Have You Gotten Around To It?

Home Security

I sent an email to a friend regarding a class I took on armed defense in the home.  First, let me say it was a well-prepared course with a machine gun proportion of great information to consider on how to make my home into my palace fortress, uninviting to intruders and safe for my family and I.  I was left a little intimidated by the class and no doubt I expressed my concerns to my friend in the email I wrote after midnight when I could not get to sleep.

“How in the hell does a person know when an intruder comes in what their intent is?” she asked in her response. “Do we ask them, “Hey are you here to kill me, or just rob me? And do you have a weapon on you??”

It made me smile as I conjured an image in my mind of a computer screen at the front door with a 4-question Survey Monkey link for the intruder to complete prior to entry.


      1. Please select from the following with regard to your intent:

A.  Rob only;

B.  Rape only;

C.  Kill only; or,

D.  A combination of the above.

Should you select A or B or C or D, I respectfully offer these dates and times as potential options for your intrusion as I would prefer to not be at home.

2.  Please select from the following with regard to your weaponry:

A.  No weapons, just shear brute force;

B.  Blunt instruments, for example the baseball bat you won your high ­­­­­­­school championship with;

C.  Sharp instruments, anything from a pocket knife to a machete, no Game of Thrones memorabilia, please; or,

D.  A Firearm.

If you select D, please indicate in the field below your level of mastery with your weapon and where you were trained.

        1. Please describe your body type in the field below, comparisons to popular celebrities will help us determine the response level we need to prepare for your anticipated forcible entry into our home.  (For example, does your body type more remind people of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or the teen that he was portraying in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?)

  4.  Please describe in the field below exactly what you might be looking for so that we can accumulate these items and leave them just outside the front door for your convenience.

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey.


This is a serious issue.

There is a lot to consider in the split seconds after you’ve awakened from a deep sleep and realize it was not one of the people who belong in your home or your pets that made the noises that not only woke you but seem to be continuing.  Where is my phone? Where is my gun?  Is it loaded?  Did I mount that flashlight on it?  Can I go pee first? Oh wait….nevermind.

I love shooting a gun.  Seriously, I do–at a paper target, in a gun range with professional instructors on hand where little to nothing can possibly go wrong. I’ve contemplated the concealed carry option for which I am licensed, but at my weight, I don’t really need something else on my hips bulging out underneath my clothing.  I know, there are alternatives – shoulder holsters, something strapped to a leg. I don’t really get much farther in the contemplation than the extra weight that I fear will be in no way completely concealed.  So, I return to the calming semi-private booth in a lane at the range and my paper target enemies.

The idea of a reasonable use of force to protect my home raises a lot of questions not the least of which is could I make all the necessary split-second decisions? Would they be the right decisions?  There is a lot of criteria required to justify the use of lethal force.  A gun is lethal force.  Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy are the three key factors.  I was taking notes in class, I was.

Another image pops in my head of me trying to find my notes from the class in the dark at the moment I feel there is an intruder in order to refresh my memory on the definitions.  “Can you wait just another minute, Mr. Intruder?  I have to reread this.  Oh, my handwriting! You know how hard it is to read your own handwriting sometimes, right? Why don’t you go get yourself a drink out of the fridge while I do this?”

When all this is said and done and the smoke clears, I am going to have to explain my perceptions of the situation, the attacker, what I perceive about their ability, opportunity and the sense of jeopardy in which they put me and my family in a way that will make sense when I am later being arrested or even sued for protecting my life or someone else’s.

In my notes it says, “Communicate that you are not a victim.”  Hmmm….sounds empowering.  I was once watching my brother’s dog, an Australian Blue Cattle Dog with a chest like a small tank and I had no control over him whatsoever.  My brother said, “You need to use more authority in your voice.  Confidence.”  It did not work with that dog…are humans easier to fool? Not so sure.

Keypads may be easier to use than bio-metrics.

In my notes is says, “You have a Duty to retreat or exhaust all other means, if safe to do so, prior to using deadly force.”  Basically, RUN! RETREAT!  Oh, but don’t retreat so far that it puts you in more danger….WTF?  I agree the best way to deal with conflict is to avoid it all together.  I’ve been doing that my entire life in most of my human interactions all of which I tend to see as conflict.

Oh wait, it says inside your home you have NO Duty to retreat. My handwriting! In the home, outside the home.  Being safe is so complicated. Be aware!

