“I got shot.”
Three words that you just aren’t expecting to hear in a casual conversation after reuniting with an acquaintance you hadn’t seen in years. Some call chance encounters fate, others destiny, and others coincidence. For me, it’s synchronicity, at least that’s how it felt when I first met Magda Chormova and her brother, Thomas.
Two Greeks and a Black girl walk into a bar … sounds like the start of a good joke I’d like to hear the punchline for. And yet, years later on a seemingly dull Queen City night, when I saw my two old friends sitting together at the bar, it immediately felt as if no time had passed at all.
Shortly after I greeted Magda, I could tell her energy was different — not as bright as I remember — so I asked how she was doing. Her eyes winced slightly as if she was conjuring a story that may be too painful to tell. Before I had time to regret interrupting their private conversation, she responded with that short three-word sentence: “I got shot.”
Her voice was steady, there were no tears, but you could hear the scratchiness of pain, anger and exhaustion in her voice.
In March 2020, days before everything shut down thanks to COVID-19, Magda was on holiday from Greece, helping her brother out at Mr. C’s Soul Food Restaurant, a spot he owns at the corner of North Tryon Street and Craighead Avenue. That’s when two men, one armed with a 9-millimeter handgun, entered and attempted to rob them.
Once Magda realized the seriousness of the situation, she sprung into action fighting desperately to disarm the gunman, who discharged his weapon, shooting her in the scuffle. To hear her tell it would send chills down anyone’s spine — to see the actual surveillance video is to know it’s a miracle that Magda is alive.
Magda didn’t intervene with hopes of a Carnegie Hero Medal, which she would later receive; she fought like hell (and took four bullets) because she knew she had to do what was necessary to protect her brother and she didn’t hesitate. And while they both still have their lives, just living in the aftermath of such a horrific encounter has proven difficult.
She still carries one of the bullets inside her, as doctors found it would be unsafe to remove — a constant reminder of that day. The scars aren’t only physical, however. Two years later, Magda still carries emotional scars. She struggles to go anywhere alone.
“For victims who are still alive, the days after the incident and for the rest of your life, it really feels like you did something wrong and you have to pay for that every day,” she told me.
The whole time Magda was telling her real-life horror story, I couldn’t help but think about the children murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the week prior. When I was in elementary school, in the aftermath of Columbine, I remember devising an unreasonable plan to carry ketchup packets with me everywhere I went so I could spread it all over me in the case of an active shooter and convince them I was already dead.
What remains so disheartening is that the alleged fantastical “imagination” of that elementary school version of myself trying to make sense of a mass shooting has only become a very real, seemingly daily nightmare for so many — the belief that humans are inherently good becoming further and further tainted by the harsh reality that shit has gotten completely out of control, especially when it comes to guns.
I felt a pit in my stomach as I talked to Magda, unsure of the right thing to say. In this scenario, “I’m so sorry” felt like the stereotypical apology that people offer after a funeral — the generic response that tumbles out when things feel awkward and you can’t fathom how to string together more thoughtful words of comfort.
But I guess that’s the thing. It should be awkward. What Magda and her brother experienced was not “normal.” The day it becomes commonplace to be held at gunpoint then shot as you try to do your job is the day that we’re failing our fellow humans. Has that day already come?
I cannot even begin to understand the healing/grieving process that someone like Magda and her family must go through on an hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly basis. I don’t know if someone ever heals from that sort of trauma, but what I can understand is that they shouldn’t have to. Gun responsibility (or lack thereof), the laws (or lack thereof) that have given power without the proper mitigation controls or safety protocols, and the entire system (of which gun control is just a piece of the puzzle) are broken.
How many more people will have to tell the same story in a bar late at night as if whispering a ghost story or telling their deepest fear or darkest secret? Or worse — as in the case of Jayeshbhai Patel, shot and killed while working in the Econo Lodge on Glenwood Drive during a robbery on the very weekend I wrote this column — how many more people won’t be able to?