Simple

By Andrew Nonadetti

Essay

I had sprinted back the last hundred yards and dropped into a prone position, snugging the sling into the meat of my bicep and trying to get sights on target as quickly as possible.  The front post was still a slightly unsteady blur and I already knew the rifle was no tack driver – it had never been better than a four-minute-of-angle gun and had a tendency to shoot right – but I was suffering from a mild case of “run-and-gun fever” and needed to make some holes in things.

Bam!  The solid smack of the round impacting the backstop was accompanied by a sharp knuckle-punch into the meat of my shoulder.  A hit, but a glancing one, just barely clipping the outside edge of my target.  My form had been adequate but sloppy – I hadn’t tucked the stock fully into me before firing, leaving enough space for the steel butt plate to get a running start at my deltoid.  The Russian 7.62 isn’t exactly a powerhouse round by rifle standards but physics are final and free recoil is no one’s friend.  Of course, as I often tell my students (on a variety of topics), there is no greater educator than the word “Ow” if you’re willing to hear its lesson.

Simple rules, simple concepts, simple lessons.  Those things which are most easily taken for granted, ignored and forgotten.  Until Ow comes to town.

This summer has been hell.  I have been taking graduate-level courses from Professor Ow, earning my degree in being a human being.  I have no idea when the final will be presented or how well I’ll do but I’ve surprised myself with a few recent pop quizzes and I have learned much.  Simple things I should have learned as a child, not as a forty-year-old man with children of his own.

Things like how “I love you” is not a threat.  It’s something humans say to each other to express connection.  Tenderness.  Affection.  Caring.  It doesn’t need to be met with indifference or contempt.  It should be welcomed and returned with sincerity.

And how the phrase “I’m here for you” is not an indictment of your weakness, inviting attack.  It doesn’t need to be met with aggression or hostility.  It’s something called “compassion” and should elicit not punishment but rather appreciation and gratitude.

That crying is not some wound to be swiftly staunched and cauterized.  That humans – children and adults alike – need to let their feelings out and give voice to their fears and pain, not simply provide body damage assessment and move on.

That words can slice to the bone and lies can shatter the strongest of foundations.  That in life, in love, in most all things, it is far easier to destroy than it is to create or repair.

That there are limits, once exceeded, that result in permanent damage and loss.  That you can’t recall bullets or unring bells.  That some wounds can never be healed no matter how desperately or tenderly you try to treat them.

That life is not a series of disconnected vignettes but rather a contiguous stream of interactions with the world around you.  That the future is propelled by the past but isn’t fleeing from it.  That who you are will always contain who you were, like it or not, so you’d better make peace with it instead of trying to shred, burn and bury to escape it.  And that, in every moment of your life, you can choose who it is you want to be, knowing that echoes of your past do not have to be directives for your future.

That sharing your life with another human being isn’t an admission of failure, a confession of your inability to handle things yourself.  And that sharing it with someone who loves you means opening yourself up and sharing it all, not treating them like a guest in your soul.  Offering them trust and letting them freely wander instead of suspiciously restricting their travels and access.

All simple rules, simple concepts, simple lessons.  Things that most anyone should already know but that were missing from my makeup.  Lessons I’m learning the hard way and that I now carry in fine Jacob Marley style, captive, bound and double-ironed.

I couldn’t tell you if these lessons will stick for a lifetime or might ever need to be learned again (nightmarish thought, there, given that Professor Ow charges quite a premium for remedial instruction).  I can’t even predict whether I’ve learned enough to serve me worth a damn in the present. Sadly, my Magic Eight Ball seems to be stuck on, “Too little, too late, fuckwit.”  But I’m really bad at giving up without a fight so….

Back to the forgotten basics.  I pulled the stock in a little tighter and held my last half-breath a beat, ignoring the range’s pea gravel digging into my elbows.  I held slightly left and compensated for the rise in the round’s rainbow trajectory as I pressed back on the trigger.  I fired my second round, double-tapping a third the instant the sights recovered.  A comfortable push this time and two center-mass hits a football field away.  Not perfect but certainly an improvement over my prior miserable mishandling.

On closer inspection, I found that the rounds had struck almost precisely at my point of aim and within two inches of each other.  Not bad at all, all things considered, and a far better performance than I thought the gun was capable of delivering.  Stupid to read too much into that, to look for portents in what might just be a fluke and yet, fool that I am, I find myself clinging to the tiniest hope for this imperfect and previously imprecise tool.  And for the rifle.

