February 19th marked my first anniversary of blogging at Café Catiche. While I wished to post on that day an appropriate mark of the occasion, my time was short due to travel—once again. Besides, I was busy creating a new first.
This weekend, I learned how to fire a gun. The last time someone even managed to get my feet on a firing range (not really a range as much as a patch of Mississippi hunting land bordering a lake), I was maybe 21. The young men with me were not the most mature souls to be teaching me how to respect a loaded weapon, and so I chose to stand at a distance behind them with my hands over my ears. What I remember most about this day was how we bottomed out a sports car on a speed bump normally built for trucks or ATVs, the tall brown grass and sprawling woods that had overtaken burial plots from the 1800s, and the stretch of dirt road carved into places so seldom traveled that deer bedded alongside it.
This time, the company was different, but we were back on seemingly remote land. My husband, a retired Air Force officer; my step-daughter, the oh-so-fabulous Mae West; and her gentleman friend, a Marine pilot; drove with me to a broad smack of family-owned field in the unremarkable flatlands of North Carolina. Dry grass crunched underfoot as we settled the dog and ourselves at a safe distance from a well-used and fortified target. My husband explained how to use the site on his Ruger, how to load and unload the weapon, and how to hold it safely between firings. I plugged my ears with safety foam and listened to my breath and heart as though I was sinking under water. Warm sun on my back, the rhythm of living in my ears, I felt ironically drawn to early days as a child when feeling my heartbeat would terrify me. As I held the unloaded weapon and practiced dry firing, fear ebbed only slightly. I turned to my husband, who stood so close to me that I could smell the soap on his skin. “This is not my comfort zone,” I said letting the weight of the Ruger bear into my left palm.
I stood there arguing silently with myself about being the kind of person who is terrified of everything including roller coaster rides, dark water at the ocean, and conflict of any sort. Holding a gun and pulling the trigger might define a side of me I really didn’t want to know. Wondering what I could possibly gain by quitting, however, I decided that my husband would never knowingly endanger me, that he was taking time to teach me the rules, and that of all the people I knew, this handful represented the most trustworthy sort. I breathed slowly out, raised the Ruger, aligned the two sites, and let the distance blur softly. The gun fired before I thought it would, startling me for its slight kick in my hands, my ability to not drop it in that shock, and for the fact that I actually hit my target. Nine rounds later, I held the paper target in my hand, one shot having made a bull’s eye and most of the other holes spattering the eight and nine rings.
I was pleased to have done well, but I balked on the opportunity to fire the shotgun we’d also brought. I’d had enough and was content to shoot what I already do well: pictures. The charred smell of fired shot spattered the air and I watched smoke drift from the end of the gun between the turns my companions took firing. It was one of those seasonless days between winter and spring, the earth still sleeping underfoot, bare branches needling the sky. I framed shots of poised shooters against nature’s lackluster pasture and break of trees, my own squeeze on the camera’s trigger designed to preserve the broadly targeted view.