I wasn't happy about the errand, but my husband was. He had awakened me that morning like a kid getting ready for a fishing trip. "Are you excited?" he asked.
"No." Early in the day, I'm a person of few words. When I'm upset, words dwindle away altogether.
"Look at it as an adventure!" he proposed.
I looked him in the eye: "I'm going to buy a gun. I said I would, and I will. But that doesn't mean I'll enjoy it."
It would be my first trip to the gun store, but not my husband's. He had wanted a gun for years, for protection of the family. I'd always been opposed, having heard too much about firearm accidents. And we lived in the city, after all, where police protection is at least nominally available.
Besides, I'd said, what if some teenager breaks in, raids the medicine cabinet looking for prescription drugs and we shoot him dead? What if he's the neighbor's kid? What if he's only 15 years old? How do we live with that?
But things change. Our children left home. Our ability to slug it out with a baseball bat diminished. Home invasion robberies no longer seemed quite so abstract after a friend down the street was burglarized one day at noon, while she was in the shower.
So when my husband told me last month, "I want to get a shotgun," I shrugged and didn't object. But I didn't really think he'd follow through. He is always busy with his books and lectures and projects, and it seemed unlikely he'd make time to shop for a shotgun.
Wrong. He quickly went on the Internet and found the nearest gun store. My husband invited me to go with him to select his weapon. I declined.
When he returned, my education about guns began: He had ordered the shotgun, and could pick it up after a 10-day waiting period, during which he would be screened for criminal activity or mental disability.
After my husband brought home his new gun, I began noticing weapons everywhere. Shotguns, rifles, pistols — all were suddenly prominent on TV, in movies, in my subconscious. I was now less worried about accidents than about other scenarios. What if, during a home invasion, the intruder, seeing the shotgun, shoots first? What if my husband tries to shoot and the gun jams?
My anxiety made me demanding. "You must practice with that gun," I said. "Learn to load it. Learn to shoot it. Make the process as habitual as unlocking our front door."
"What's gotten into you?" he asked.
"Self-defense," I replied.
Having accepted the reality of a gun in the house, I began to envision dark scenarios. A potential intruder, once an abstraction, became a real force to be vanquished. My husband and I began discussing strategies, defensive positions, reaction times, risks we would have to take. To every new defense, I realized, there is a corresponding new risk.
As we talked, one thing became obvious: I would never be able to defend myself if my husband wasn't home. I'm too small and the shotgun he purchased is too large, too heavy, too awkward.
"We should have a pistol," I finally declared. "Something I can use."
Still, I wrestled with the idea of whether I could become someone else, someone capable of violence. Was I really prepared to kill someone who threatened my property or my life?
Reluctantly, sorrowfully, I found my answer.
And that is how I came to be standing at the counter last week in the gun shop, talking to the salesman, Walt. "I want a revolver," I explained. I had tested several handguns at the range a few days earlier and had realized that semiautomatic pistols are activated by slides that are impossible for me to pull back. The spring is too strong. The only alternative was a revolver, which needs to be cocked and aimed — after loading, of course. The revolver holds six bullets while the semiautomatic pistol uses a clip with nine or 10 bullets. "Six should be enough to stop anyone," I was told.
I had already proved, at the range, that I could pull back the trigger and hit a target. I knew how to assume the proper stance. So when Walt handed me a Ruger, I pointed it at the wall to see how it felt.
Walt, a patient man with gray hair and bifocals, watched as I tried various revolvers before finally settling on a Smith & Wesson, which has a smaller grip than the Ruger and is more in sync with the size of my hand.
It was only when I'd made my decision that I looked around at my fellow customers. I had imagined they would be skinheads or slick-haired, oily types who would poke at each other in amusement at my questions, my stance, my purchase.
Instead, there was a clean-cut fellow wearing shorts and a Polo T-shirt. Several older guys were talking about deer and moose and elk. Everyone spoke softly. They were intent on business. Yes, one man did have a tattoo. But there was also a very nice-looking girl in her 20s, wearing one of those long black summer dresses with the little straps, looking quite glamorous. I saw her examining a Beretta. Obviously, her hands are stronger than mine, I thought, watching her pull back the slide. I resolved to exercise my hands — 20 minutes at the piano playing scales and Bach fugues every morning.
Sonia Wolff is the author of many novels written under her married name. She lives in Los Angeles.