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Excerpt, Essay 6, At Ease

(An essay about transitioning to civilian life, framed around a cross-country trip.)

In his hands, big as briskets, the box of bullets was plain as plain could get, a small tan cardboard box with numbers on the side. But the gun was flat-out sexy: a classic six-chamber Colt .38 with a 4” barrel, perfectly tooled, immaculate, well-oiled, and gleaming blue-black, the choice of discerning airmen worldwide. This Colt could be shot single or double-action, which is bass-ackwards from what it sounds like. Single-action requires two steps—cock the hammer, pull the trigger—while double-action means you pull the trigger, and blam. Both methods, we had been taught in military weapons classes, had their advantages. Sometimes you have time to think, and sometimes you have just enough time for blam.

I took the .38 from the chief nose-down, enjoying its cool metal heft in my hand. The chief watched me carefully as–first checking the safety–I popped the chamber and fingered it forward six times, once for each bullet. Each chamber fell into place with a decisive snick, the dull gleam of the rim of each bullet barely visible in the dim light of the garage. I pretended not to notice the chief’s brief nod of approval.

“Since it’s loaded, I take it you want me to use this,” I said, trying not to smile. I snapped the Colt’s barrel shut with one hand and thumbed the safety again, just to be sure, before tucking the gun in my purse.

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