just another mass shooting…

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Yesterday, I got word about another mass shooting. This one, in a Christian church. In a small unincorporated township in rural Texas. Eight members of the same family died. The pastor and his wife were on vacation, and their 14 year old daughter was killed. A one year old child is among the victims. A pregnant mother and three of her children are among the victims. The grandmother of the killer’s wife is among the victims. The shooter was an angry white man with a history of domestic violence and mental illness, with military training and mysterious motives.

It wasn’t the first shooting this month. It wasn’t the first shooting with victims in the dozens in the past few months. It wasn’t the first shooting in a church. It wasn’t the first murder of children. It was just… another shooting. And somehow, this time, that’s all that I’m able to process.

Weeks ago, when that man opened fire on the country concert in Las Vegas, I spent three days obsessively searching for information about the victims, wanting to honor them. I felt duty bound to remember them, and to not click on a single headline about the killer. I posted over 50 photos with synopses about their lives, and I took detailed notes. I even wrote a blog about holding vigil about them.

But this time, I’m numb. Again. (Still?) Vegas hit me more personally. It’s closer to home. It’s a place I have spent lots of time in, on the streets of. Virginia Tech, years ago, and Columbine before that, they hurt be deeply. Though they were places I’d never been, they are academic environments, a college and a high school, and I know the culture there. Sandy Hook hurt me more. As a father, the idea of waiting helplessly there to see if my child is among the living, the images of artwork and bulletin boards and school lunch menus and tiny desks, the idea of that becoming a place that is no longer safe, it hurt me on a primal level.

And the Pulse shootings. They haunted me for weeks. I’ve been in so many clubs in so many cities, there for a relaxing drink, some music, and some conversation and dancing, or entertainment. The idea of someone with that much hate.

I just, I’m numb. Today, I’m out of outrage. I’m out of fear. I’m out of pain. I’m out of hurt. I’m out of anger. I eek clicking back on the news website to see an update, and then not clicking on it. I don’t want to feel it again.

I don’t want to jump on social media and see the Conservative/Liberal debate over gun control laws (we need them!) and how the media is biased toward whites by calling them misunderstood and mentally ill while railing against people of color by calling for immigration bans. I don’t want to read posts about the corruption of America. I don’t want to see the statistics of how gun violence is increasing. I don’t want to see the charts with pink and blue and red lines that grow up and up and up. I don’t want to talk to relatives about how humans have always been bloody and vile, with their atomic bombs and concentration camps and war machines, and how assault rifles and rented trucks and car bombs are just the latest worries of our generation, not the most corrupt just the most current. I don’t want to realize that social media and news outlets will be outraged and titillated by this for about 72 hours, until the next horrible news drops.

I don’t want to explain to my children why there are people in the world who might hurt them, who might be so full of anger that they went to inflict as much pain on them and the world as possible before they remove themselves from it. I don’t know how to tell them to be afraid enough, nor do I want them to be afraid. I don’t want them to walk around in perpetual fear that someone could speed at them with a car or enter their school with a gun.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to hear a choir sing. In Latin. About death and remembrance. I sat on a hard wooden bench. There were easily 75 people in the room. As a male baritone sang words that I didn’t understand, his beautiful voice hit my heart, and I wondered what would happen if that man entered this room. Would there be warning? Who would be hit first? Where were the exits? Would I scream, fall to the floor, play dead, shield my loved ones, rush toward the exit, try to disarm him? Would my loved ones be among the dead? After the service, I crossed a crosswalk and I realized how swift it would be if a car careened toward me, trying to take out civilians.

I don’t know how to feel these feelings. I do grief for a living, yet I can’t process my own. I’m desensitized. I’m exhausted. I’m wounded and it can’t stop bleeding. Words like ‘massacre’ and ‘bloodbath’ and ‘terrorist’ and ‘mass casualties’ leave my fingertips and my lips far too frequently now.

And so, I’ll do what all humans do, what I would tell others to do, what I am growing accustomed to doing myself. I survive. I wake up and I make my coffee. I read my book. I see my clients. I process through how I’m feeling. I walk and feel the cool air and the warm sun. I exercise. I buy a T-shirt. I open my computer and I blog about being numb.¬†And soon, another day has passed, and I’m still here, and I keep finding ways to fight for a world that I refuse to lose hope in.