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ANDREW NONADETTI is a writer of fiction and, until recently, a deceptively charming but manipulative and abusive sonofabitch. To his surprise, though, there seems to be a genuinely good man hiding in there as well. And he's a quick study.... Feel free to email him at [email protected] to discuss his novel, life in general, terminal ballistics.... Pretty much anything, really. He's kind of gregarious and a big geek about a range of topics.

41 responses to “Simple”

  1. Wow. Your wife is very lucky to be with you! Those lessons seem so simple but it’s amazing how long it takes most of us to figure this stuff out.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thanks, Jessica, though I wouldn’t call her lucky – she’s the one my ignorance (often willful) has wounded the most. But I’m learning….

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Now, see – this is a perfect example of what can happen when someone is strong enough and willing enough to take a good hard look at themselves and decide to change the things that were not only hurting others but themselves as well.

    You are so right. Compassion is not weakness. Love is not manipulation. But we are so threatened by love that often we will do everything we can to bury it. It is threatening in a way – to have someone love you despite yourself. We, of course, know all too well our own fallibilities and dark sides and sometimes it is a hard thing to understand why someone else would choose to love you despite, and sometimes because, of them. We will turn on that person and see them as weak because they love us so much. Particularly if we don’t love ourselves enough.

    Ah, love. In the end it’s all that matters. We should hold onto it wherever it’s given and treasure it. It’s the finest gift we can ever offer or receive.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      “We will turn on that person and see them as weak because they love us so much. Particularly if we don’t love ourselves enough.” I wish I’d met you decades ago, Zara, assuming you had this pearl of wisdom to offer back then. Then again, I had plenty of pearls cast before me back then and passed them by so perhaps things are what they are meant to be. But you are spot on. Thanks, as always.

  3. Don Mitchell says:

    There was a Hilo dentist named Dr Au. Your Professor Ow whacks your shoulder. The other Au drills in and digs the rotted stuff out.

    Must be a point to that somewhere. Or a portent.

    Sounds as though I’m teasing you, but I’m not. Whack, dig out, it’s all good in the end.

    Believe me — speaking as one who kept needing that remedial work up until a few years ago — you’re ahead of the game.

    And are writing very nicely about it, too.

  4. Lorna says:

    Good Lord! Between you and Zara, my heart needs a lot of duct tape to cauterize the bleeding.

    You know I had an aha thought this morning and that thought was this – “I don’t believe we begin to heal until we begin to see how our wounds have caused wounds in others.” I am in agreement with your theory that who you are will always contain who you were and we better get to making peace with it.

    Saying and hearing I love you will take on a whole new perspective for me, thanks to you and Zara.

    It has been a heck of a lesson from Professor Ow for me too.

    Thanks for posting this, Anon.

    • Lorna says:

      Um, I’m not really sure how I’m gonna use the duct tape to cauterize my heart……. This is what happens when I try to use big words. lol.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Actually, duct tape burns frighteningly well (something to consider next time you use it to patch a tent or something) so, in theory, you could slap on a strip, leave a few bumps and creases for airflow, then light ‘er up. In theory. I’m not going to test it.

        Thanks, Lorna. And enjoy the “I love you”s.

  5. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    You’ve packed a lot of wisdom into this piece. I find myself living with the incessant, low-level fear of Ow coming to town for me. Like I don’t deserve the luck I’ve come upon and someone’s coming to collect. You also managed to mimic the voice in my own head that says “too little, too late, fuckwit” or some variation thereof. I’ve always liked the term “dickweed.” Writing tends to silence things, though I might get around to trying shooting too, if I could stand the recoil.

    Thanks for another excellent, open-hearted post.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      I used to say that I’ve got a really nice life and just wish I could find out who it belongs to before I get it all dirty and broken. I’ve since come to admit that it was because I couldn’t accept that I deserved it – and therefore couldn’t accept the goodness and did my best to piss it away. It might be luck, Nathaniel (Can I call you Nate? It’s easier to type.), but that doesn’t mean you haven’t earned what you have. Treasure it and don’t worry about Ow. He only comes when invited. Otherwise, it’s just his cousin, Whafuck, who visits clueless wonders incapable of learning.

      Dickweed is a good one. While not as profane on its face, I also like “dillhole”. Of course, there’s also dipshit and fucktard. God, it’s like frigging Sophie’s Choice picking one….

  6. Irene Zion says:

    It’s never too late, fuckwit, as long as you and she are alive.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Irene, I have always liked you. Calling me fuckwit in a comment – quoting or not – just seals the deal. And I wouldn’t be trying if I didn’t agree. Whatever the goal, if you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a chance.

