There are some events that are so significant that they divide your life. The before. The after.
Thing is, you never know when they’re going to happen. Sometimes you don’t even recognise them when they’re happening; they seem small and trivial, annoying even. But when they’re done, you realise how much was riding on that one moment. Everything is different now. You’ve passed through that gate.
It’s the after now.
My alarm goes off at 8:30, and even though I really want to, I know I can’t ignore it and shut my eyes. I feel cloudy-headed and nauseous, two things which mean I’m not sleeping enough. I don’t have time to sleep enough. I was sick all of last week, but I’m not cut any breaks and I have to get caught up.
This morning is a Tuesday and I have to go practice shooting. I’m ferried like a child between divorced parents from my house to the range. As I’m walked inside, I get the beginning of another well-meant but extremely patronising lecture.
“You should think more about the way that you present yourself,” says my armed escort.
I’m wearing a pink, yellow and green striped tshirt and jeans. High neckline, no makeup. “I think I present myself just fine,” I say. “It’s not like I have to wear a uniform.”
“You don’t see any other women around here wearing pigtails, do you?”
“I don’t see any other women around here AT ALL.”
That was pointed enough. We walk in silence.
My instructor has been King of Guns for twenty-odd years and is much nicer one-on-one than when I’m the lone fuckup in a class of thirty trained professionals. If I do well today, I’ll get to do something fun. The fun in question is a long-barreled revolver, sleek and elegant. I’m told that it’s a Smith & Wesson M29, and I may not know a lot about firearms but I know both Dirty Harry’s gun and a bribe when I see it. I realise how excited I am to fire a large caliber weapon and even though it’s sickly hot on the range, I feel a little cold. I’m thinking, who am I, that I want to do things like this? But mostly, I’m thinking go ahead, make my day.
The first time I fired a gun, I wasn’t prepared for the recoil and I hit myself in the head with the butt. It was painful in every way, especially in the embarrassment sense. I’m better now, but not as good as I should be. I practice with a .38, and mostly I’m okay but sometimes my grip isn’t right and my accuracy suffers.
“You’re not taking this seriously! Do I have to make you do pushups?” King of Guns yells.
“Oh blergh,” I say and I hit the target in the head. I’m thinking, !!!!. Even King of Guns looks less cross.
Three hours later and I smell like gunpowder, but I’ve made a lot of progress.
“I’d say you could hit the broad side of a barn,” says King of Guns.
“Now I just have to hope that I’m only ever attacked by barns,” I say, but the joke sticks in my throat a little because I know why I’m there.
I get my reward: the M29. It’s really heavy, heavier than anything else I’ve held, and seems as long as my forearm. The kick is unreal, but I don’t knock myself out or drop it or anything. I growl at the target, ask if he feels lucky. I’m thinking, I’m Clint Eastwood. I’m Dirty Harriet. I’m thinking, this is almost cool.
And I go home, I run for an hour, I go back to reading. It’s the stuff of nightmares, honestly, and I have bad dreams almost every night. But it’s amazing how fast you can adapt, and there does come a point where you’re used to it. I don’t get scared anymore, not even in my scariest dreams: this is my New Normal. Sometimes it worries me, and sometimes I’m grateful for it. It depends on the day.
Today happens to be beautiful. The sky is a ridiculous shade of blue and the air is warm and thick like motor oil. I’m thinking, I’m so lucky that this is real life. I’m thinking, I can’t wait to get away from all of this.
This is how things are now, in the after. I’m lucky and unlucky, scared and not scared. I’m out of my depth and have no idea how I got here.
And I’m thinking, I hope tomorrow is different. I’m thinking, I hope tomorrow is exactly the same.