Up until I was nearly three, we lived in a duplex in Montreal, above an elderly couple. My father liked to go duck-hunting at the time, although has never liked to eat duck. He would always get a female black lab as a hunting dog and name it Suzie. That used to drive my mother crazy. At the duplex we didn't have any pets, and although my father didn't have a dog, he still had a rifle and he would still go hunting sometimes. When he wasn't hunting, he kept the rifle in a closet somewhere.

One evening, my parents were having a social gathering of some kind, and I must have gotten bored, because I found the rifle and then ran into the dining room full of drinking and mingling adults. I pointed the thing at everyone and started yelling, "Bang! Bang! Bang!"

The thing wasn't loaded, of course, but my mother, who hates guns, nearly had a heart attack. I don't remember doing this, and only found out about it a couple years ago. I couldn't have been much more than a year old at the time, my mother told me (I was an early walker and spoke fairly clearly at an early age). After the incident, my father did a better job of keeping the rifle out of reach.

My father stopped hunting when I was still fairly small, but he always kept the rifle. When I was close to three, we moved to a suburb of Montreal, off the island. He kept the rifle in the garage, and although I'd always known he'd had it, I never saw.

One summer when I was a teenager we had a yard sale, where my dad sold his rifle. In Canada the gun laws are different, and I don't think you had to register hunting rifles at the time (these laws are being revamped now). I'm pretty sure it was still illegal to sell the gun at a garage sale, but he did it anyway. On the day we had the sale it started to rain, and so we moved most of it into the two-car garage and set up tarps for the rest of the stuff. I don't think my dad initially intended to sell the gun, but when we moved part of the sale indoors, a guy saw it hanging on the wall of pegboard, and made an offer. My father agreed, because he hadn't used it in ages and he probably would never go hunting again. I don't remember how much it went for.

So the following Saturday, dad spent his time cleaning up the old rifle for the guy he'd sold it to. On Sunday, he decided he wanted to take it out to see if it would still fire, so he phoned a friend of his who he carpooled with at the time, and lived about 15 minutes outside of our suburb on a farm.

Dad invited me to come with him and I did, not because I was really curious about the gun, but because I was more interested in seeing the animals. The friend had a few sheep and some goats and a couple of horses, and he raised chickens for eggs. I think he also had some ducks. Behind his house there was a wide, shallow creek, with fast-running water that was probably mountain runoff and eventually led into a nearby river.

Dad, his friend, and I went out to the river and started poking around for some inanimate object to shoot at. Dad loaded the gun with some shells, and then started taking aim at some junk floating in the river. The water in our area was fairly polluted, so there was a lot of junk in the river, Dad said he was going to shoot at some chunks of Styrofoam that were floating by, and started to take aim. When the gun went off, I jumped - up until then I'd never seen a gun fired in person, and I didn't expect it to be that loud. Both my dad and his friend had a laugh. Dad missed the Styrofoam completely, but after a couple more shots, he took a chunk out of it. He was visibly disappointed that he'd lost his ability to aim the thing.

Dad then asked me if I wanted to fire the gun, but I declined, using my left-handedness as an excuse. Dad insisted I could probably hold it alright because I'm fairly ambidextrous, but I wasn't having it. The gun was really starting to freak me out, and I think my dad saw that. He stopped bothering me about firing it, and gave his friend a turn to shoot. Meanwhile, I wandered off to look at the animals.

When I moved into my first place - a big old semi-detached in a rough neighborhood. We lived in an area primarily full of lower-income people, and many people didn't seem to have jobs, although they always seemed to have money for things like cigarettes and beer. Across the street there was a lodging house where people could pay by the day, and on the corner was a group home for troubled teens. I was living with four other people, but it was summer and as we were students, two were going back to their hometowns for the season. Meanwhile, my housemate worked night shifts and I hadn't found a job yet.

The first night there I spent alone, and as it was summer, all the windows were open. In the middle of the night I heard a horrendous domestic dispute between a man and a woman that left me really concerned for the woman's safety. I wanted to phone the cops, but our phone hadn't been activated yet and I was too scared to go to the pay phones down the street, so I lay awake listening to the guy yelling and throwing things for a couple of hours. This left me fairly uncertain about my choice of neighborhoods, and I was edgy for the next few weeks.

A few nights later, I was in my room unpacking some stuff and I heard what I thought was a gunshot, but in retrospect, was probably some kid playing with fireworks. At any rate it was really close by and as I was still generally rattled from the other night, I hit the floor. I lay on the floor of my room for several minutes. I felt like I was in some kind of movie. For some reason, all I could think of was the scene in Scarface where they open fire on Al Pacino's bedroom window in the night where he and his wife are sleeping, and glass goes everywhere as they dive to the floor. I didn't hear anything more after that, or since, but some girl from the group home had a freak out and ran around the streets screaming for a while, until some employees from the home caught her and eventually pinned her down in someone's front yard, after chasing her around the street. After a while she stopped screaming and fighting, and eventually they brought her back inside. I heard a few domestics since that first one, and once we found a drunk guy passed out in our driveway. Between the group home, the lodging house, and the sketchy neighbors, the cops came around to do "routine checks" about three times a week. But none of these things seem to stand out in my memory as much as the time I thought I heard a gun go off.

- Vanessa Berry