You look, and you steady yourself, prepared, yet not, anticipating the recoil of something you've never felt in your life; wanting it, expecting it, yet still sort of afraid of it. With the intake of breath and the gentle movement of your muscles finite contraction, the trigger draws towards you.
It's your first time shooting a large caliber handgun. The gun is not that large, you could conceal it with the right clothing, yet the bullet seems immense in your hand after the .22. Firing it for the first time is not what you expected, it's more and it's less, and you exert every square inch of pressure on to the floor that your feet can manage, locking hands and arms tight. You could hear it fire though even good ear protection; the explosion of sound, and the smell, the room buzzing as the bullet cleaves the darkness of the low lit range.
It's a sound you were oblivious to for years, and from now on, when you hear one from a distance, or a range stall one or two down from where you stand, you will look with a smile, to see what it was they are holding.
In just small moments of your life, things change, in a flash of light dancing with movement. A change of a way of thinking, a change of need, in a perfume of lead and powder that kisses your hair, creating in your mind the unbroken diminishing cessation of fear.
For in that one shot, with the confidence it brought, I knew. With this weapon, and practice, I can walk freely, a woman unbound by convention or unseated fear. I can hold my head up high, aware of my surroundings, walking with that purpose that shows I am not afraid of you any longer. Too many victims, too many women afraid, nothing left but soft murmuring bones and deep sighs like wind. Brave women, yet in the end, unarmed, their fight so insubstantial against mass and anger that we can not distinguish it from the bone colored earth that is all that remains or their final moments.
One minute a young girl was jogging, music in her ears, clothing scant in the hot weather and concealing little, not form, not fear, not fearlessness. She is the age of the innocent, with that bubbling naive impatience of youth, the blending of childlike trust that seems to protect without reason, but rather, robustly inhibits the skills she needs to survive. It won't happen to me, this is a good neighborhood. I'm in good physical shape. I've heard them all from victims. Those still alive to talk.
It was a beautiful night, the sense of peace and quiet, the night breeze building steadily, bringing with it the damp familiar breath of water. She was running, there alone along the river, which she now saw, for the last time, as she rounded a small curve, the path reaching off into the twilight that was advancing fast. She'd meant to get home before now but she had stopped to readjust her headset, slipping from the sweat on her brow, stopped to just enjoy being young and carefree.
From the trees a shadow, watching, stalking, creeping forward, driving shadows behind as he advances. In a moment, the attack unheard by anyone by the cold blooded, she was taken, pulled into the darkness by the dark thief, who wants that childlike innocence flowing like water through his hands, until it too disappears into the dark soil.
She doesn't come home that night. We read it in the paper, we hope and we cry along with the family. Strangers, yet, parents ourselves, we are connected by a web that binds us all together. It happens much too often. Monthly, sometimes weekly, a young woman taken, child, mother, daughter wife. Those that seek closure to such crimes do what they can, walking into the family home with no answers, only determination, looking up the stairwell that goes to a room now empty, the echoes of a child's feet laying on the steps like the dust of a generation that will never be.
We hold our own children close and we pray that those that prey on the gentle meet their own demise in a smear of hard red, for it is not a forgiving God we want for such monsters, but the Jehovah of might and justice.
I won't be one of those women. Nor will my daughter. Not if I can help it.
Years later, the sound of the same type of shot echoes in the air, darkness blends behind it as if its passing were only a thought. But the muscle memory holds, and I gently squeeze again, an expenditure of breath and muscle that in this moment sounds only like innocence protected. The discharge of the weapon is more than power and noise. It's an inarguable truth, like something I view under a microscope now, seen clearly, supporting the truths that I learned the hard way.
Yes, I do this for protection, but I also do it for other reasons. It's about skill, it's about challenging myself, it's about self awareness, purpose and the sheer affirmation of putting an exploding dot exactly where I want it to go, which is dead center in the forehead of a paper bad guy, holding a female hostage.
Carrying a weapon. It's not about dying. It's about living.
From two stalls down a small head looks around, a girl in her teens, shooting .22 with her LEO Dad, whom I know. She hears and sees my firearm, looks at me, and then at her Dad with a shy smile. Do you think I'm ready to try that? she asks.
I motion for them to come on over after ensuring the chamber is clear and the muzzle pointed away. Young lady, you are more ready than you know.