      Some day, I’m going to head down Miami way again. I have every intention of meeting you in person whenever that is.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Can’t wait!
        (Fuckwit.)

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Heh. Stop, Irene – you’re making my inner masochist all misty-eyed. A few years ago, I trained with some civilian contractors and the guy running the live-fire drills rechristened me “Fucker”. It was so sweet, reminding me of my childhood like that.

          Good times… good times….

  7. We all learn at different paces and life is just one long course. Some things are obvious to some people, and remain a mystery to others. Sometimes it’s a lot more complicated, and sometime I guess people never learn. It’s good to see that – even though it hurts – you’re growing and learning. I’ve been doing the same over these past few years – even moreso than in the years before, when, we’re told, we do most of our growing – physically and mentally.

    Things like learning the consequences of a lie… tough lessons to learn. Very painful, but saying it and hearing it really don’t do it justice. Watching your lie hit someone and do its harm will scar you and make you a better person.

    Great piece. I realise my comment is just basically echoing what you said… but I guess I’m repeating it for my own benefit or something.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      “Watching your lie hit someone and do its harm will scar you and make you a better person.” That’s the natural crime of it, isn’t it? That you pay for the lesson with someone else’s pain. Granted, a large segment of the population doesn’t seem to mind being generous with other people’s property but I don’t want to drive Irene away by making this into a political discussion ;).

      Echo away, my friend. Isn’t that a technique for cementing knowledge? Saying it aloud instead of just reading or hearing it?

      Sigh. I’m work-distracted, undercaffeinated and rambling. I should stick to “Thank you, David” until I get my wits about me. So… thank you, David.

  8. Judy Prince says:

    ” . . . sharing it with someone who loves you means opening yourself up and sharing it all, not treating them like a guest in your soul. Offering them trust and letting them freely wander instead of suspiciously restricting their travels and access.”

    Beautiful language, vivid comparison, Anon.

    Your growing-up-hood was truly messed up. It is so arse-backwards from most of my own experiences that I have to cling to your descrips as difficult but true roadmaps for the ground you were forced to cover—-and that you are now voluntarily dismantling and replacing with positives. The work of it all sounds wearing and wearying, Anon. But I know you’re getting some fantastic rewards—-at the hands of Ms OH YEAH, not Dr OW!

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Funny thing, Judy. I’m new to this whole therapy thing and it alarmed me when, on my second or third visit, the man with whom I’m working stopped me mid-sentence and said, “You’ve had a really bad childhood. I mean really bad.” Then he hugged me. Holy fuck! AM I DYING, DOC?!? Seriously, though, I’m learning that my take on the world was arse-backwards from many people’s experiences and yet there are a lot of people that came up like me and worse.

      Wearing and wearying, yes, that sounds about right. Excruciating, too, how this clarity of hindsight comes with complete impotence of action. I had a really bad patch a few weeks ago, first uncorking a flood of memories of wrongs and then, harder still, accepting that there is nothing to be done about them unless some kind soul invents affordable time travel. All I can do is learn to understand the whats and whys, wring every ounce of wisdom from it all and take it forward with me.

      Irene’s right. I need to write some funny stuff for awhile.

      • dwoz says:

        When I was in my late twenties, I went through this group therapy thing called “life institute”.

        The whole thing was basically, “your parents fucked up. deal. forgive.”

        I found it ludicrous, because, like, my parents are AWESOME. FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC. If GOD ALMIGHTY came into my livingroom right now and offered me alternate parents, I would turn her lesbian ass down flat.

        But, it was useful in it’s own way. What I figured out was that nobody has a fucking clue.

        On a side note, I have never in my entire life fired a real gun. Sometime in the next short future, I have to buy a gun and figure out how to not fuck up with it, because we have coyotes packing up and acting bored and teenage juvenile around my sheep barn.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Funny – I’ve got an easier time forgiving others than I do myself. Must be that whole Catholic upbringing thing. And, while I’d agree that hardly anyone has a clue, I think it’s mostly because clues are elusive and wary prey and they usually hide in dangerous terrain. Most folks are too damned lazy to go after them and reap the reward. Kind of like how I don’t go elk hunting – too much work ;). Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying, though.

          As for the gun thing, step one is always to check with the local constabulary. Some places, however woodsy, get a little squirrelly about folks discharging firearms. After that, it’s a matter of caliber, cost and committed practice. I wouldn’t go with rimfires unless you had to suppress because of the neighbors – ‘yotes are assholes but they’re just doing their thing and don’t deserve to suffer. Perhaps start off with .223/5.56×45 and….

