Three hours before the fire I walked into our bedroom and woke my sleeping husband (he works overnights, or at least did, before the fire).
“Hey, we have that gun safety class at 3:00. Do you want me to reschedule since you’re feeling bad or are you feeling up to it?”
He half opened an eye and mumbled something that I assumed meant he still wanted to sleep. I closed the door so Sam wouldn’t wake him and I called and canceled the class.
He does not remember this transaction. He’s a man who does a lot of sleep talking and acting out his dreams so it’s not uncommon for us to have a full on conversation while he’s completely asleep. Usually I’m tipped off to the talking to a sleeping man business because he’ll say something like, “I have to get all the tiny baggies” or “Watch out for the pokey reeds”, which is typically said in response to something simple like, “hey babe can you roll over.” We’ve been married for 8 years, I’ve come accustom to this pattern.
Today, two months after the event that changed the course of our lives, we took the gun safety class. It was a private class, with a man named Brandon. I knew a kid growing up named Brandon, he was kind of goofy and had long curly hair, so that was kind of what I was expecting. Instead we got a kind older gentleman who had to be at least 6’7”. This Brandon was tall and lanky and had huge hands that seemed to swallow the small pistol he was teaching us handling skills with. He informed us that before he became a marksman instructor he worked for the secret service, because of course he did.
We went to a classroom and he asked us about our gun experience. Bills consists mostly of shooting with his uncles in the country or recently at a gun range with a friend of ourse. Until today I’d shot a gun two times ever. Twice the day I found out I was pregnant, on Bill’s uncle’s property, over four years ago. We did shoot an air rifle at our friends place last weekend, however I’m not sure that counts. When I was little my dad hunted, and I knew he owned guns, but I was never taught anything past how dangerous they were and that I should never, ever touch them. You could say I have a healthy fear of guns.
Brandon showed us how to hold a gun, and how to pull it up while keeping both eyes open and on the site. He showed us how to stand, where to put our fingers, how to rack the slide, how to load it.
Years ago I was in an archery tournament. I won. For my birthday my dad got me a bow and arrow. I’d shoot it for hours when we went out to the country. To aim I’d close one eye.
The only other thing I’ve ever shot is my camera. Again, you close one eye.
Aiming with both eyes open was really odd and took a few tries for me, however apparently I’m one of like 3 women he’s ever taught who has been able to rack the slide on the first try, and then on the second and third as well. He actually had to take a video of me doing it. Go me.
Then onto the gun range. We went with two 9mm pistols. One was smaller, with a nice grip and a purple handle. I chose it because it felt good in my hand, for the record purple is my least favorite color. Bill chose a glock? I don’t know. I’m not a gun person.
There was an older couple firing together. The woman had to be in her late 70s. She smiled at me, just after finishing 6 shots, holding the gun with one hand.
I loaded bullets into the magazine. I held the girly 9mm. I steadied my hand. I brought the gun up and followed the sight to the target. I shot.
The kick back of that little 9mm was shocking to me. I knew the kick back would happen, but shooting that gun shot all kinds of emotions through me. I shot again. Then I put it down and looked at Brandon and Bill (who’d already shot off a full round), “I don’t think I want to do this, this isn’t fun.”
They kept me going, Brandon was encouraging. Bill hugged me and I watched the older couple shooting together. I shook it off. We switched guns and I shot again. A shell hit me in the forehead. Each shot was hard for me. Each shot flooded me with emotions and I had absolutely no idea why. My palms were sweaty. I was choking back tears. My safety glasses kept fogging up and I was glad because it gave me a moment to take a break.
Brandon had us run different drills. I couldn’t get the hang of just lifting the gun, aiming as I was lifting and shooting right away. By the last few shots of 50, I felt like I was finally, maybe getting ok with it, but I still wasn’t comfortable. When I saw that box empty I was never more relieved and more sad.
I wanted so badly for this to be fun. I wanted to enjoy it. I couldn’t figure out why the hell I was so emotional.
After the gun range we sat down with Brandon and he asked us what we thought about the guns we shot, what we were thinking about buying for home safety, what we thought of the day. He was so kind.
“It just had so much power, I didn’t feel like I was in control.”
“Well you definitely want to feel in control of your weapon, especially in the off chance you have to use it to defend yourself and your home. What if we try you shooting a 22mm?”
One of Brandon’s friends was in the gun range while we were there. He’d actually poked a little fun at Bill for using a girl’s gun. I know that sounds so sexist, but it was humorous to see my large build 6’2” husband holding a tiny purple gun. Brandon asked if I could shoot his 22, and his friend smiled and me and said absolutely. I shot it three times in a row. It felt good. Brandon’s friend was laughing, “well you might as well finish the round!”
They were both kind and lovely people. We shook hands and I left decided that a 22 was probably the gun for me.
We were driving home and chatted along like normal.
“I’m hungry,” Bill said.
“I have leftovers in the fridge at home.”
As we pulled into our neighborhood I expected Bill to pull up to our house, not the rent house, our house. For a good minute I’d forgotten about the fire, the tragedy, the hate and guilt I feel. When I said the fridge at home I imaged our fridge in our house. For a split second I thought that’s where we were going, our house. For a split second I saw the other timeline. The one where I blow out the candle and get Issa from school and we go to the gun safety course and then pick her up from her best friend’s house later and all go home. Home. Our home.
I’d looked at Brandon earlier in the day and said, “You know, you sit there and think oh no one will rob me while I’m home, it won’t happen to me.” I looked him straight in his kind face, “I never thought my house would burn down either, I never thought that would happen to us, I never planned for that. That’s why we’re here.”
When we got home today, not our home, but the rent house, we sat and ate the leftovers I’d spoken of earlier. I stared out the window. I stared past the window, through the grass and the earth and I lost myself a little. I lost myself in the emotion of the day. I lost myself in the idea that we could experience another tragedy like this. It could happen. I lost myself in the stress of trying to prepare for it. I lost myself in the moment where I’d forgotten about it all and expected to go to OUR home. I lost myself in that other timeline of our lives. I cried salty tears and they fell right into my gluten free pasta.
I remembered sitting in the hotel room the night after the fire. I woke from a restless sleep at 4am in tears. I had been weeping in my sleep. I cried for the horror I’d seen, I’d cried and yearned for that timeline where I blow out the candle. On the day after the fire that timeline seemed so close. A quick jump and we’d be there. I ached for it. Today, two months later, the timelines have separated so far apart I can hardly imagine what I would be doing today in that alternate reality.
Clearly I watch a lot of scifi. I’ve also thought a lot about that Stephen Hawking book I read once.
I cried hard today, harder than I have in a few weeks. I shot guns and I cried.