It was about just after six o’clock on a warm summer evening in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and I was standing nervously behind a rack of sweatshirts in a local gift shop on the main town square. I was seventeen at the time, too old for such antics, but my fears that have plagued me for most of my life had me behaving like someone of a much younger age. It was a family vacation, a two week long road trip that would take us through various points of interest on our way to Yellowstone National Park, and though this was only the second or third day of the trip, I had already abandoned the family, extricating myself from activities that they, like most people found enjoyable and entertaining, but I did not.
It’s a long standing tradition in Jackson Hole to have a staged gunfight on the square every evening in the summer, an even so popular that masses of tourists gather around each evening to experience the wonder of the old west, an era that I’m grateful that I did not have to live through. At the first mention of gunfight, my eyes began darting around looking for a way out. I wanted to be normal, to enjoy the theatrics and the loud pops of gunfire that Americans have come to equate with patriotism and the great country in which we live, but I could not. A couple of actors walked out on the square as I stood by, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, nervously anticipating the loud noise that was now inevitable and getting closer by the second. It doesn’t matter that I know the noise is coming, in fact I think it makes it even worse, knowing when something bad is about to happen and have no power to stop it, like a very non masculine psychic.
The first blast came from a pistol in the form of a loud POP, and it was worse than I ever could have imagined. Whether the noise was amplified by the surrounding Grand Teton mountains or it was something done cosmetically to the guns in order to bring wonder to the crowd I do not know, but it was abundantly clear that I had to get out of there, which is why I took shelter in the nearest place I could find, the gift shop. In retrospect I probably should have ventured further away from the square, but I mistakenly assumed that being inside a building, any building would at least dull the sound of the ensuing gunfight at least a little bit, but unfortunately I was wrong. The gunfire was so loud inside the gift shop that I began to wonder how people up here survived the cold Wyoming winters with walls so paper thin. I don’t remember how long the show went on, but I’m sure it felt much longer to me than it actually was as I tried inconspicuously to cover my ears, the almost adult afraid of something that children and their families were taking in with smiles and laughter just a few feet away. I wish I could say that was a turning point for me, that I was humiliated so much by my fear of a harmless noise that I stepped from that gift shop a new man, someone who went on to enjoy live reenactments with guns and even fourth of July fireworks shows, but that would be a lie. If anything I’m worse than before, every earth shaking boom or pop sending me further and further away from the person I would like to be.