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Rated: ASR · Prose · Biographical · #1066692
My very first time at the range.
The shooting range is in a strip mall, tucked between a pawn shop and, I think, a dollar store. Mike has the Glock and the Beretta in a black duffel bag, in the back of the truck with the rest of his cop stuff. "Cop stuff" sounds so exciting, but it's mostly just forms and clipboards and guides to codes. Everything has a code.

"I have to admit I'm nervous," I told him on the ride over.

"Nervous is good," he says. Meaning: Crazy enthusiasm, now that would be scary.

"It's a good kind of nervous," I said, and I was almost sure. I'll start with the Glock. I've handled it unloaded; I know how it works.

Now we're walking across the parking lot. Mike has the bag with the guns. I assume it's heavy, but it's hard to tell; he's a big guy. I've worn jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, aiming for ease of movement -- the same thought behind my outfits for bellydance classes. I tell him this and he smiles.

We walk in. The first thing I do is exactly what I knew I'd do: Stare at everything and everyone. I'm reading T-shirts, guessing at professions, listening to drawls far thicker than anything you hear up in Arlington, all the while craning my neck to look at all the stuff on the walls, all of it in little bags and totally mysterious to me. It takes me a few minutes to notice I'm getting a lot of stares back. They don't get a lot of women in here, I'm guessing. "Not a lot of attractive ones," Mike would clarify later. I feel very conscious of my blond highlights and cute bag.

Mike walks straight to the counter; he knows this place. I don't pay attention to what he's doing because I'm still too busy staring at ammo and holsters and products with names like "Draw EZ." I must look like a midwestern tourist in Times Square, but I'm too fascinated to care. I pull my attention back to the counter just in time to see Mike show them his badge. Law enforcement shoots free on Mondays. The range manager smiles like a butler welcoming the master of the house. Mike chooses five paper targets, and we're on our way.

Mike gives me a pair of red earmuffs, and puts his own on. The headband on mine is uncomfortable and I have to adjust it; I can't help but feel that I'm stalling. But Mike makes a last adjustment to mine, and we're ready. Double doors lead back to the range itself, and between them the crack! crack! I've been hearing grows louder. Mike opens the door.

The first thing I see is the back of a man firing a rifle. The noise and the twitch of tension in his back shocks me at first with pure animal fear, like a deafening crack in a thunderstorm. I want to leave I want to leave -- but Mike is walking calmly ahead, and I look at him and feel myself grow calm too. Animal fear is animal fear. This is safe; I am safe here.

We have aisle No. 13. I decide not to let that number bother me. While Mike fishes in the bag I notice a hook on the wall. I officiously hang my purse, amusing myself briefly with the decision that that's why it's there, it's a purse hook. Then I back against the cinder-block wall and stay very still. The gunshots are startling me less, although they've risen my baseline anxiety rate to about a 5. But I can do this.

Mike clips up a target, takes out the Glock and boxes of ammunition, and loads the gun. He positions himself and gives me some sign, either "Ready?" or "Ready!" He shoots. What scares me now is the flash. Things that do that, you aren't supposed to hold in your hand. Things that do that usually come with instructions like, "Light and get away." I am really nervous now. But this is happening; it's moving forward.

"I'm going to put one bullet in the chamber," he tells me, yelling above the din but still sounding gentle. I nod. One bullet. One is not so bad. He hands me the unloaded gun and the magazine.

I pull my hand tightly around the handle in the grip he's taught me, not one finger out of place. I slide the magazine in, wrap my other hand around the gun, bring it up and point. Here Mike makes more adjustments. Shoulder blades back, lean forward, right foot back. No, farther. Finally he lets me go, telling me to relax. "Whenever you're ready."

Nothing else exists as I squeeze the trigger. There's a powerful shock in my hands as the gun goes off. But there's nowhere near the kickback I had expected; all I'm noticing now is that my index finger hurts. If the shape on the paper target is an outline of a person and not a milk bottle, I've struck the heart. Right where you'd put your hand while saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Mike congratulates me. I feel like I've lost some sort of virginity, proud and changed.
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