          Oh, I so want to geek out over this. Drop a line if you need any tips, dwoz.

        • dwoz says:

          I so need tips.

          I feel that a this point in my life, I have to shed myself of this “I’ve never shot a gun” thing.

          The problem is that I hate shooting living things, but I also hate removing dead sheep while telling the children to STAY IN THE GODDAMN CAR, GODDAMNIT.

          We as parents like to spare them at least some of the brutality of real life for as long as possible.

          I don’t begrudge the coyote his right to survival. But I have to hope that he find that survival somewhere else besides the crosshairs of my new gun.

          REQUIREMENTS: easily stowed, quickly deployed. secure against curious children. Able to send a 35lb coyote to it’s maker without argument or discussion. At approx. 50 yds

        • dwoz says:

          neighbors not an issue. Both neighbors pack. One is shooting 9mm and going to 12gauge spray after almost losing his dog. 2nd neighbor is packing 9mm pistol.

          we have a pack of about 12 coyote that are no longer respecting boundaries.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Fifty yards? Hell, man, get a pistol or throw a rock ;). Seriously, though, you’ve got a lot of options. When you say “stowed”, do you mean in a car, a cabin, a backpack, what? Regardless, look at something carbine-length, 16-18″ barrel, top it off with an affordable bit of glass (Bushnell, Tasco, maybe a 3x-9x variable and 35-40mm objective) or a 4MOA red dot optic. No target is too close or too big to miss but a rig described above wouldn’t take much effort at that distance.

          Lever-actions are fun guns and can be had in both rifle and pistol calibers (.357. 44 Mag, .45 Colt) though you need to make note of how they eject if you plan on using optics. Some eject straight up, which is hell on a mounted scope. Bolt-guns are always a standby and there’s an endless variety of makes, models and calibers in the configuration though they tend to be a little slower on followup shots. Semi-auto developed for a reason but tends to scare segments of the population by their nomenclature alone. Plus more moving parts to break et al. And there are always cheap but reliable single-shots.

          Regardless, if you really don’t plan on using it for anything else, don’t get anything in a larger caliber. A shotgun using slugs would, IMO, be overkill though probably the most practical choice in terms of availability. Even .30-30 or 7.62x39mm might be more than you need, though fun to shoot. I’d say stick to magnum pistol calibers or mid-range rifle like .223, .22-250 or .243.

          Sigh. Thanks, Dwoz. I needed that.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Oh, and a followup kid story. My daughter – five and a half – has a lovely .22 bolt-action (hot pink, of course). She’s been bugging me to come hunting but I keep explaining that she needs to be old enough to, you know, be able to read and write to get her hunter safety card first. She kept asking for details on what else she’d need to do and I went into pretty lengthy detail in answering until I got to the topic of “taking the shot”.

          Me: “Now, if everything is lined up perfectly but another animal walks in front – ”
          Her: “Finger off the trigger because you don’t shoot the other animal.”
          Me: “Right! And, if everything is lined up perfectly but then I see a car driving behind in the distance….”
          Her: “Finger off? But why?”
          Me: “Well, the bullet might go right where I’m aiming and kill the deer but might keep right on going-”
          Her (gasping): “And hit the car!”
          Me: “Right again.”
          Her: “And kill the driver!”
          Me: “Right!”
          Her: “And then we’d have to eat him, too!”
          Me: “Um…. What?”
          Her: “Well, you said we don’t waste meat because something died to give it to us, right?”
          Me: “Um… yeah….”
          Her: “And you said we’re all just made of meat, right?”
          Me: “Um… well, yeah, but-”
          Her: “And that people are animals, too. And we don’t kill animals unless we’re going to eat them. So we’d have to eat him if we killed him and the deer.”
          Me: “…. I… um. Honey, we just don’t do that.”

        • dwoz says:

          TFF!!!!

          (too fucking funny)

          my girls are in 4h, and part of the drill is that some of these animals are “freezer animals”. Our own animals will never feel knife and fork. but it’s good to maintain perspective!

          I’m not so sure about the pistol thing.

          Basically, when the heat come close, I’m overnighting at the barn, with whatever hardware I end up with.

          My uneducated understanding is that pistol accuracy is bad. I’m high ability but low training.

