My therapist is an aficionada of the words “complicated” and “complex.” At least two or three times each session, she will use them to describe my life with a chronic disease. Upon leaving her office, I often feel even more overwhelmed, neurotic and worried about the obstacles I face, and then I wonder what I’m paying her for.
One crisp fall Sunday, after a particularly rough week, I decided to try out an alternative method of treatment: shooting guns in the desert.
We drove out past the south side of town, the taco trucks glistening in the low afternoon light, and continued alongside the mud crack known as the Santa Fe River. It is here that the dry riverbed that ribbons through town emerges from the sewage treatment plant to once again become a glistening, flowing body of water. Then a fork in the road, and we were presented with a stark contrast of choices—left towards the posh polo grounds or right to the post-apocalyptic shooting range known as Camel Tracks, so named for the footsteps of some Paleolithic beasts preserved in the fossil record amongst the bullet shells and empty beer cans of past prehistoric men.
As we pulled up to the dirt embankment, an ancient man with a flowing white beard sat perfectly still next to his antique tan Nissan truck, his gun on a table, aimed at a target 100 yards away. He was a perverse version of Rip Van Winkle, having sat here tuning and shooting and oiling ad infinitum, and I anticipated he might be full of wisdom. Perhaps he would impart to us such helpful adages as “Four-wheel drive just means you are that much further from civilization when things go to shit and your truck breaks down.” Instead, the hermit proudly showed us his cardboard box target, really just a collection of bullet holes.
Our supplies: ear plugs, two 12-gauges glistening in gunmetal black, boxes of shells orange and blue and copper-tipped, and a tray of skeet, fluorescent disks of clay destined for destruction. For practice, I aimed at a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon stuck on top of a tree branch, like the star of some hipster Christmas tree in Brooklyn. The gun strained my wrist and pushed into my shoulder. I clicked off the safety, sighted down the barrel and exhaled. In quick and dramatic succession, I pulled the trigger, missed the target, pumped the gun to eject the fired round and reload and aimed again. This time, the can flew off the tree with a passionate force, riddled with shot holes, and I could feel the soft glow of depression around my chest fading slightly.
Shooting skeet is hard. The target is moving. The gun and your aim must move with it. You must correct for wind, sun glare, muscle twitches, the distraction of your friends, the slight rumbling in your stomach and the electric buzz of weaponry pressed against a rosy cheek. A breath to compose myself, then, “Pull!”
There is a special kind of catharsis that can only be achieved through the act of annihilation. As I watched the disk break into raining pieces above my head, I experienced a peaceful moment of smug satisfaction.
At this point, there was just one more thing to do. We drove towards the horizon like pilgrims on a quest to find god, or gold, or at least a really great place to get stoned. Ruts and rocks and cows in the middle of the road attempted to thwart our plans. The bovine gazed eastward, as if admiring the mountain views, and they met our eye contact with stares of defiance. “We will not become your dinner,” they thought vehemently with their collective cattle hive mind. We pushed onward, the radio dial oscillating between classical music and 70s rock classics, surrounding us in a haze of civility and hair metal until they merged to sound nearly identical.
Just short of the end of the mesa, we parked and walked the rest of the way to the windy cliffside. The old Route 66 descended snakelike through fallen boulders below us. It called up visions of a time when it would take three days to go from the quaint settlement of Albuquerque to the even quainter settlement of Santa Fe, a journey that made you realize you should have just stayed home. Still, the view was awe-inspiring and impressive. Add a bottle of wine at sunset and this was the perfect place to trap someone into marriage.
As the sun began to dip below La Bajada Hill, we headed homeward, our dusty retreat painted pink and purple. Pomp and Circumstance played on the radio. It felt like an ode to the accomplishments of the day, as if we had just graduated magna cum laude from the University of Good at Life.
We were proud and accomplished Americans, having conquered the wild west of our own unhappiness, at least momentarily. There was nothing “complex” or “complicated” about this day. In fact, it all felt pretty simple.