I have not purchased a gun.  You heard the implied “yet”?  I am not even sure there is still a yet.  It gets softer every time I think that sentence. At the class where I thought the right answer to the question “what is the best weapon to select for home defense?” was the gun with which you are most comfortable and trained to use, a pistol, no doubt, I learned otherwise. It is a long gun or rifle.  I’ve never even tried one of those. I have admired them on the wall at the range where they are securely locked up in the hall across from the cushy leather sofa where I have waited for my instructor.  The instructor has offered several times to let me shoot one.  I have repeatedly declined.  Not yet, I said.  Yet, yet, yet.  I’ve done well with the pistol shooting.  I am not so sure this larger longer animal is going to be my friend. And if I got one of those for home defense where in the hell am I going to put it?  I am certain it cannot hang decoratively over my bed as inviting as that might be to some men.

Guns and discussions of lethal force aside, the class offered a lot of good advice on avoidance.  It is very important to make your home the least appealing home on your street to a potential intruder. Be the “Hard Target” on your street, not the soft inviting one.  Most break-ins occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when people are at work.

A visible exterior camera is more of a deterrent than a hidden camera.

Don’t leave your doors unlocked. Check.  Don’t leave your windows open, even on the second floor.  Check.  Use a 2×4 or a heavy-duty bar to lodge your sliders as well as locking them. Check.  Use lights to show occupancy.  Check.  Don’t use those hide-a-key fake rocks for a spare key.  They aren’t fooling anyone.  Check.  Use exterior lighting, with motion sensors if possible, to discourage potential intrusion.  Partial check.  Visible Security cameras, even if fake, are a great deterrent. Visible is the key word there. No check.  I’ve considered these or rather one of those doorbell cams that report to my phone.

Just haven’t gotten around to it.  Just haven’t gotten around to it.  You don’t want that on your headstone, I suppose.

Did you know there is a filmy substance you can use on your windows that makes them shatterproof?  And there are rods that can make it only possible to open your windows just so far?  That your front door is a solid core but most or all of your interior doors may not be? Did you know that most door jambs are put on with tiny little screws and can pop out with slight force? For want of a few screws costing less than a dollar, your front door can be relieved of all its perceived security and expose you.

Did you know that at least once a year a drunk college student comes home in the middle of the night to a cookie-cutter neighborhood and enters the wrong home only to be shot in the dark having awakened the homeowner not his parents?  (Okay that was a shameless plug against cookie-cutter neighborhoods, but it is true, the instructor said so.)

“A gun is a tool, not a plan.”  A home security plan is very important. Can you retreat and to where would you retreat? Can you account for everyone? Where do you gather your family if you think there is an intruder? Where do you keep your weapon?  Biometric locks or keypad?  (By the way, keypad in an emergency is recommended.) How quickly do you call 911? (That’s a no-brainer – REALLY QUICKLY!) Where is the deep corner in the rooms in your home?  What is a deep corner? It’s that part of the room where a bullet shot from the door cannot hit you.

I recently wrote a blog for a friend on the importance of having a plan in case of emergencies and disasters – meet-up locations, contacts, etc.  Do I have one? Not really.  It was a great blog.  I should read it.  I should develop a plan.  (you can find it click here.)  That’s a lot of plans we need.  And then tell others about them and practice them.  Your plan is only as good as the effort put into use it in case of an emergency.  We all hope for no emergencies.

I have an appointment to try a long gun next week.  Then I have a lot of heavy thinking to do.  I want to move to a little house in the woods.  Maybe I am safer here tucked into this condo?  I suspect the threat is equal but I can make my odds better by really examining my fortress and looking for the cracks in the walls.  Do you have any cracks in your walls?  Are there any homes out there with moats and drawbridges?



That Winning Feeling

Do you ever feel lucky?

I don’t think I wander around feeling lucky.  I suspect I am “luckier” than most.  I listen to my intuition, my gut feeling about things.  I will take a different turn on a regular route somewhere if my gut says to.  I will suddenly drive out of my way to make an unplanned stop if I have a sudden urge to do so. And these things generally always help me to avoid accidents or stumble upon some great item or gift or sighting.  Lucky at contests?  I do enter raffles in the autumn at every local craft show I go to.  I am not really lucky at those – if you buy enough tickets your odds increase dramatically and you are supporting a good cause – usually a school’s sports or arts program.  The Lottery?  I do buy scratch tickets which in the long run are generally a break even or a losing proposition, but I win in that I enjoy the word puzzles and occasional cash prize which always seem to erase the memory of the losses.

