L&L: How and when did “The Weight” begin to take shape, and how did it evolve as you wrote?
In my experience, stories begin to write themselves years before they appear on paper. That was certainly the case with “The Weight.” Years ago, my abusive former husband told me that if I tried to take our three children and leave him, he’d kill me. When I finally got brave enough to leave, my attorney got an Order of Protection for me. I felt safe. Then my soon-to-be-ex broke into the house when I wasn’t there. I called the police and told them about his threat to kill me and was informed that they could do nothing. He hadn’t harmed me and because he still co-owned the house and had come in when he knew I wouldn’t be there, no violation of the order had occurred. I slept from then on with a baseball bat next to the bed, fully aware of its inadequacy. The next years were spent fighting him in court for child support. In the process, I met so many other women in the same situation. We were still being controlled by abusers who thought they could bankrupt us by forcing us to hire attorneys. We joked to one another that we’d have been better off if we’d killed our exes rather than divorced them. “The Weight” began to take shape.
When I began to write the story, I remembered how inadequate my baseball bat had seemed. I thought about how women are generally weaker than men. If a man intent on harming a woman can get within arm’s length, she has little chance of defending herself. I began to believe that we needed an equalizer, but I was completely ignorant about—and had a pathological fear of—guns.
When I was a kid, my sister and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table in our second-floor flat when there was a terrible explosive sound. We heard Mom scream, followed shortly by pounding on our front door. It was Wes, who lived below us. He’d been cleaning his rifle—which he’d been certain was unloaded—and it went off. The bullet shot through his ceiling, our kitchen floor, and into our ceiling, missing us by inches. I grew into adulthood firmly convinced that no one should ever own a gun of any sort.
2012 marked a complete change in my ideas about guns. In July, the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting horrified me. My husband and I did date night at the movies every Friday night, and now I was afraid to go. Then, just months later, came the Sandy Hook massacre. My grandchildren were in elementary school, my daughter a kindergarten teacher. There was talk once again about gun control, the same talk that had been going on since Columbine in 1999. And there was also talk about how different the outcomes would have been if just one person there had been armed and well-trained in gun use and safety.
Shortly after Sandy Hook, a neighbor with whom we were involved in a property dispute threatened to kill us. We called the sheriff and reported his threat and were told there was nothing he could do until the neighbor acted on the threat. Déjà vu. Twice those I thought would protect me couldn’t. The concept of gun as equalizer was no longer just part of a story. I was so over feeling helpless. I decided I needed to learn how to use a gun, and that training made its way into the story in the form of details I could only add after I had some familiarity with guns.
(to be continued)
Elaine LaMattina is the managing director of White Pine Press, a small literary publishing house in its forty-third year of bringing literature to readers from the United States and around the world. She also freelances as a fiction manuscript evaluator for the Korean Literature Translation Institute. She divides her time between Buffalo, New York, and Big Sur, California. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and journals.