BULLETPROOF • by Divya Raghavan

This is my first time at a gun show. I’m not very good at it. You made me come here with you, and I’m just terrible, and the guns make me nervous, and I don’t know why I’ve decided that this is something that being a good girlfriend entails. I don’t understand these machines. Can you use them in the rain? Is the whole keeping your powder dry thing still necessary? Or was that from pirate times?

There’s a man next to me aiming a rifle at his wife, and she’s pressing her palms against her face in mock distress. He’s making fake shooting noises as he flexes his muscles. They both seem to find this funny.

If I die here from some psycho shooting up the place, I want you to know I’m sorry about that time I told your parents about your tattoo in college, and that time you found out your grandparents were cousins and then I told everyone you were inbred.

There’s a shooting demonstration in the corner of the room. You lead me to it by my hand and we join the forming crowd. My muscles clench every time he squeezes the trigger and the bullet explodes out with steely precision. Your fingertips are fleshy and rough against my fingers, spindly and squeezing, and you see the discomfort I’m trying to hide. You kiss my forehead and lead me away. We make more space for the crowd behind us, craning their necks and watching with appreciative eyes.

Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw a gun being shot? I was my grandpa’s only grandchild, and he wanted a grandson, not a granddaughter. He took me hunting once, said it would be time for just me and him. I didn’t know he meant time for me to follow him while he killed things. He made me be very, very quiet while we stalked a pheasant. And then he made me throw something toward it to startle it so it would fly up. And before he shot, he took the time to look at me and wink. He winked and then the gun boomed and the trees screamed and the bird dropped like your mother’s jaw when I mentioned that tattoo. I really did think she already knew.

I’m trying to figure out how we got here, to this garishly carpeted dining room at a hotel that rents by the hour. They’ve filled it with tables and crowded them with guns. I didn’t expect there to be knives here, too, with curved blades and ornate handles.

When we started dating it was simple and fun and I never thought that in eight years I’d be at a gun show with you. Back then I didn’t want to be your girlfriend because I didn’t want to be anyone’s anything. But you stuck to me and since our hands were practically superglued together you grew on me after a while. I thought it was interesting that you liked guns and loved running and wanted to teach me how to drive a tractor. I liked the things that made you different from me. And then I did little things for you. There are little things that make someone a good girlfriend, little things you have to give up like drinking too much and flirting during girls night out, or the morning alarm I like to set but you say it gives you a headache, or the spices that I like to cook with but that make your face red. And now I’m at a gun show, wondering what I’ll have to give up when I’m your wife. But it’s not uneven, you give up things too, like watching game shows, and going to car races, and that former friend of yours who makes sexist jokes. We both are giving up all of these pieces of ourselves until, faster than a speeding bullet, I’m at a gun show, miserable and trapped, and you’re wiping sweat off your stubble when we go out to dinner and I pick the restaurant and I pick Indian. Love means doing things you hate but pretending you like them. Maybe we should have waited longer and tried different things, different people.

You pick up a gun and toss it between your hands, feeling the weight of it. You hold it up and blow the top of it like a movie-screen villain and we smile at each other, and those doubts I’ve been pushing out squeeze their way into my brain. I can’t tell if I lost myself because I love you or if I love you because I lost myself.

Divya Raghavan lives in Cambridge, MA but her heart resides in the Midwest. She is a senior at Harvard University studying Psychology and English.

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