You know that feeling you get when you think you might have a winning lottery ticket?  Not just a little win, but The Big Win?  You know that feeling?  You are scratching off the numbers and the excitement spreads through you. For just a few seconds, perhaps even minutes you have this sensation that your entire life is about to change and the future passes in flashes before your eyes!  The wealth!  The ease!  The travel!  Then the sudden – oh crap –it’s NOT a winner, feeling?  You’ve scratched off the wrong area.  What a feeling: that rise of hope, joy, adrenaline and as quickly, a sudden fall back into – and maybe slightly below – normalcy.

I don’t get depressed when I don’t win.  I assume it just wasn’t my time to win.

This past week upon returning from a trip I was looking through a find from an antique mall and I got that feeling.  It started slowly and began to creep through my entire body as my brain started to make assumptions about the possibilities.

Just back from a few days in Maine I unpacked an autograph book from the 1870’s that I’d picked up at the USA Antique Mall in Arundel (that’s the first antique mall you come to on Route 1 going north, not the second one which is also prone to treasures).    I remembered the clerk was training his father on how to ring up a sale.  There was an extremely pretty and friendly Australian Red Sheep dog behind the counter and I had moved down the counter to pet her over the swinging door.  She was sweet.

Earlier that day I had risen at 4:30 so that I could get to Ogunquit’s Marginal Way in time for sunrise, my first in Maine.  Every time I had said to someone I was going to Ogunquit, they said I must visit the Marginal Way.  It is a winding, rolling paved walkway along the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean offering some pretty stunning views.  Last year on my trip it rained for five days with the sun only coming out in the afternoons to create humidity and discomfort.  I never made it there.

That was Autumn, this was Spring.  Sunrise was scheduled for 5:14 a.m. I was there at 5:05 along with a few walkers that I assume were locals based on their demeanor.  Tourists are chattier, rarely up that early and would fill the walkway later in the day.  I wandered, I sat on the memorial benches, getting several obligatory sunrise photos and was done by 5:45.

After that I made my way north to Wells, Maine where there is a peaceful trail at the Rachel Carson Refuge Center.  It is an easy, winding trail through forests and along estuaries with occasional views of snowy egrets, goldfinches, turtles and seemingly endless salt marshes.  Further out, the Atlantic rolled in along a much less rocky shore.  It was too early for the migratory birds or the Spring wildflowers that were already blooming in Central Massachusetts where I live, but the one-mile trail was bordered with large white flowers of the wild hydrangea and a pleasant breeze accompanied me.

By the time I reached the antique mall later in the day, my ankles had been screaming at me for quite some time.  I knew I did not have much time left to shop at this or the other antique mall before my legs were going to refuse to carry me along.  Times like this is when I wish I’d not eaten that bread the day before.  It always hits me in the joints of my legs first.

My eyes darted from shelf to shelf at the antique mall, skipping easily over the glassware to save time, slowing down in areas of books or trinkets that might hold memories for me.  It was important not to stop and stare too long into any one display case as it might signal over-interest but also standing on the concrete floor would allow my ankles to tell my back that it was going to be in pain soon, too.

I avoided the rear of the building as it seems to be mostly oversized items of furniture, farming implements, old signage and a lot of dust.  Things I should not look at because they would not fit into the car.  In the second to last aisle I saw something just below eye level that I was looking for:  a small, worn autograph book nestled in among two old tinplate toys and an array of costume jewelry.  I made note of the case number in the memo app in my phone and moved on.  I would need to look inside the book before making a decision.  It was more costly than I am usually willing to spend and that would mean the inside had to be special.  It would have to have numerous readable signatures with messages to the original owner of the book, dated, possibly including locations.

And it did.  After a quick glance through, I nodded at the gentleman who opened the case for me and told him I would take it.  At the counter, he wrapped it gently in thin Kraft paper from a stack of sheets they keep at the ready to wrap glassware and other fragile items.  I did not unwrap it until I was home several days later.

Sitting in front of the television, I removed the paper carefully. I started to look through the pages at the beautiful writing and often humorous poems people would include.  It was Mary Wescott’s book that she likely received December 31, 1877, as this was the first and oldest entry. All of the entries were all from places in Maine: Wyndham,  Standish, Sebago Lake.

As I go through the pages of swirling cursive writing from quill pen or pencil, I like to imagine the person taking the time to think up something special to say to Mary or May as some of them called her.

