A few months before I moved in, Serge was sitting in his house cleaning an AK-47 when it went off in his lap. Looking down, he found his hands were still intact, and he decided then and there to stop selling weapons. On the French mainland, he’d gone to school for aitiopathy, a form of physical therapy that seeks to provide treatment without pain. Down the line, he still looked forward to opening a private practice; gun running wasn’t worth the risk of losing any fingers. Eventually, Serge’s friends would tell me about his arsenal, though I never saw it myself. Each of them had seen a weapon at his house, and they realized, comparing notes, that the individual guns they’d seen were all different. In fact, Serge seemed to have a very large collection.
I grew up in Alaska, where one thing after another was constantly threatening my young life. Floatplanes stalled. Grizzlies ate our camping supplies. A moose wandering through our backyard got angrier than expected when a kid from school threw a rock at its knees. I wouldn’t say I was cavalier or brave about these experiences, but I didn’t need much time to recover from them. I was a child. My conclusion was almost always the same: I was still alive, and so was the rest of my family. We could all eat a granola bar and keep on fishing.
I went to buy the Roland Juno-6 with my best friend Michael the summer I was sixteen, before either one of us had a driver’s license. Other boys saved their house-painting money and bought an electric guitar with a starter amp. Or a five-piece drum kit, if they had the kind of parents who tolerated an unholy racket in the basement. Michael and I had earned eight dollars an hour for two weeks to stain a cottage on the Cape, a mythic payday that had sent us whooping and hollering into the waves, and I wanted to buy a synthesizer with my share of the windfall.