That’s what the families of the victims have to do. And the law enforcement officers who responded. And even the loved ones of the killers themselves. And if they can get up, so can I. I’ll fight for a better world for me, and for my sons.

 

Why-oh-Wyoming

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“Now remember, just because he has a mustache, it doesn’t mean he’s 21. Make sure to card before selling alcohol. The risks are just too big.”

As the public service announcement ended and more country music came back on the radio, I looked across the vast stretching snow-swept plains that extended in every direction, rolling black and brown peaks in the distance, a few rocky outcroppings stretching into the sky. The sun was just coming up over the peaks and I could finally see the terrain, after a few hours of driving in the early morning darkness. Gusts of wind blew light drifts of snow across the road.

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I pulled into Rock Springs, Wyoming a brief time later, here for a work shift for a few days. As I stepped out of the car, the wind cascaded across me, biting and much colder than I had anticipated. January in Wyoming was a bitch, clearly.

I shivered and pulled my scarf tighter around my neck, nestling into my coat, and stepped into the nearby gas station, a local place with the god-awful name of the Loaf ‘n Jug, it’s sister station the Cum n’ Go right across the road. Yes, spelled just like that.

Half of the gas station/convenience store was devoted to the sale of liquor. I looked around, hearing more country twang from the loudspeakers, and saw several shelves full of booze. Hey, the locals needed something to keep them warm. Several dead animal heads hung on the walls over the shelves, deer and elk and a mountain goat or two. My eyes fell on one of the bottles of liquor, a cinnamon red of Fireball Whiskey, with a handwritten sign over it that said “Buy two bottles of Fireball, get a free fishing lure! Inquire at the desk!”

As I munched on my trail mix and sipped on my hot, and terrible, gas station coffee in the car, I realized I had thirty minutes before my shift began. I grabbed my phone and Googled Rock Springs, Wyoming, figuring I may as well learn about the city I was in.

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I read about how, in 1885, the Union Pacific Coal Department was able to hire Chinese workers at a lower wage than White workers, so they, of course, hired more Chinese. The White workers rioted in an explosion of racial tension, burned down 75 homes, and killed dozens of Chinese. I didn’t see a single report of a White person killed. I read how the local newspapers at the time had sympathized with the White man’s plight, and how 16 men had been arrested for the murders, but all were acquitted one month later, met by the cheers of their loved ones for their heroic actions. It was with a pit in my stomach that I thought of recent anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic content in the media, in the current presidential campaign, and I wonder, for the one millionth time in my life, if we have evolved as a species at all.

I read about local industries and businesses and politics, about forms of entertainment (shooting ranges and the rodeo), about the long history of the state. And before long, it’s time to step outside the car, back into the biting wind, and to prepare for another day of work, this time in a strange and faraway place.

Later, I check into my hotel, and the kindly front desk attendant informs me that I’m just in time for happy hour. I shrug. It’s a week night, and only 5 pm, “But the drinks are free!” she exclaims. “One hour only!”

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And so 30 minutes later, a grandmotherly bartender mixes me a rather strong Rum and Coke. I take a few sips and make eye contact with the severed moose head hanging on the wall in front of me.

“He’s a beauty, ain’t he?”

I look over and see a woman behind me that I hadn’t noticed before. She looks as though she just woke up, her hair disheveled and in her nightgown, a large pink muumuu that drowns her. She takes a large handful of Lays potato chips from a bag she is holding and somehow fits the entire handful of chips in her mouth, cramming them in and not missing a crumb. She has no teeth, so she makes large gumming noises as she munches down on them loudly.

“Um, the moose?” I look back at his marble eyes. “Yup, a real beauty.”

The woman finishes gumming her bite and takes a swallow of the pink alcoholic mixture from the cup in front of her. “I bet he’s been dead fifty years.”

I look at her as she takes another handful, and realize I have nothing to say except, “Yup.”

And this is my life right now, I think. Me and this woman and a moose head at 5 on a week night, drinking free alcohol in a hotel bar in frozen Wyoming.

I give myself a little mental toast and take another sip.