As was the trend, signatures and thoughts expressed were generally from family members, school mates and teachers.  Sister Abbie wrote, “May each shining hour witness golden deeds.”  Women writings in these books are usually neater, more heartfelt.

“Our friendship has budded on earth. May it blosom in heaven, Are the wishes of your friend, Ginie Van Buskirk.  April 9th, 1883.”

Men tend towards the humorous or the simple signature only.  In this book, written perpendicular to the normal entries was an unusual message:

“Mary, tell Allen he must give the horse more oats and oftener, Frank.”

And this gem:

“May, In the world’s wide field of battle, In the bivouac of life, Be not like dumb driven cattle!  Be a heroine—a wife—.  Ever your friend, S. E. Strout, Feb. 20 1883.”

A heroine, a wife.  A sign of the times.

I skipped randomly through the book at first.  “Do the duty that lies nearest thee.”  This caught my eye.  It seemed kind of ominous but good advice.  It was signed L. M. Alcott.  “Funny,” I remember thinking, “This person knows someone with the same initials as Louisa May Alcott.”  It could happen. It was in a heavier black ink than the other signatures.  It wasn’t until I looked through the book several times that my brain started to say, “You should google Louisa May Alcott’s signature and see if there is a resemblance.”  After all, I thought, it was the late 1880’s.  She could have met the author in Maine.  I imagined scenarios in which they could have met while summering at the beach in those long full-body swimming dresses.

The image search yielded an identical signature to the one in the book!  Wow, Mary had meet Louisa May Alcott!  That was exciting.  What a find.  I briefly wondered what the value of her autograph might be but knew that I would never part with it. It was a treasure.

I flipped randomly through more pages and came upon another signature:  “Faithfully yours, Wilkie Collins”, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone books.  And another, Henry W. Longfellow.  And then, Edgar A. Poe!

Okay, I know that you ‘dear reader’ are starting to snicker at me.  And I accept that.  For a few moments, I have to say, I had this amazing feeling, this life-about-to-change feeling that the universe had gifted me with something that could be so valuable I should not even be touching it with my grubby little fingers.  It was a brief elation because I knew deep down that such a thing would never get past an antique dealer and into that display case.  Such a thing would more likely be found completely by accident at the yard sale of a recently deceased person with things being cleared out of an old house without concern for value.

I googled and compared other images of signatures.  They all matched.  Then I looked at the cover of the book.  “Companion Autographs” it read.  Hmmm, I had never seen “companion” on one of my books before.  I googled “Companion autograph book” and on a live auction house site discovered a listing with a cover identical to mine that bore the following description:

“America. a 19th century collectible autograph book titled, “Companion Autographs” containing facsimile autographs and inscriptions from a number of famous historical figures. Some facsimile signatures include: Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Rutherford B. Hays, Bayard Taylor, R.W. Emerson…”  The list goes on. It went on to say it had come from an estate in Idaho and had a copy of the obituary of most recent owner of that book, probably a descendent of the original owner.  https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/57103291_19th-century-collectible-autograph-book

That explained a lot.

I also found mention of it on a message board at AutographMagazine.com.  This one, though, had a cover that included the famous folks’ signatures.  Had mine had that on the cover, it would have given me an inkling that they were inside and I would have known up front that they were not real.  Looking back at them now, they are clearly in a different ink style and obviously not real.  Oh, hindsight.

Still, that winning feeling, that sudden elation, that spreads through your body and offers insight into the possibilities of a windfall, is a pretty wonderful feeling.  Even if fleeting, it is a feeling that I can now revisit every time I look into this particular Autograph book which will take its place proudly in my tiny but growing collection.  It is now mine and holds memories for me.  One of these days, that treasure could be real.


Keep Drawing Your Picture

I remember peeling down past the wave on a brand new purple Crayola® crayon.  Wax was caught under my fingernail that would distract me even more from the fact that I did not know what I had wanted to draw and only took the purple crayon so that no one else could have it.  The wrapper did not need to be pealed yet.  The tip was still that polished shiny new point full of possibilities. I was stalling.

I used to color with abandon.  I could draw fields of flowers with beautiful skies. I could draw people and animals in great detail that actually looked like what they were intended to look like.  Then it stopped.  I stopped. Indecision and insecurity set in.

