My first thought was that the car misfired. I looked down, saw blood pour out of my leg and knew, deep down, what it was, even if most of my brain was still in refusal.

Time felt different, faster yet elastic. Mom got out of the car and I limped inside. She took grandpa too shocked to move  and shoved him to the front seat. All while carrying my baby sister in one arm.

This is what it’s like being shot.

It was a few days before Christmas. Downtown Maracay had gift wrappings, nativity sets and gaitas everywhere. Back in 2004, Venezuela could still afford Christmas, something so quaint now.

We had gone with grandpa to the bank for his pension. He and mom sat on front while I had to share the backseat with my sister in her baby-seat. She was three weeks old, but she already had a big bush of black hair.

Then I felt the explosion beside me, the coolness all around. Like when you cut a finger. I saw the blood.

Grandpa was in his mid-70’s and needed help for transactions. After glaucoma and cataracts, he could only see a little through an eye. He’d put his hand on my shoulder to help him on the street and, after a stroke, his mind wasn’t what it used to.

I knew the procedure: Step in the bank and fill the withdrawal slip, as mom waited outside. It went smoothly. Grandpa was happy saying, half jokingly, he’d invite us all for lunch. We usually declined but we settled for sundaes at McDonald’s after the drugstore, in Caña de Azúcar.

For those of you who don’t know Maracay, Caña de Azúcar is what 23 de Enero is to Caracas. Built in the 70’s, the housing project is mostly made up of iconic apartment blocks, with a nasty reputation for crime.

Grandpa actually helped building it. He was regional director of the National Institute for Housing (INAVI) and, reminiscing about Caña de Azúcar, he invariably would say that “Nobody wanted it. Everyone wanted houses, so we pretty much had to give the apartments away.”

Anyway, just as in the bank, mom stayed in the car and we waited on the sidewalk to be attended. Grandpa rested against the wall he had a bad knee  and I stood on the steps looking around. Hearing firecrackers.

It was Christmastime, fireworks season. Seeing kids running after the bangs, my first thought was that they lit something up and were now taking shelter.

I thought ‘this is it.’ We were going to die and there wasn’t anything I could do.

Then I felt the explosion beside me, the coolness all around. Like when you cut a finger. I saw the blood and grandpa looked at me. Frozen in time.

Now, in the car, mom went full SWAT mode. She saw the whole thing and it was she who told me I was shot. The kids brandished large, shiny guns and behind them, two officers fired crazy.

I was hit by one of the cops.

“I felt many things at once, but I mostly felt death” she tells me, still after a decade. “I thought ‘this is it.’ We were going to die and there wasn’t anything I could do.”

Her celerity took us to the ER of a clinic. They carried me in a wheelchair and, minutes later, I was in the operating room with local anesthetics sinking in. Had it happened now, I probably wouldn’t be as lucky.

The doctor struck up a conversation, asking me if I liked to read and if I read the latest Harry Potter. I did, and told her I was reading Kafka. Two CICPC agents walked in and asked me my version of the events (turns out the kids tried to rob a cybercafé). I made a statement and that’s the last we heard about it.

The kids brandished large, shiny guns and behind them, two officers fired crazy.

I didn’t walk for two months. Every time I leaned on my right foot, it would bleed. I was actually lucky, the bullet missed the bone by about three centimeters. For the first time ever, I was grateful for my chubby legs.

I went to school on crutches and ate alone in the classroom. Some students from Caña de Azúcar recognized me and, for a while, I was the popular kid at school. My friend Braulio was unimpressed, expecting something more Tarantinoesque (“That’s not what a bullet hole looks like! You did it yourself with a BB gun!”). He also didn’t believe I was shot while wearing a Superman shirt, which I still own despite my mom’s feelings on bad luck.

There were 21,752 homicides in Venezuela last year. Around 86% of them some 18,800 , were by firearms. The US, with a population that is ten times larger than Venezuela’s, reported 15,696 gun deaths in 2015. This wasn’t the first time I had been in front of a gun, nor it would be the last. No matter what precautions you take don’t go out after sunset, don’t go to bad neighborhoods, don’t take out your cell phone  it’s always a matter of luck.

I’m 26 now, and the scars have mostly healed. But if you put your finger on them, you can feel the gap under the skin. Also, if I walk for too long, it feels numb. Sometimes I look at it feeling so lucky.

Because next time, things might be very different.

7 COMMENTS

  1. last year in my home outside of caracas we had 6 armed ladrones break into our house around 9 pm. i looked around the corner of the wall and saw the end of a sawed off shotgun(escopeta) about 2 ft from my face. I quickly jerked my head to the left as he pulled the trigger. The shot went right past my head into the wall. They then put me on the floor with my head pressed against the floor and the shotgun pressed against my head. I am a survivor.

    That was when we decided to leave Venezuela

  2. That’s rough, but I guess if you get shot and can write about it, it could have been worse.

    A couple of more substantial points:
    -You list the 15696 figure as “gun deaths [in the US]” – but that’s actual total murders*, and excludes suicides by gun (c. 21000 in 2014) and accidents (c. 500-1000/y)
    -There’s an interesting essay from a few years ago by New Republic writer Brian Beutler about being shot by a mugger in Washington in 2008: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/19/what_i_learned_from_getting_shot/
    -A few days ago, there was an article here which linked to reports on the OLPs (unfortunately, I don’t remember what the article was about, maybe one of Naky Soto’s briefings and searching doesn’t bring it up) which either had a (low) estimate of police killings or just of OLP encounter killings**. I seem to remember calculating this from the article as close to 1000 police killings per year. By comparison, the Guardian’s count of US police killings (probably the most complete measure) put the totals as 1094 in 2016 and 1146 in 2015. My memory is that it was only OLP-related, but that seems too crazy.

    *The linked report says 15696 murders in 2015, 71.5% from firearms, so 11223 murders by firearm.
    **A Indian term for a type of extrajudicial execution of criminals by Indian police, particularly in Mumbai. It involves kidnapping suspects, taking them someplace with no witnesses, shooting them, planting a gun and the writing a report of how they “encountered” the suspect with a gun and killed him in a gunfight. Note that it implies a much greater level of need for plausible deniability that the OLP cases.

  3. And this article matters exactly how?

    Seriously:

    Who gives a shit?

    Go out and fight for your country and get shot TOMORROW, and then it might mean something. But your loving memories of your grandpa and getting shot accidentally…you weren’t even the target of the shooting…means what?

    What a waste of bandwidth.

    • It’s really hard to explain to people the level of violence in Venezuela, even those basic comparisons between the US and Venezuela in terms of murders per population escape people easily. It’s the stories that help people understand how bad it is.

      People have a hard time understanding how everyone in my immediate family has been kidnapped. How I have lost uncles, cousins, high school friends, university friends, colleagues, etc.

      Thanks for the piece Jose… it will surely be a link I will share when I try to explain what my family has been through and why we left the country.

  4. Great article, but it makes me so sad. So many good people trapped in an unliveable situation. In my opinion I’m one of the lucky ones who left, as my 16 and 17 year old children (are not exposed to a gun shot here in Australia. I wish you all the best over there.

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