Dynamic Equilibrium

I have a variety of hobbies.  Almost all (maybe even all) of them are uninteresting to anyone but me, but I enjoy them nonetheless.  They give me an opportunity to learn new things, to feel a sense of accomplishment, and to fill my time between board meetings, support groups, speaking engagements, Izzy walks, and Skitter/Bee feedings.

Izzy walks and Skitter/Bee feedings are not to be trifled with, by the way.  Izzy has learned to pout hard enough to leave a bruise if she feels slighted, and the two cats (who spend their waking time fighting over who gets to sit in my lap), jump out from behind things at my legs if they are even slightly hungry.  It’s a hostile love environment, but they get what they want.  Perhaps they learned that’s how to get what they want – it’s too complex a set of relationships to unpack.  I just do what is expected.

But I digress.  As many of you know, one of my hobbies is pistol and rifle shooting. I have already exhausted all the jokes about “the shakiest gun in the west,” and I no longer think it’s amusing to observe the response of people who discover that I both shoot as a hobby and have Parkinson’’s disease. I continue to enjoy the hobby, but the day when I will need to stop is closer than ever, and it’s going to be hard when it arrives. I enjoy the sense of achievement it gives me, but as usual there’s more to it than that.

As always, Amy and I are a team. The team is changing as the disease progresses, and Amy is taking on a larger role. We have always shared responsibility, because she is good at things I’m not, and vice versa.  We had responsibility for “non-overlapping magisteria,” a pretentious way of saying we each had our own areas of expertise, and we didn’t meddle with each other overmuch. We still don’t, but my job-jar is shrinking, and hers is growing.  Occasionally, hers grows faster than mine shrinks, and a short but spectacular conflict ensues. My hobbies sometimes cause these brief eruptions.

I used to be ruefully amused by the fact that I was a competitive shooter with PD. I shot in a friendly competition just today, and although I am never at the top of the standings, I am not at the bottom, either.  I have deficits that I usually overcome, but most importantly, I am always safe, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.  The people I shoot with only know me casually, and I’m confident that if I were not still safe they would ask me to stop, quickly and firmly. I’ve seen it happen many times to other people – “you don’t have to leave, but you’re done shooting.” No guilt, no shame, and no mercy – just the way it should be when your toys can kill.

Amy has the burden of seeing me at my worst, and she can’t help but overlay what she sees with the knowledge that I am potentially putting myself in harm’s way.  Recently, that burden and her concern for my safety led her to ask me to stop shooting.  I resisted.

John Thompson, the former CEO of Symantec, had a saying that I remember but that Amy must have embedded in her DNA:  “the selling doesn’t start until someone says, ‘no.’” When she’s right (and she usually is, dammit), she is invincible.  The funny thing (not “funny ha-ha” but “funny agonizingly painful”) Is that she is equally invincible on those vanishingly rare instances when she’s not completely, unassailably right.  I didn’t say “wrong”, did I?  Of course not.

She asked me to stop shooting and suggested that I consider other alternatives.

I said, “Here’s an alternative – how about if I don’t stop, and you leave me alone about it?” I always choose the wrong time for quirky humor.

She didn’t actually say, “How about if I shoot you myself, and eliminate the suspense?” She may not have even been thinking it. However, she has on more than one occasion told me a cautionary tale about a male ancestor of hers who transgressed, and who was sewn up in his bedsheets by his wife while he slept and was bludgeoned (just a little) with a farming implement for his misdeeds.  I can’t be blamed for being cautious.

We wrangled; we negotiated; we begged and pleaded; we threatened.  We proposed unacceptable solutions; we rejected perfectly reasonable solutions; we retreated to our corners to rest and wait for the next bell.  And we finally decided to do three things:  I would take another neuropsychological exam (the same type I took before my DBS surgery), I would take a shooting assessment with someone who didn’t know me and who preferably hated me (I made that last bit up), and for some reason I would take another driving exam.  Why a driving exam?  You put these things into agreements where you can, apparently, like a pork-barrel rider on the Congressional defense authorization bill, way back when the federal government made sense.  But I digress again.

The neuropsych exam and the driving test were known quantities. I’ve done one, and the other is scheduled.  Neither was surprising – I’m not crazy yet, and I still can drive.  The shooting test was a different matter.

I committed to be as up-front and objective in finding an examiner as possible, and I resolved not to be offended at the results.   We tried contacting the police.

“You want us to do WHAT? No way in hell. What if we’re wrong, and you actually are a dirt-bag?”

We tried contacting the managers of shooting ranges that I had never been to (all one of them).

“You want us to do WHAT? No way in hell. What if we’re wrong, and you actually are a dirt-bag?”

i tried to convince Amy to just come watch me shoot.

“You want me to do WHAT? No way in hell. What if I’m wrong, and you actually are a dirt-bag?” That one hurt a little.

I finally took my hand off the wheel, did a Google search for “best shooting instructor in San Antonio” and sent the top result an email.

I won’t divulge his identity, because I don’t have his permission and I’m not doing ANYTHING without his permission.  This gentleman is the real deal – Army Ranger, Green Beret, Delta Force special operator snake eater with more time downrange under hostile fire than I have in bed.  He’s also a genuinely friendly guy, and one of the best teachers I have ever met. He spent 90 minutes with me, and in that time he showed me how everything I had been taught previously was supposed to go together, and why many of the things I had learned were just dumb. He turned me inside out and stressed me in ways I didn’t even realize were occurring until afterward. I’ll be assimilating that 90 minutes for the rest of my shooting life, even if I’m not fortunate enough to ever shoot with him again.

After the session, I asked him casually, “So, how did I do?” Oh, please don’t tell me I’m a dirt-bag, I thought.

“Not bad at all.  You’re a little slow on the trigger, but your fundamentals are solid, you’re obviously motivated, and you’re quick to take correction and adjustment. And you’re safe – I’d shoot with you again.”

“Do you mind talking to my wife?” I asked.  We had discussed the reasons I had asked for his help, so I didn’t feel excessively foolish.

“Sure – anytime.  Just have her call me.”

I listened in on the discussion.  I could only hear one side.

“Uh, huh…hmm.  Uh huh…yes.  Mmm hmm…what if he falls down?  Mmm hmm…well, thank you very much.” Amy hung up the phone and turned back to her homework.

I waited.  So did she.  She won – I cracked like an egg.

“So, what did he say?”

“Oh, he said…” She trailed off, concentrating on her litigation assignment.


“Yes?”  It’s a little game we play – we torture me with pauses in conversation.

“He said…what?”

“Oh…he said you’re fine.”

“It was a ten minute conversation, and he said I’m fine?”

“I don’t remember all the details – you’re fine.”

Good enough for me, but more importantly, good enough for Amy.  It won’t last forever, but nothing does.  And I live to fight another day.

Wanna go shooting?

5 thoughts on “Dynamic Equilibrium

  1. Pingback: Changes | The Crooked Path

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