When I was in second grade one day on the way home from school, Deana Case (not her real name) was sitting with me on the bus.  This was in a time when the seats were a simple molded plastic with no padding.  When the driver rounded a corner too fast, we would all slide in the opposite direction if we weren’t holding on in anticipation of the sway.  It was exciting and fun and lent adventure to my imagination.  The bus was always loud with chatter and laughter and the noise from the engine, wheels and breaks that would squeak and squeal as the bus came to a stop at the end of someone’s drive way.

Now that I think of that bus, big yellow orange container of so many different children.  It was like a rolling box of crayons itself full of so many different personalities and potentials.  On that one particular day, Deana pulled a drawing out of her bag.  We had a rare free time period that day and could draw and color anything we wanted. I had mine too. I loved what I had drawn and then I saw hers.


Wow. The sight of her drawing froze me with awe.

Comparing her drawing to mine was like comparing the Sistine Chapel to the Sunday funnies.  I did like the Sunday funnies and to be honest, that may have been partly where I learned to draw so well. I noticed the lines and how a simple curve or swirl could make all the difference in the emotion or humor of a piece.  What she had done was foreign to me.  It covered the entire piece of paper from edge to edge and was an amazing scene with flowers, a house and a beautiful night sky.  She had blended her colors in a way that I had never imagined doing.  I did not even know you could do that with the box of broken and stubby crayons we passed around the classroom. Her drawing had a depth and perspective I was only on the verge of understanding in the simplest of terms.


It was so beautiful.  I told her how beautiful it was.  Then I was embarrassed for the very first time to show my drawing to someone.  I did.  She liked it.  She complimented it as well.  I believed her because I knew Deana didn’t lie, but I still felt at a loss to understand how suddenly I was not as good as I had thought.  Had people been telling me I was good when I wasn’t?

I believe this might have been the start of my long-held inner belief that I was simple not really better at anything than anyone else.  Nothing I could do was any different, any more special or even good enough to compare from that point forward.   I got excellent grades moving through high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class and earning a scholarship.  I got excellent grades in college and was on the dean’s list several times during my freshman year.   My assumption, however, was that everyone was getting excellent or ever better grades.

There were some areas of curriculum that required I worked harder than others.  I loved geometry but could not wrap my head around advanced algebra. I loved English and all the stories and books we read – but could not embrace the ancient stuff. Beowulf for example.  I knew I had strengths and weaknesses, but again, my assumption was that everyone else only had strengths.  Even when I was called upon to tutor someone older than myself in middle school, I did not realize that this meant anything other than I was a good reader and could help this person with words just as I had helped my older brother with his math at home.

It did not mean I had any special knowledge or skill, right? I was nothing special.

While I think parents today often over-whelm their children to the point of delusion with how special, wonderful and talented they are, forever losing in them a sense of what it is like to really accomplish something from hard work, I do wish someone had noticed this in me earlier and helped me realize the truth.  It’s a fine line parents need to tread.  I was as special as anyone else. I was extremely resourceful and had talents in many areas that often outshone others and that was important and should have built confidence.  It didn’t.

No one had noticed.

On a job I had at Borders Books & More (I miss that store so much!) after college, my manager, a new manager not much older than myself, came out and asked me very pointedly:

“Do you know how smart you are?”

I shrugged it off.  It had to be some silly trick to get me to do more work.  I was prone to respond that way to a compliment.  I would work hard to please the person even more and people seemed to know this about me.

“Really,” she said, “Look at this.”  She pointed to the floor in front of my section – Reference and Foreign Languages, at that time, where hundreds of newly arrived books were stacked in front of their respective shelves waiting to be inserted into their proper places among the floor stock.  I didn’t really get what she was trying to say, which was that I was a monster when it came to getting the new stock out on the floor in the shortest amount of time.  Most staff would bring out one v-cart at a time, without putting it into order first and shelf the books one book at a time, here, there, wherever until their shift was over.  I organized my entire task putting two or more v-carts into action, then broke it down into small steps by placing the books near their final destinations first.  Lots of easy little successes in shelving that lead to getting done quickly and efficiently so that I could move on.  I also neatened and shifted and “frontalized” while I was putting out the new stock instead of going back and doing this later as a separate step.  I didn’t realize I had put any more thought into the task than anyone else. It was just the way I felt it needed to be done so that I could browse in other areas.

