This first day I saw a gun was the same day I first shot one. I was 4.
My grandfather lived in the basement of my aunt’s house. He was a war vet and his room was filled with knives, war memorabilia, and medication, all immaculately placed with the labels pointing outwards and free of dust. All except his guns, rifles that were stacked carelessly behind his bedroom door that was never shut unless he shut it. It was sign, it meant don’t go in. When he was around I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. We didn't talk much, he wasn't much for that, but he taught me how to do a lot, stuff adults rarely ever take the time to show a child how to do. Among other things he showed me how to shuffle a deck of cards, whittle wood, and eventually how to shoot a gun.
The idea was introduced one day while I was handling the knives in his collection and I decided to shut the door. I don’t remember why I did this; it wasn't something I had done before. But it happened nonetheless. With the door shut the stack of aged, long wooden rifles were revealed to me. I picked one up immediately, not even considering the possible trouble or potential danger. I reached for the biggest one with two barrels, and handling its heavy weight in my arms I remember how the gun sagged too far down for me to place my little hand on the trigger. Shortly after the door opened, my current situation exposed.
I was scared. One for shutting the door and two for touching something I had not asked to touch. A rule that I was notorious for not following. My grandfather, his face relaxed as if had saw this coming, reached down and took the gun from me, holding it how it should be, one hand on the barrel and the other on the metal encasing the trigger.
He looked at me for a minute while holding his gun. He put it back, leaning it against the other guns and lifted up a different one, more slender with only one barrel. He gestured for me to follow him. He slid on his black loafers and went out the front door. I rushed to put my own shoes on, filled with excitement as I had already guessed what we were about to do.
I found my grandfather standing in the back yard, the gun still in his hands. I walked up beside him and looked at his face, waiting for him to do something. He pointed to a hand painted target across the lawn, already riddled with little holes, stapled gunned to one of his larger trees. Without saying anything he raised the rifle, resting the back end against the front of his shoulder, levelled it with his eyes and pulled the trigger. My head whipped to the target and saw the spot where the bullet had gone in, ripping a new hole in the target. Then the back end of the gun was in front of my eyes, I looked up to my grandfather and back at the gun, seemingly apprehensive, I didn't want to appear too anxious to try it out for myself. I was excited but I held it in and put my serious face on. With two hands I took the gun from him. It was much lighter than the other one and I moved to stand in front of my grandfather, facing the target. I did what I had just seen him do, placed the butt of the gun on my shoulder and lowered my head to aim.
It was hard to pull the trigger, I had to use two fingers. When the bullet was let go it made its way to the top left corner of the target, punching a hole far away from the cluster around the middle. I was happy to have hit the target. I turned my head to see my grandfather’s face, his lips pulled into a grin. He was proud of me, I could tell. It was the same face he made when he saw how far I could throw a ball, or when I climbed on top of the shed all by myself, or when I ran faster than all my cousins. I smiled back at him and handed him his gun. He took it back and slung it across his other arm, turning to make his way back into the house.
‘Don’t tell your mother,’ he said over his shoulder.