state of shock, but that's no excuse for a typo. The text should read "in a drive-by," not "on a drive by." What a stooge!

2. A child's Spider-Man costume can be used as an effective tourniquet.

George Hodan / Via publicdomainpictures.net

Thank you, kind stranger, for lending me what I assume is your son's old Halloween costume. Without it, I could either be dead or living without my left arm right now, though I'm not sure why one would have a spare Halloween costume in one's car on the last day of April.

3. I was asked to pay an excess of $100,000 for my four day vacation to the ICU.

U.S. Navy - Timothy F. Sosa / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Emergency health care is expensive, especially when a bullet shatters your humerus and severs an artery. After 13 hours of surgery, I pulled through. But two weeks after discharge, I received a bill from the hospital -- a charity hospital, mind you -- asking for over $100,000. Let's just say that we found a flaw in the system.

4. Because it was most likely a racially-motivated crime, people assume I'm now racist. I'm not.

Flickr User: 5chw4r7z / Via Flickr: 5chw4r7z

"So where did this happen, Tray?"

I was in the Third Ward -- right down the street from the University of Houston.

"Ah. So the shooter was a black guy, then?"

Yes sir, he was.

"Of course he was. Just another thug who goes around--"

Actually, sir, let me cut you off right there. I know where you're going with that thought, and you're wrong. You see, we live in a society, and we function as a society. And you might not think that another person's struggles have an effect on you, but they do. This happened in a part of town where drug addiction is rampant and more than half the population earns less than $25,000 a year. I don't know what degree of poverty, racism, addiction, mental illness, or abuse he suffered from, but society definitely failed him, and by failing him, it failed me as well. Society is interconnected like that. Furthermore, sir, this happened during the week of the Baltimore protests. I have a suspicion that my arm would be bullet-free if Freddie Gray had not been thrown around in the back of a police van.

"What are you, some kinda socialist?"

5. Gun rights supporters assume I'm a part of their cause. I'm not.

Mike Licht / Via Flickr: notionscapital

"I bet you wish you had a gun that day, eh son?"

Actually, my good sir, I wish he didn't have a gun. And, might I add, if the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, then wouldn't that be working by now? We have more guns than people in this country, and we're ten times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries. How could further gun proliferation possibly solve this?

"C'mon, son. You're smarter than that. Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

Yes, people do kill people. With guns.

6. I'm tired of telling the same story ad infinitum, so I've come up with a more exciting one.

Unidentified (Appeared in Michiganensian, University of Michigan Yearbook) / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Well, it was just like a John Lennon scenario. I was working on my debut blues-rock EP at the time, and I'm pretty sure this guy heard my music. Perhaps he was a deranged fan who wanted an autograph.

7. The local news segment that covered my shooting excluded the part of my interview where I voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The All-Nite Images / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Racial tensions were high in April 2015, and they still are today. When the local ABC-affiliate asked to interview me the week following the shooting, I used my unique position to give a brief social commentary regarding the legitimacy and necessity of Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, ABC didn't deem this newsworthy and cut it from the final story.

8. I am one of the roughly 53,400 Americans who was shot in 2015.

Angela Davis (quote added by Traynor Swanson) / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Unfortunately, I'm not alone. According to the Gun Violence Archive, about 13,480 Americans were killed by guns in 2015 and approximately 27,020 were injured. Alas, I'm not that special.

9. I am eternally grateful for blood donors.

Catherine Tharpe / Via commons.wikimedia.org

I lost a lot of blood that day. It's hard to say how much, but there was a geyser of red liquid spewing from just above my left elbow. Without a series of blood transfusions, I definitely would have lost my left arm, or worse -- my life. I will always be grateful for the 6.8 million yearly blood donors in the United States.

10. PTSD is a terrifying thing.

Q / Via commons.wikimedia.org

My worldview has gotten significantly darker since the shooting. A normal, sanguine person wouldn't listen to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds as much as I do. Loud, unexpected sounds make me feel uneasy. I often get deeply lost in thought. Sometimes I find myself vividly remembering what it's like to bleed out and lose consciousness on a street corner surrounded by strangers. That doomed, impending feeling of death is overwhelmingly lonely.

I don't remember life seeming this dull before the shooting. My perception is different, as if I've somehow become more nearsighted, though it's hard to explain. It probably has something to do with severe anxiety. I still think about the shooting everyday, because it's especially hard to not think about whenever the situation is replicated: sitting alone in my car at a red light. I no longer feel comfortable driving with my window rolled down, because I don't trust whoever's in the car next to me.

11. I didn't think it was possible, but I finally have something in common with Ronald Reagan.

Michael Evans / Via commons.wikimedia.org

"Can you believe it, ma?! I'm just like Reagan now! Reagan!"

Apparently I triumphantly yelled this at my parents while under the heavy influence of morphine in the ICU. Like Reagan, I survived a shooting. Unlike Reagan, I did not destroy the American middle class.

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