“Kickback” by Chani Grossman


I’ll admit to having been a little bit freaked out when I picked up the rifle for the first time. Chel said after that I didn’t look it, but I think she was lying.

The instructor positioned it in my arms. “Your thumb goes there- no, there– and you should have the palm of your other hand over here. Now keep your finger off the trigger until you want to shoot. It’s loaded, remember.”

I only nodded. I think everything else about me was paralyzed with fright, frozen to the gun.

As the oldest, I’ve always done things first. It just feels like a sisterly obligation; I’ve always been first one at the dentist, head of the line for a haircut, and now the trailblazer at the shooting range, apparently. Chel and Shira could just slink on back and watch.

My instructor looked at me critically. “You’ve never shot a .22 rifle before, have you?” I blinked, and then grinned for a flickering second.

“No, never a .22 rifle…” I said in a faux-casual voice. I usually shoot 9mms. Ha.  

She winked at me. “Okay, then, so since you haven’t had experience with this particular kind of gun… I’ll just give you some general advice.”

Over in the next booth, my cousin Yoseph was aiming the rifle like a career soldier. I gritted my teeth and focused on the holographic scope thingie that my instructor was enthusiastically pointing out. “So I love this rifle because with the holographic scope, you can just look through it and that red dot-” I squinted through the tiny gray translucent box on the top of the rifle and could just barely make out a minuscule splotch of color- “that red dot will show you what the gun is aiming at. If it’s focused on one of those hanging targets over there-” now she points at the yellow disks dangling on a hill intimidatingly far away- “ then you’ve basically got it in the bag.” She stood up and smiled at me. “So now’s your turn.”

Cool! My turn! It was my turn to shoot a gun!

I’m going to shoot a gun. This is SO WEIRD. Slightly creepy, a little bit scary in an odd way… This is a GUN. It shoots people. It kills people, and I’m going to shoot it.

I took a quick glance back at Chel and Shira waiting their turn, at Shlom and Mommy and Daddy watching curiously. They were all staring back like they were waiting for something to explode.

Big deep breath, and I looked back at the bright yellow targets, at the bright green grass on the hills around them, and I picked up the gun. Index finger above the trigger, ring finger over here, palm over there- “no, you have to put your left hand over your right. Like that. Remember?”- and my eyes squinted over the foggy grey holographic scope. The red dot- I saw it, it was on that rock. I focused it on the yellow dangling target right in the center.  Deep steadying breath, and…

I heard a gunshot and saw the target I had been aiming at swinging in the air, hit dead center. I looked at my gun, confused. My instructor pointed at the booth next to us. Yoseph, you big showoff… I could just imagine the snickering on the other side of the wooden partition.

Finally, it was my finger that pulled the trigger, my shot that blasted even through the enormous blue headphones. The kickback shook me as I watched a tiny cloud of dust spurt above the grass. It hadn’t felt like me doing it- it had seemed to just happen. It was weird, just a tap and then that- bullet.

I looked up at the instructor. “Nice one! You almost hit that one on the side!”

Oh. Cool.

I had eight shots off of this rifle, and I shot them off, leaving a few seconds in between each, eye on the scope. Sometimes I hit targets, sometimes I didn’t. I just let my finger touch the trigger and felt the kickback. My tiny little motion on the trigger, the huge soundblast that made me recoil nearly as much as the gun’s firing did. Cause and effect. The bullet speeding through the air with just a flick of a finger, my finger.

Eight shots were done. The instructor grinned at me, patted me on the shoulder, slapped me five. “Great job, Hannah! Excellent aim!” Lying through her teeth, but I still had those shots echoing in my head, the bullets that I’d fired with such a tiny tap, and I smiled at her.

Mommy grinned at me and waved her phone, full of pictures, and Shlom just stared. Daddy slapped me five and asked how did I feel. “Top of the world now? Plotting destruction for your bitterest enemies?” He winked. I made a thumbs up. Yeah, my enemies. Enemies, meet gun.

Chel was next, so I stood next to Shira as we watched her pick her gun, learn how to sight through the scope and hold it correctly. Shira turned to me and I lifted my headphones slightly off so I could hear what she said. “Chani, were you scared?”

“Nope. It was weird, but it wasn’t scary.” Because it wasn’t, it was cool, empowering in a scary way, my gun obeys my bidding with a quick gesture. I held something so powerful and I had control. I liked it. “No, don’t worry, it’s not scary.”

She turned back to watch Chel, smiling.


I’ve never shot a gun since. I’ve handled them, in Israel mostly, where kids even younger than me walk around, uniformed, enormous rifles and awesome responsibility strapped to their backs as they eat 15-shekel shawarma. But I’ve never shot one. I cannot let go of that heady feeling of cause and effect, the flick of the finger.


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