L. Neil Smith's
I Just Don't Want to Die Alone
by Joel Simon
Exclusive to TLE
"Why do you do that? What would you USE it for?"
My fellow cubicle-dweller is an interesting fellow. Former Special Forces grunt, son of a semi-famous actor. He burned out after being seriously injured in the army, and bummed around Asia doing god-knows-what before coming back to America. Then he bootstrapped his way to a fairly good tech writing job at the Silicon Valley branch of a Japanese robotics company. I feel a certain kinship with him. We've both made some serious mistakes for which we're paying some very serious prices. He's single; I'm divorced. He's cynical as hell and so am I. Neither of us has many friends outside work. I like him.
And that's why I told him how I spend most of my weekends. And that's why, when he asked his question, I gave an honest answer. An answer he found disturbing and offensive. I should have just shut up, or lied.
I shoot. A lot. I have, off and on, for decades. When I'm not shooting, or working, I'm cleaning up from shooting or getting ready to shoot. When I'm not practicing with my M1A, I practice with a .45. Sometimes just for variety I practice with a knife. What little money I have left after taxes, bills and child support, I spend on food and books and reloading stuff and surplus rifle ammo. Rarely in that order.
It's not for enjoyment. I tell people (and myself) that I enjoy it all to pieces, but the truth is I don't actually enjoy it that much. I'm hardly Jeff Cooper, but I'm at least good enough with a handgun to give a street mugger reason to regret his career choice. I don't hunt. I'm not planning a life of crime. So why spend so much time on it?
That's the question my friend asked me. It's the question I used to lay awake asking myself night after night, already knowing the answer. Along with, "am I crazy?"
My daughter flew up from LA to visit for a week during the holiday break, and inadvertently reinforced my reason for shooting so much. It was the first time I'd been to an airport since the Sept. 11 hijackings. I'd heard how much worse they'd gotten, but I still wasn't ready for what I found there:
What particularly disturbed me about all this was how cheerfully my fellow herd members received it. We seemed to have fallen into a movie about occupied France, and it didn't bother anyone. I wanted to shake people by the shoulders. Either I was crazy, or everyone else in the airport was.
Later that afternoon I went to the range and burned through over 100 rounds of .308. Just gotta get those groups smaller from the prone position.
All of which leads me back to my friend's question, and to the bleak and offensive way I replied to it:
"I only expect to use it once," I told him.
"I fancy myself an honest man. I've never intentionally harmed an innocent soul, and I've never stolen so much as a slice of bread even when I was broke and hungry. I obey every law I can bring myself to, sometimes at the cost of self-contempt. But there are some things I CAN NOT do, and someday those things will be demanded of me. Then I'll be branded a dangerous criminal. And someone will come for me, and I'll resist. Then the shooting will start, and I'll likely be killed. I just don't want to die alone."
"Are you telling me," my friend asked, "That you'd shoot some poor pimple-faced grunt just because he was ordered to be the first one through your door?" I recalled that my friend had earlier said that he was assigned to "counter-terrorism" work in the Special Forces, and that his training had more to do with breaking down doors than storming bunkers. I looked up and met his eyes.
"I have to take the consequences of my choices," I replied, "And he has to take the consequences of his."
I wish I could believe that the original intent of our republic can be restored. I really do. Not long ago I re-read El Neil's and Aaron Zelman's book Hope. I leaned back in my chair and tried to retreat into a fantasy of what it would be like to have someone like Alexander Hope as president, providing a way for us to restore our liberty while punishing those guilty of stealing it from us. I just couldn't do it.
No president like that will arise. Americans won't rise up, either, even when it's too late. In the unlikely event we do organize for revolt, we'll lose. Since I can't imagine living in the future America I envision, I expect to die. And when I die, I don't expect to be surrounded by friends. So enemies will have to do. I just don't want to die alone.