Admittedly, it was efficient, but it also could only be done this way during times when the store was slow.  This system had to be revamped during those times when people were rampantly shopping, were laying on the floor reading, stalking some pretty girl in the art section next to reference or wandering around with a no-foam, half-caf, mocha latte espousing brilliant philosophical thoughts to no one in particular.  I guess that was something else she was trying to point out to me.  I not only could organize a vast amount of materials so that they took up the least amount of time, but I could be flexible and perceptive enough to realize this had to be adjusted based on the store’s foot-traffic.  And all this time I had believed the guys on staff when they told me I shelved faster because I had large hands.

It was nice of her to have pointed this out.  This was the first time anyone had complimented something my brain did that seemed automatic to me.  I wanted to get done so that I could go look at new books in the Anthropology or Sociology or fiction sections.  This was the first time I was given an inkling that my brain worked differently than others and that this was actually a good thing.  I knew my brain was different.  I knew I was different, but my assumption had been from childhood that this was not a good-different.  And here was this person, a person in authority, putting an idea in my mind that my form of different could actually be a potentially useful and wonderful thing.

It took many years after that to actually flesh out that idea to a fully formed image in my mind.  Her words would come back to me in different situations where I had done the same things – automatically. This was a new perspective that no one else had ever given me.  And it isn’t at all about parenting.  Everyone needs to re-parent themselves as they grow up and learn about the world and who they are in it.   I had set myself in a picture of my world early as the underachiever. I needed to pick up crayons or markers or pens and start drawing again and keep filling out the pages until I have properly redrawn a more honest representation of who I really was.

I suspect this is drawing that will continue on. It seems the more I learn, the more I change, the more there is to draw.


#keepcoloring #keeplearning #crayons

Look What I Made

Do you remember coming home from school as a child having drawn a pretty picture that you wanted to show your Mom or Dad? Let’s say you got a good grade on a test that was very difficult or brought home that much-improved report card?  Do you remember having a smile on your face that you couldn’t wipe off?  It was having a sense of excitement to share this accomplishment with your people at home and hopefully receive further accolades from them.

“Look what I made!”

“Look what I did!”

I had a similar feeling this week.  No, not a pretty picture, not a much-improved report card, but close.  I was on my way home from the gun range where I was taking my second private instruction in shooting pistols and I had several paper targets with beautifully (in my mind) clustered bullet holes.  I excitedly wanted to show them to people.

I was just as excited at the end of this second lesson as I was after the first.  I had worried that I might not be.  On the way there, I remember thinking, what if the novelty wears off?  What if it isn’t fun anymore? It was a lot of fun the first week – repeatedly firing the 22mm revolver and the same size semi-automatic pistol.  Fun?  Yes, Fun! And doubts aside, it did continue to be fun this second week as well.

I suppose when I say, “It’s fun,” it may sound a bit juvenile for a woman my age.  It’s empowering.  It’s confidence building. It’s interesting.  It’s exciting. It’s fun.  If it weren’t fun the other “It’s” wouldn’t really matter.  I don’t need something outside of me to be empowered or to build confidence.  I am fairly self-entertaining most times.  But this is just fun.  And I am good at it.  Eighty percent, by the way, better than most beginners, my instructor said at one point.  Then later after he gave me his larger caliber sidearm to shoot, he shifted it to 90%, in spite of the fact that the larger caliber gun was a bit daunting for me.

I can’t explain it, really.  I couldn’t hit a target in college with an arrow during archery for my physical education requirement. I have trouble hitting the pins in Wii bowling – or real bowling for that matter.  I often walk into walls and doors.  For some reason, when I hold up a gun in my hands at the ends of my outstretched arms and I close my left eye, the sites just line up and bullet flies directly into that square in the middle of the target.  During my first instruction, the young man asked me towards the end to hit the center of the target at the top.  Did he think hitting it in the middle was a fluke?  Was he testing me? I raised my sites a little higher and hit it where he had requested.

I heard him behind me exclaim, “Wow!”

I had never picked up a gun before taking the Massachusetts Basic Fire Arms Safety Course two months earlier.  This is the course that you need to take in order to begin the lengthy process of applying for a License to Carry Certification in Massachusetts. I had never touched a gun before.  I wanted to know, in very controlled circumstances, with professionals on hand, how I might react to holding a gun and even shooting a gun.  Initially it was not about the license so much as this experience.  The first time I took the class at a police department in a town near me a couple of guns were passed around the room as we watched a very quick PowerPoint presentation and took a test as a group.  Needless to say, we all passed and were handed our certificates on the way out just two hours after beginning.