        • dwoz says:

          the only other thing I’d use it for is to convince the big black bear that’s hanging around that he should find a bird feeder instead of trying to break into my grain bin. Scare.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I was only half-joking about the pistol. Short-barreled carbine, heavy-pistol or light-rifle caliber (.44 Magnum or .454 Casull sort of splits the diff), low-power scope or no-magnification red dot so you don’t have to split your visual focus lining up sights under duress and, if you’re doing low-light/no-light shooting, maybe mount a flashlight. Boom. Literally. Or use a simple 12 or 20 gauge pump or crack-top, if you want to make no-argument hits inside of 30 yards.

          Wish you were closer. I could let you do a little try-before-you-buy and provide some coaching. Or take care of the problem for you in lieu of therapy ;).

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          The bear’s actually easier – huck a few M80s at him. Although, if you go the 12 gauge route, you can (or used to be able to) buy “bird bombs”. Essentially, M80s loaded into a shotgun shell with only a primer as propellant. Firing pin hits the primer, tiny detonation lobs the pyrotechnic and ignites its fuse, M80 makes scary noise about 25 yards away. Nothing has to die, you still get to shoot at something, point gets made. Everybody wins.

          Kind of like a 40mm grenade, except for the “nothing has to die” thing.

        • dwoz says:

          The bear shouldn’t have to die.

          He’s benign. He just wants to fuck a sow and take a well-deserved long nap. Good on him.

          But I want to teach him the perimeter.

          The coyotes however…they are not redeemable.

          I may be in cali in November. Maybe I can finagle a layover in Denver on the way home.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          As luck would have it, I have some family visiting in November and will be taking some time off to host. Makes for a flexible schedule. Keep my email handy….

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Firing guns with Anon is awesome.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Good students enhance the experience. 😉

      • Judy Prince says:

        “Holy fuck! AM I DYING, DOC?!?”

        HAHAHA! Great reaction, Anon.

        Re your blasts of heavy guilt, what I gather from Catholic-raised friends is that you’re all suffering from a weird malady called Catholic-itis. You guys outguilt any Protestants I know. Can’t figure it out, either, bcuz 1) You’d think that confessing to a priest would do the job, and 2) Catholics do stuff like drink, dance, watch tv and films which my (in childhood) Calvinist neighbours weren’t allowed to do.

        Nevertheless, and bottom line, as far as I can tell, the man we call Christ, wasn’t into guilt and routinely forgave folks for pretty much everything, urging them to carry on and not be so gloomy. Makes sense. I mean if you want to hogtie somebody emotionally and mentally just make them feel guilty or inferior. Wait—scratch that. You can’t MAKE somebody feel something unless they believe in what you’re saying.

        Here you go, then, Anon:

        I, Judy Prince, hereby absolve you of all your guilt—–and I mean ALL YOUR GUILT. Whatever stuff you did is over and done and gone and finished. No one will be helped by your guilt.

        Did I tell you about the great New Yorker cartoon where a guy’s lying on the psychiatrist’s couch, and the psychiatrist says: “You mean you’re feeling guilty AGAIN? You oughta be ashamed of yourself!” HOOT!!!

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Well, I’m a recovering Catholic, Judy, and have avoided priest since I was a small boy… which was probably wise, all things considered. So I think I’ll hang onto your absolution until I get my next chit at a CathAnon meeting ;).

        • Judy Prince says:

          “CathAnon”—-good one, Anon. 😉

  9. D.R. Haney says:

    I think we have an idea that we’re supposed to have learned everything we need to learn by the time we reach a certain age, but that isn’t the case. The challenges never end, and the lessons never end, either. Also, we forget what we’ve learned. There are small children who know what I used to know, and what, in my adult foolishness, I’ve misplaced along the way.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      This is a small thing – and a different context – that I’ve explained to my daughter. I love watching her learn, not only for the simple rush of parental pride I get when I see her brain plumping with new knowledge but also for the selfish fact that I get to relearn things I’ve let fall by the wayside and then forgotten. Come to think of it, the context may be the same. Many of the lessons I referenced above were sparked by explaining things to her.

      Kids. Who knew?

      Thanks for stopping by, Duke.

  10. jmblaine says:

    Humility & simplicity always
    wear well, sir.
    A Rebel Prophet once told me
    that the Good News
    is
    wherever you are
    (long as it isn’t the morgue)
    it’s never too late to
    start making better choices.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Sir, when I see I have a comment from you, I never know if I will laugh aloud at turn of your humor or quietly ponder a line of your prose. But I always know that my day will be just a few degrees more pleasant and my soul a few ounces lighter. A heartfelt thanks, as always, for your words.

  11. M.J. Fievre says:

    “you can’t…unring bells.” I love that.

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