Gun triggers existential crisis in carny quarters

Small tears messed up Tickets Terry’s deep blue mascara, as she sat outside her car with her morning cigarette and carnival coffee.

“I’m sorry, I’m crying at nothing ever since it happened,” she said. “I know it happened for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that.”

Belief is a big deal for Tickets – my name for her because she’s one of the women who work in the tickets office at my current carnival, in metro San Francisco.

“Believe” is boldly tattooed on her right foot along with a dragonfly she says signifies freedom.

She sits outside her red Dodge Durango SLT, where she sleeps on her mattresses in the back. She’s parked amid the carny quarters on a fairgrounds parking lot. There are five trailers filled with carnies. She showers in one of the trailers, uses the portable ‘donniker,” but lives out of the car.

She’s in a outdoor fold-out chair wearing a tank top, with her cell phone tucked into one breast strap and her cell phone cover tucked into the other breast strap.

As a ticket taker, she sometimes walks from the portable ticket booth with thousands of dollars to the boss’ trailer at the end of the night.

Sometimes $6,000, $10,000 or more are in her bags as she nervously walks the long walk alone.

On Sunday, she had just delivered the money and was walking with another woman when three gunmen suddenly jumped out of the carnival boss’ trailer. They already had robbed the carnival boss and had the night’s take in hand.

One robber pointed an automatic pistol within inches of her face and said, “Don’t move.”

She said the moment felt like an eternity. A lot of people who have faced a gun say the same, so I wasn’t surprised that many thoughts went through her mind.

“One minute everything was fine and the next I really thought I was going to die.”

She grabbed the other woman and they both fell backward, into the grass.

Still, three mornings afterward, she still couldn’t talk about it without being emotional.

What I didn’t fully realize is that the days following would be filled with such a profound reexamination of one’s life and beliefs. Not just how shook she is or how scared she was.

It’s impossible to tell if the territory of her inner life is merely being examined or forever altered.

“I know everything happens for a reason. I know I’m here for a reason.”

What I didn’t fully realize is that the days following would be filled with such a profound reexamination of one’s life and beliefs.

She was struggling with the dangers of that kind of self examination – including deep blue regrets.

“I live for my grandchildren. I work all season so I can buy them anything they want when I get back.

“I was 17 years old when I had my first child. I was just a kid myself. I was 14 when I helped my mom’s best friend’s dad when he was dying.

“I was a nurse (before working in the carnival) in pediatrics and I gave colonoscopies.

“I was both mom and dad for my kids so I did all the disciplining. As a grandparent, I know so much more. I wish I knew then what I know now.”

“I live for one thing, those grandkids. Because I was so young, I didn’t do things right the first time with mine.”

More tissues smear the eye make-up.

As a nurse, she says she would advise anybody who went through what she went through to seek crisis counseling.

This former nurse, mother and lifelong caregiver won’t seek help for herself.

As she collects herself after more small, quiet tears, she brings up the fact that last spring she had three heart attacks in succession. She didn’t have heart surgery, she said, because the surgeries only last 10 years and then she’d just have to go back at age 60.

The close calls last year this month coupled with the gun in her face this week has shaken her to the soul, a soul she “believes” is in God’s hands.

“I know God has a purpose for me.”

Later, when I look back across the trailers on the fairgrounds and see her alone on her outdoor chair, I realize she’s wiping away tears again, and wonder – what tattooed belief, what dragonfly freedom.

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