I don’t think I was the only one in the class surprised by the lack of hands-on experience included in the course.  Most people were relieved to be dismissed so quickly so that they could get on with their weekend.  I felt like my big “Why” for being there was completely unaddressed.  This was all I needed to apply for a license and purchase a weapon that can kill?  I was surprised, but it was true.  This was all that was required prior to the application process.  I did not feel I knew enough about myself in this situation to apply for a license based solely on this class.

A friend directed me to the Fire Arms School where I am currently taking instruction.  I retook the same class there.  It was quite a bit more involved.  There was a sense of the gravity established immediately as the instructor spoke to those of us embarking on the path to gun ownership.  Midway through the course we learned how to load each a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol.  That was considerably more “real” to me than passing an unloaded gun around the room.  Everyone, except those who had experience, had some shakiness to their hands as we took great pains to keep the barrels pointed away from us.

At the end of four hours, we were ushered in small groups to the indoor range where we put on safety goggles and headsets to protect our eyes and hearing.  It was oddly important to me to be one of the first.  I did not want anyone to see when I completely missed the target or worse yet, freaked out by the explosive sound of a bullet leaving the barrel, started to cry.  To my surprise, neither of those things happened.  The last slide on the presentation was an image of the sites you would see on a gun and how to aim so it was fresh in my mind.  In case I forget, this is also the logo of the school and it is prominently displayed on the chest of every instructor.

I stepped into the private cubicle with one of the assistant instructors.  There were two guns waiting on the counter and a target out in front of me.  We had six shots with each gun. I picked up the revolver first.  I copied the stance I remembered from the class earlier and took aim.

It is surprising how much squeeze you need to put on the trigger (unless you cock it manually first, then it is nothing, I learned much later on).  Pop! I saw that first one hit the paper target within the square in the middle.  Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

Most of the shots that followed were clustered around the first in the upper right corner of the square with a couple straying outside the square. Wow! I thought.  Wow!  I handed the revolver to the instructor supervising me.  Then I started to wonder if someone else had hit my target and I actually might have missed?  Was that possible?  I picked up the semi-automatic.  My hand was shaking, but I felt oddly calm.  I apologized repeatedly for shaking.

“Don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone,” he said.

Five shots again clustered just near the others, with one stray off to the side.  I knew from somewhere in my reading or television watching that clustering was good.  I was oblivious to the couple not in the center.

“Good job!”  The instructor said and pointed towards the door.  They had nearly forty people to get through this part of the class.  “Now, go wash your hands, cold water, remember.”   I nodded.  Cold water washes off the gun powder on your hands.  Hot water might open up the pores and lead could get into your system.  I left through the double doors and entered the hallway carrying my paper trophy.  I took off my glasses and headset and hung them back on the rack.

Another set of students was waiting in the hall for their turn.

“How did you do?” One asked.  I held up the paper target.

“Wow! Killer!”  someone said.  I smiled and headed for the restrooms.

Back in the classroom where even more were waiting, there were more complimentary sounds and another “Killer!”

I gathered up my things and carrying that first paper target as carefully as possible made my way to the car.  Like a picture I had colored as a six-year-old, I did not want it to get creased or damaged in any way before I could share it.  I photographed it after I got home, a drive filled with alternating doubt and excitement.  Had I really hit the target every time?  Had I really clustered those shots myself?  I shared the image on social media and the responses were similar to those from the class members.

“Killa Kim.”

Each hour of private instruction that followed that initial course ends the same.  I carefully take the targets with me proud of the accomplishment.  It’s exciting to learn something new and to discover new talents.

Close But Not That Close

One of my cousins died last week. One of the 36 at my generational level on my mother’s side – which, I can tell you, spreads so far across the ancestry.com page that it is impossible to print.  My mother was one of 7 children–not counting my grandfather’s son from his first marriage.  He wasn’t divorced, but was widowed by the flu epidemic of 1919.  That son was called a cousin my entire life, but was really my mother’s half-brother and my uncle.  That first showed me that families have some flexibility in their bonds.  I have no recollection of ever having met him as he lived in upstate NY and we were in Ohio, two states which were further apart in the mid 1900’s than they are today.

Of my mother’s other six siblings only one had moved fairly far away to live, in Atlanta. The rest of us remained clustered in Northeast Ohio.  Considering the six families were all within an hour’s drive of one another we generally only saw each other at special occasions:  First Communions, wedding showers, which were for the ladies only at that time, the subsequent weddings and baby showers, also ladies only.  There were many years during which this was constant getting together, but as we grew older it became less and less often.  We were close but not that close.

