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Excerpt, Essay 7, Range of Desire

(An essay about women, guns, and desire. I hasten to add, if you’re reading these in order, I am not a gun nut, not that it would be so awful if I were; the gun-related excerpts from my essays just make for attention-getting call-outs.)

On the weapons range I lay prone, my gun ready. I silently begged our weapons instructor, Sergeant Ireland, to give us the order to fire. The wet heat of a summer afternoon in Texas pressed through my uniform, flattening my back like a huge unseen hand, but a broad green awning shaded my novice eyes from the fierce August sun, and my belly and breasts and thighs were deliciously comfortable from the cool, immaculate cement floor of the firing line. My breathing rasped harsh in my head, all other sounds muffled behind huge red Air-Force-issue ear defenders wrapped tight around my sweating skull. I was supposed to be eyes-forward, focused on the concentric paper target positioned in front of me across fifty feet of scruffy tan dirt, but I slid my eyes sideways just to see if the airman to my right was as excited as I was. She caught my eye and tilted a grin in my direction. We quickly slid our eyes forward again as Sergeant Ireland walked behind us, lecturing twenty-four recruits one last time about Attention to Detail, Safety (which, he frequently reminded us, was Paramount), and Never Pointing Your Weapon At Anything You Don’t Plan To Shoot.

Guns, I am told, are dangerous. But women are dangerous, too. A woman can rip your heart from your chest and drop it like a child discarding a candy wrapper, or stand in front of you, a disdainful smile on her face, tossing your heart from one hand to another while your blood drips through her fingers. It is much worse when your heart is not left behind. No one explains the cruelest trick of life. You are happy, and life is good, and the years roll on, until you wake up one night, terrified, because you realize that the worse thing that can ever happen to you is for something to happen to her, and there is no way to avoid that eventual tragedy other than dying first, which is almost as frightening. It is all infinitely worse because she is a woman and the logic of your heart insists there is nothing better than a woman, particularly this woman. You are caught in this conundrum; your attention to detail failed you miserably and completely, way back when it was still possible to leave. So you lie fretting in the dark, the cats humped at your feet while your beloved breathes in and out in the night air, and you sense the entrapment of desire, the very danger of life itself.

Compared to that, a gun is harmless.

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