At the beginning of 2009, my mom told me that it was going to be a better year. Any year had to be better than that last one.
And at the beginning of 2010, my mom said it again. This year was going to be — it had to be — a better year. This was our year.
The shit-storm started as a drizzle for our family in 2007, morphing into a full-blown hurricane by 2008. That’s when, in just one spin, the family roulette ball landed on disease, disaster, depression, unemployment, ailing hearts, broken-down cars, shattered teeth and spontaneously detaching retinas.
At the center of all of it was my mom: the family keystone. The one who had always been there to fix everything for the rest of us. Our compassionate-yet-stern leader.
And because, we learned, she was not a superhuman, sometime in 2008, she just couldn’t bear that burden for us all anymore. There were just too many things — my dad’s heart surgeries, my grandmother’s failing mind, my husband’s sudden unemployment — adding up for one person to dispense advice and counsel to us all. We couldn’t lean on her anymore. She, too, was overwhelmed.
Sometime last summer, as we talked on the phone, I started to notice that my solid-as-a-rock, doesn’t-take-any-shit-from-anyone Mom sounded weak. Terrible. She cried every time we talked. She sounded feeble. And I had no advice — nothing useful or productive or funny to say.
“Maybe we need to start doing something differently — change our perspectives or something. Maybe we just have to do something we wouldn’t usually do, and that’ll help us deal better,” I said to her.
“Like what?” she asked between sniffles. “Go to church?!”
That made us both laugh. “Hell, no, not that. Not yet. What about if you come up to Spokane and we have a real Spokanite weekend. Like we’ll go drink a bunch of cheap beer and go shoot guns or something.”
Yes! Guns! That was something we would never do. Guns were completely foreign to us. My mom, after all, goes to Coldwater Creek to blow off steam. And anything perceived to be too right-wing, redneck-y or violent is usually something I avoid.
But we were desperate.
Finally, last month, I cashed in my offer. When my Mom came to visit me, I told her we’d go shoot guns. She sounded hesitant. I insisted.
My hands were shaking, and I didn’t even have a gun yet. Men around us confidently shot big, Dirty Harry guns into black and white silhouette targets. If we didn’t already stick out enough here, I’d selected the one target that looked like a Twister or Candyland board. Crap.
As we waited for our instructor, my mom and I flinched each time they pulled the trigger, laughing. I started to wonder: Would my mom really feel better if we did this? Would a stray bullet ricochet into one of us? Was church safer?
I now know I am a terrible shot. My hands shook terribly as I held the guns — worse if I thought about it too much. It made me nervous to see so many guns; even more to hold one. And when I did fire, I’m pretty sure I was hitting the target of the guy next to us.
But my mom? She kind of looked good shooting a gun. She hit the target easily — leaning forward into her stance, arms straight and confident. After we finished off a box of bullets, she casually asked Jeremy, our instructor, “Can we get another box?”
As she shoved the clip into our next gun and easily fired at the target, I wished I could capture the moment in slo-mo. The shells flying out as she shot, the years of tension and worry fading — if only for now — from her cheeks. And though my hands never stopped shaking as I shot, this wasn’t about me. It was for her. I wanted my mom to remember that she was a rock. That she was tough.
That with or without a gun, she was a badass in my eyes.