I can only assume that even though we were geographically near one another’s families, there were other things that needed to be done that kept us apart except on those special occasions.  Work, school, home – obligations.  I recall more often getting together with the daughters of one of my father’s friends, who we referred to as cousins; and, of course, the kids in the neighborhood.  Even within my own household, we were close but not that close.  It seemed everyone was busy with their own stuff.  I grew up with characters in storybooks as my closest friends.

My father worked 40 plus hours a week at a factory.  When he came home at night, we had supper on the table as he walked through the door. Then he would read the paper or a book, watch the news and go to bed.  We all had roles, chores, expectations of behavior.  My father would take my mother grocery shopping on Saturday mornings at the Acme in our small town, for a long time with all five of us in tow.  We were all too young to be left home alone.  And believe me, we never made a peep at the store, never begged for snacks while we were there or strayed more than to the end of the aisle in which she was shopping.  We knew better.

Growing up we learned of people’s deaths, usually someone much older, by reading the obits in the local paper every morning first thing or from a phone call.  It was as though there was an informal phone tree. Someone called two people and they each called two people and they each called two people and so on and so forth until the entire day the wires over the area were buzzing with the news and plans for casseroles and which funeral home would it be at – the one on the lake or that other one.

When word of my cousin’s death came via Facebook, where I am connected to only a small handful of the 36, I hesitated for a moment to comment on his sisters’ profiles.  I didn’t feel close enough to make a comment, but it was the expected thing to do, wasn’t it?  Should I send a private message instead?  I consider us friends, but not close friends.  I finally decided to leave the comment that “friends, not close friends” leave.  You know the one, “So sorry for your loss!” with the exclamation point for extra sympathetic emphasis.   It was just a couple down from my younger brother’s similar comment.  That was only the tiniest bit comforting in terms of my choice.

Any other time of the year the few blood relations on my social media page are treated the same as other acquaintances.  I like what I like, ignore what I don’t and snooze them for a while during elections.  A death puts me in the awkward position of questioning blood vs. chosen family, a debate I have had many times over the years.  My chosen family – a very small group of close friends that I have made as an adult, people who actually have taken the time to truly get to know me, people who I know I can go to when in need, they are my family.  How strong should the blood bond be considered if it is just that tiny fluid strand and nothing more?  If there is no substance to support it, it is not “thicker than water” at all.  It is simply an anemic reference.

Yes, I care.  I have compassion.  I feel for my cousin’s family – his children and their children of whom I have no direct experience.  I feel for his sisters and brothers, who, I assume, will miss him. It isn’t the devastating feeling that I had after my mother died.  Or, the flip side, relief when my father died.  His life and death really taught me that a blood bond does not automatically come with honor or trust.  I am somewhere in between for people with whom I have that acquaintance relationship.  It is a loss and I do feel that loss.

I believe that you grow up with the family into which you were born or adopted.  It’s like an incubator.  Some incubators provide more nourishment and protection than others. Some provide more opportunities than others.  Some have more warmth than others and develop the deeper friendship/family bond.  Often you escape from that incubator to create your own space, your own nourishment, your own opportunities with your own family who will likely view you in the same manner that you have viewed those who came before you.  Close but not that close.

I don’t feel I learned to attach as a child and I do not have an answer to the question why. Attachment bonds are one of those things that psychologist and psychiatrists will continue to mull over for centuries.  What can ensure that a child will develop a deep, lasting attachment to its family?  What can ensure that life experiences will maintain the blood connections over time and space? We were together every minute as children, in a very small house and I am only truly connected to my mother and one of four brothers.  How do modern families of today constantly on the road to extra-curricular activities create a knowing, loving bond in their own home let alone with extended relatives?  What can keep us together beyond the algorithms of a social media account?

“So sorry for your loss.” I had commented after some thought.

“Your loss, too.”  Came the comment back from my cousin.  Was it? I wondered, my hand frozen over my mouse, the cursor blinking, demanding a reply.  Was it my loss, too?

In that a human being is no longer on this earth, yes, it is everyone’s loss.  A deeper personal loss for me, no.  I did not attach to my immediate family when I was young and did not attach to my many cousins.  I am not feeling an attachment suddenly as an adult. That is not to say that one could not have been created or could not be created now.  Anything is possible but we would have to come together as people and make the effort to get to know each other, then, if we became family, I would feel that loss more deeply.