The metaphor of taking aim and the satisfaction of hitting one’s target in the safety of a shooting range are so different than what I would imagine sighting a human being through a scope and creating a void in the universe by taking that person’s life.
My friend Eleece lives in Oklahoma. I was excited for her to take me on my very first shooting adventure. I was open to doing anything else, but this is the one thing I really wanted to do. We went to a range where Eleece and her husband are members, and she brought a few guns and her bag of ammunition. We bought two paper targets, and Eleece let me and Reilly shoot a few rounds from each gun. She taught us how to hold and load the guns and be safe with the safety. We wore earplugs and eye protection. Something about the whole experience was relaxing and exciting at the same time.
Naturally I looked forward to visiting New York City, but I definitely wanted to visit Oklahoma. My dad and his sister live about 80 miles east of Tulsa. My aunt and her husband own dozens of acres of open land, where fish swim and breed in ponds scattered around their property. They catch the fish. They eat the fish. Buddy the dog likes to run in front of the truck that tumbles over the rampant, tall grass. He doesn’t bound quite as high as he did two years ago when I last saw him. But he does seem to eat an entire pack of hot dogs with his usual, efficient flair.
Reilly and I entered my aunt’s trailer, and the television blared Fox News. This aunt loves to give advice and tell stories about her days in northern Arizona, where she held various occupations and caused her share of trouble. The renegade of the siblings, she does whatever she wants but believes the things she believes with more conviction than anyone I know. I found her comparisons of Barack Obama and Hitler rather outlandish and very unconvincing, but she rattled off her theories as if they were truth. If you’re in your 70s and have made choices in the name of unforeseen wisdom, then I won’t mind whatever your political proclivities are.
My stomach sank when my aunt’s husband said how glad he was that we were able to visit, because he thinks this might be the last time I’ll be able to see my dad.
My aunt took us to the assisted living facility where my dad is staying. The dementia seems to be somewhat at bay. He talks far less than he used to, and whenever we talked on the phone in the past year, he’d describe the birds outside his window or how he watches this one particular squirrel scramble about the yard. The difference between having a clear mind and having an empty mind becomes heartbreakingly clear in my dad. My aunt told stories about how he nearly drowned when he was a child, how he had seizures and always had trouble in school. This is so different than my childhood perception of him, but this knowledge helps me to understand him, his passion for cooking that he no longer has, his meticulous cleaning habits that he couldn’t care less about now, because those thoughts never cross his mind anymore. I wonder if he’ll even know what I’m talking about if I tell him I’ve forgiven him for that time when I was 8 and 9 years old. I wonder if it really even matters.
Staring at the television, staring out the window. It scares me to think when his mind will shut off, when the power button on the remote will get pressed and the screen goes blank. Dark.
This growing mental void brings no satisfaction, but a type of grace emerges, makes itself known.
Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things. Him being able to walk, even though it’s much more labored with a weak heart and weight gain, and stricken with varicose veins and arthritis. The birds and the squirrels. Him seeing me with my husband. Him being able to tell me in person that he loves me. If hearts are the target and love and understanding are the weapons, then we’re finally becoming sharpshooters. Aiming across a thousand miles at each other, we’re turning into snipers, feeling more alive with every shot.