"Can I wear fake gunshot wounds for Halloween?" my 9-year-old said. At a party store, he had seen a kit that contained theatrical glue and a scrap of rubber shaped into a dark bubble of blood --- where the bullet went in --- surrounded by torn-up rubber skin. I suddenly felt like vomiting.
Does he know that children are being shot to death here?
Does he play too many video games?
In other words, is he so sheltered that he doesn't get what this means, or is he so exposed to video and movie violence that he's inured to it? No matter how you slice it, we're at a moment in history when shooting is acceptable both as resolution to a minor slight on the street and as a Halloween theme for a young boy.
I know some of the influences on my son, but I don't know how the killers feel. Because my son looks at the front page of the newspaper --- as part of the current-events curriculum --- there's a good chance he knows about at least some of the nearly 50 killings this year. I'd rather he spent a few more years oblivious to this kind of news, but it's hard to control everything a child picks up on.
Significantly, a couple of times a week my son plays first-person shooter video games with his father and brother in the basement. As I walk by with armloads of laundry, I hear all three squealing with delight. Certain games have a feature that sends flowers --- not blood --- flowing out of the wounds. "So it's okay, Mom!" Sometimes I hear them saying things like "Don't kill me, Daddy!" and then they all laugh.
As the real killings continue, it's no secret that the public is stunned by, and maybe feeling a little hopeless about, the seemingly unstoppable violence. But what do the hair-trigger shooters feel? What do they think about when they're responding to a simple diss with a blast of gunfire?
People familiar with true-crime stories might have been privy to real killers' thoughts, but I have only fiction to turn to. This summer, I became ensnared in the thoughts of a cold-blooded killer who, in a time before handguns, bludgeoned an old woman pawnbroker and her slow-witted sister to death with a borrowed ax. He was motivated partly by robbery and partly by a half-cocked theory that some people are more qualified than others to decide who lives or dies.
The book is Crime and Punishment,and I wish I had read it with a professor of Russian lit instead of with my family on vacation. While they were playing nearby, I became haunted by Raskolnikov's thoughts.
"A new and irresistible sensation was taking hold of him every moment: it was a sort of infinite, almost physical, feeling of disgust with everything he came across --- malevolent, obstinate, virulent."
I was so caught up in Dostoyevsky's brilliant rendering that I imagined Raskolnikov's madness was my own. I began to eye my frolicking family with a homicidal heart. Now, reading about all the murders in the newspaper, I wonder: is this how the killers here feel?
"He hated the people he met in the street, he hated their faces, the way they walked, the way they moved. If any man had addressed him now, he would have spat on him or perhaps even bitten him." Good thing neither he --- nor I --- had a gun.
In case there was any question, fake bullet wounds will not be making an appearance in my household this Halloween. I've clearly lost the video-game battle --- to use a violence metaphor --- but I do still have some influence.
The availability of fake bullet wounds, however, raises questions. Who the hell buys them? And, more disturbingly, how do the people who design them know what real bullet wounds look like? I imagine once shot, a person loses so much blood through the hole --- blood and tissue and maybe intangibles like bits of soul --- that it's hard to get a really good view of the wound. I guess you could clean off the area with a rag and then take a look.
But to really see what it looks like, to see what skin punctured by a bullet looks like immediately after the shooting but before it's overwhelmed with blood, you probably have to be there, right there next to the victim, when the bullet rips from the gun and into his skin.
And let's step back a moment. How exactly does that bullet touch the skin? Does it spin on its axis and drill into it? Does it tumble, head over heels, ripping a ragged path into the flesh? Or is it more of a blunt interaction, a metal object moving so fast and so forcefully that it enters the body like a finger into Jell-O?
If I played violent video games, would I have such a hard time with this? I can just ask my husband and sons what they think, but I'll be careful about when I ask them. I won't interrupt them while they're playing Xbox or GameCube. If reading Crime and Punishment during a sunny vacation filled my head with dark thoughts of vicious acts, imagine how my family feels while engaged in a video-game bloodbath in the cold dim basement. I think I'll just let them keep playing and watch my step.