At Easter, as I was explaining to my five-year-old cousin why we don’t throw tantrums even when other people find more Easter eggs, and my two-year-old cousin was loudly proclaiming his enjoyment of the swing, my father came over and said, “I’m going to go shooting out back,” which meant actually he was going to go out back, shoot maybe twice, and the rest of the time just set targets and chat to my uncles. My father is a peaceful type.
“Oh good!” I said quickly before I could talk myself out of it (I am afraid of guns). “I’m coming! Can I come?”
“Okay,” said my uncle, who promised to teach me to shoot a while ago and I never followed up on it because I am afraid of guns. “I normally have a separate shooting class for the women, now. If you come, you have to deal with the language.”
I spent a year at a British university and am not fazed by bad language, so I agreed to this, though as it happened I think I was the only one cussing at all. Once we got out there, my uncle provided me with several different guns. They made me nervous. He kept getting me smaller and smaller guns, and I kept forgetting to count to see when I would be out of bullets. I tried three revolvers and one double-action semiautomatic pistol (please do not ask me what that means because I have forgotten).
My uncle: Cock it like I showed you – move your finger, move your finger! Okay. And then fire.
Me: DAMMIT. I missed.
Dad: Please don’t stomp around like that with the gun in your hands.
My uncle: Try again. Why are your hands shaking? Hold your arms straight out when you fire.
My uncle: Aim a little higher. You want to line up the sights like I showed you, and then fire.
Me: HA! Dad, Dad, look, I hit one!
My uncle: There you go! Now aim for the brown one. Hold it like – don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire – good – and then fire.
(My hands were shaking because I am afraid of guns.)
I was not very good at shooting. However, my sister’s boyfriend Captain Hammer said, “It’s really hard to something blah blah blah more gun terminology at range blah blah handguns,” so I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about myself. I didn’t try to use (and nobody suggested I should) any of the shotguns or assault rifles. Capt. Hammer, who was meeting this branch of the family for the first time, agreed to have a go at shooting clay pigeons. He shot the target into two pieces, and then shot one of the broken pieces, and then handed back the enormous gun with an expression of extreme nonchalance. If I had not feared that my sister would stab me in the eyes later for teasing Capt. Hammer with Disney jokes in front of our extremely tough, assault-rifle-having uncles and cousins, I’d have put on Lefou voice and said, “You never miss a shot, Captain Hammer! You’re the greatest hunter in the whole world!”
(While my father was having a (less successful) go with the clay pigeons, Capt. Hammer said quietly to me, “That is by far the best shooting I have ever done in my whole life. Play it cool.”)
My idea in all this was that learning to shoot would demystify guns for me, and then I would be less scared of them. DID NOT WORK, and I got a sunburn, and I forgot to shield my eyes so I got gunpowder in my contacts. (If anyone ever offers you the choice, by the way, of having gunpowder in your eyes or crawfish juice, I strongly recommend that you go with the gunpowder.) Luckily my father got bored of the male bonding shortly after I did, and we went back.
Me: I’m a real man now.
Dad: Yes, you are.
Me: Except, I am a girl.
Dad: Except for that.
Me: Apart from that I’m totally one of the guys.
Me: What’s Butler’s mascot again?
Me: How ’bout them Bulldogs?
Capt. Hammer: Smooth.
When we got back, my sister told me about all the adorable things the toddlers had done while I was gone. I know I just finished complaining about Quiverfull and its atavistically traditional gender roles; however, I confess that I far prefer sitting with my girl cousins and aunts talking about babies and shoes to skeet-shooting with the fellas.
(And I am still afraid of guns.)