I was waiting in the swivel chair at my hair salon when I noticed the man dressed in camouflage shorts and cap and an Army green T-shirt lingering outside.
When he came in, I saw the gun in a holster on his hip.
My heart beat faster.
I’m not usually spooked by guns.
I grew up on military bases, where a gun in the house was as expected as a lawn mower or a washing machine. After my dad retired and we moved to Arizona, he carried a Glock tucked into his cowboy boot.
He made sure I knew how to shoot and took me to the range to practice. I kept his .38 special when he died.
My cousin Virgil, a former Infantry Marine, runs a business teaching people about gun safety, how to shoot and teaches concealed weapon permit classes. I’ve gone shooting with him, too.
But in that moment, I was scared. I glanced over my shoulder in search of an exit. There was one in the back.
After the growing number of mass shootings, two just the week before in El Paso and Dayton, we’re scoping out exits and planning escape routes when we go into stores, movie theaters, concerts, churches and even schools.
Nowhere feels safe. Not even a hair salon in a quiet strip mall in Mesa.
Wait, he does what?
A woman with her arm in a sling sat in the reception area. Maybe the man with the gun was with her.
When Brandee called her over, the man with the gun sat down.
Brandee put a cape around her and asked if her arm made it hard to do her hair. She said she washed it at night and let it air dry.
“YOU wash your hair at night?” the man with the gun said, chuckling.
He was her husband, and, I would learn soon, had been enlisted as her chauffeur and hair-washer.
I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
I watched him pace the salon, as men sometimes do when they’re waiting for their wives. I wondered if I should say something.
He stopped near me.
“You know,” I started, “when I saw you come in wearing that gun, I was scared.” I told him that I had searched for an exit, unsure of his intentions.
“I understand that,” he said. His name was Walter Hoskey. Deanna is his wife.
Walter said he’s noticed since the recent shootings, more people eye him warily. In a Walmart store the other day, a man asked him to untuck his shirt and cover his gun.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” the man told him.
“If it makes you nervous, walk away from me,” Walter had told the man. There was no law against it, and he would be in and out in a few minutes.
I nodded at his gun. “Why do you carry that?”
‘I try not to make people nervous’
Walter doesn’t trust anyone. “I hope I never have to use it,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a tough guy or nothing, but I will protect my family.”
Walter was born and raised in Michigan, where his father and grandfather taught him to shoot when he was a kid. He learned how to load and unload a gun, take it apart and put it back together.
He taught his four kids to shoot. At home, he keeps his guns locked in a safe.
“I just love guns,” Walter said. He owns several, including a 1918 Thompson submachine gun. He uses them for target shooting.
He’d like to get an AR-15, but he’d never carry it in public. A few days after the El Paso shooting, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor carried a tactical rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition into a Walmart store in Springfield, Missouri.
“What point are you trying prove?” Walter asked. “That you’re an idiot?”
If a business has a sign posted prohibiting guns, he locks it in his vehicle.
“I try not to make too many people nervous,” Walter said.
We both watched Brandee combing his wife’s hair. Deanna suggested maybe she cut layers into her hair. He raised his eyebrows, worried.
If she gets layers, he’ll never get her hair into a ponytail.
I smiled at him. I wasn’t nervous, not anymore.
These are the conversations we need to have as we navigate this new world, where we can’t know the intentions of someone with a gun.
We don’t always get the chance.
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