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  • The third bullet down in the constellation grouped below the bullʼs eye is my shot. Call it Zen mind or beginnerʼs luck. That star in the photograph had traveled four hundred yards from the barrel of a Remington 700, a sniper rifle. Its story might be said to begin when the hammer fell onto the Federal Gold Medal Match 308. Or when my friend Josh set the angle up, aligning measurements on the scope. Or it might have begun last January when I met him who loaned me the weapon. It ends where it tore a hole into the target. Or a little further on when it dug into the bank, sending up a puff of dust. Except its trajectory also rippled through my body when it kicked, sending out a jet of breath when it came clean off the barrel. One jars a narrative from the stream of events. To craft a story is to justify its beginning and end.

    Iʼd gone to the range to blow off grief from a recent breakup. I understood why the relationship failed, but didnʼt like it, couldnʼt change it, nor had I accepted it fully. I hoped to release some frustration by pulling a trigger into paper a few dozen times. At the very least I would learn a new skill.

    Josh schooled me on windage, m.o.a. adjustments, cycling the action, safety. He did the math and turned the dials on his scope, detailing his corrections based on d.o.p.e.—a.k.a. data on previous encounters. I read metaphors everywhere, wanted to believe my heartache had meaning, added up.

    He explained the need to calculate for barrel temperature—how hunters dial in their zeroes for the first cold shot while Rangers make their adjustments to fire hot. He told me the bullet begins falling the moment it exits the chamber and propped the barrel up on a sandbag to accommodate for drop. He said that for mile-long shots, snipers factor in not only the angle of falloff, wind and barometric pressure but even the rotation of Earth. I wondered that any shot ever goes home, and, given the calculations, why some do not.

    I christened his Rem 700 “Destroyer of Sorrow,” spent brass, cleared the chamber of hollowed shells, evacuated grief into the banks outside town. For my first shot, he set me up at a 25 yard target. My closest aim was six inches off, but it was a rush even to hit paper. By noon, after firing a dozen shots on his AR 15 and more on his bolt action rifle, I began to get the feel. Still, one might not have expected such success as to come within three quarters of an inch from center. A distance so slight it kept the vertebrae in my neck from snapping nine years ago in a car accident, that for all I know put the man beside us at the complex in his wheelchair. The vulnerability of the body is apparent everywhere when a live range goes hot. But crossing a cold range in front of tabled weapons, we are even more clearly subjects to an agreement among men to protect each other.

    The power of each shot drove me like a nail into the present. My vision cleared. Color intensified. Autumn leaves, the long field, the cloudless sky blared into focus. One cannot sight so carefully, quieting the breath, feeling the pulse, without attuning something in oneself. Aim is an action one perfects. “Wherever you are,” Kabir says, “is the entry point.” A door blew open in my back when the rifle kicked. The heart radiates out, in the round.
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