Woke up this morning to another mass shooting, America’s New Worst. (How many more new worsts will there be in my lifetime?)
The minutes and hours ticked by in ordinary routine, but my state of mind? Miles from ordinary. Light years from routine. I had little choice but to obey all-mighty Oprah’s command: turn off the news. I’ve vacuumed the same stain in the carpet to no avail. I’ve battled an army of stink bugs in my living room. I’ve watched My Little Pony with my five-year-old, when I can’t stand Pinky Pie’s voice. (Her exuberance is particularly unsettling this week.)
I’ve tried shunning Facebook, peeking in with one eye open. I don’t know any of the dead or wounded, but I’ve wept for them. I’ve cried in the early morning hours, late at night, on the road to pick up my daughter, in the shower. I’m compelled to shield her from this grief. I can’t stomach her asking that innocent, incessant question. Why?
Why are you crying, Mommy?
Today I can dodge answering her. The next time, and there’s great promise for a next time, I may not be so lucky. With each passing day, her cognition grows at an amazing and alarming rate.
Because I tend to ruminate, especially on tragedy, especially on senseless, repeated tragedy, especially on senseless, repeated tragedy involving our nation’s obsession with the right to own, operate and otherwise glorify guns, I write. I wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime. Yet body cameras and smartphones have allowed me to hear those spraying bullets. The sounds of war. What many of those beautiful couples and friends and families and strangers who together shared a love of country music first believed was harmless fireworks.
I’ve said we need more, but of course I’m thinking of and praying for the victims and survivors, the civilian heroes and the courageous employed to protect and save lives. The calm and compassionate medical professionals in the throes of chaos.
Maybe it’s too soon to write a single word about Las Vegas, not the expected glitz and decadence, but the unforeseen carnage and despair. Some would argue it’s insensitive to use tragedy as any kind of muse. I’ve taken heat in an argument like that before. I probably will again.
Still, it’s therapeutic. A momentary lull. The clacking of the keys gives me something to do with my hands instead of brushing away tears. Something to shake that eight-hundred pound gorilla named Futility sitting on my chest. Anything to quell my anger over three capital letters: N, R, A. Letters my Kindergartner practices reading and writing in school, although not strung together in that formidable acronym.
I can’t begin to imagine how heartbroken and outraged these three letters must make the Newtown mothers and fathers feel. I don’t regularly follow Twitter, but this tweet:
“In America we value guns, flags & fake acts of patriotism over people, pain & real acts of courage.” #LasVegas #TakeAKnee #EndGunViolence
Nelba Marquez-Greene lost a daughter around my own daughter’s age in the Sandy Hook shooting. Her sobering words echo and cling, no matter how many loads of laundry I re-fold or abandoned bowls of cereal I rescue and rinse or health care tips I attempt to write—“Three Healthy Breakfasts for Champions!,” “Fitness That Fits Your Life,” “The ABCs of Managing PAD.”
Disturbing how one mass shooting brings the others flooding back. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Charleston. San Bernadino. Orlando.
A gruesome chorus. And these are only seven that immediately spring to my mind. Too many agonizing dots populating the map. Too much suffering crowding the head and heart. By definition, two hundred and seventy-three mass shootings in the U.S. in 2017.
How do I distance myself from the approaching two hundred and seventy-fourth? Hard to escape relying on Netflix alone. Parks and Recreation my temporary safe haven. Ron Swanson, staunch libertarian, my savior. He’d probably cloak himself in meat armor to protect the Second Amendment. Though he has a teddy bear side, too. That’s what I love about his character. I think after Las Vegas, even Ron would move a reasonable centimeter toward middle ground.
Or maybe he wouldn’t. I can’t predict his mindset any more than anybody could predict this latest psychopath’s. Time puts its head down and plows full speed ahead, at least for the living. It’s a little over a week since the shooting and the news coverage highlights his “undiagnosed severe mental illness.”
I mean no disrespect, but that revelation is shit. (And yes, I agree mental illness was, and is, an absolute part of the equation.) That’s as obvious as the recklessness of the right to bear forty-plus guns. In the last twelve months, he purchased thirty-three. In online gun marketplaces, prices currently double and triple for bump stocks. They’re flying off the shelves. Buy one, get one free!
I’d never heard of these sinister add-ons that make semi-automatics mimic the firing speed of fully automatic weapons. Until now, and now the NRA says “devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
The key word here is “should,” as in, “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.”
Before Las Vegas, a bump stock retailed for less than two-hundred bucks, a bargain for the high-stakes gambler and sociopath who outfitted twelve of his rifles with this perfectly legal device.
The key word here is “legal,” as in, what a former firearms official called a “goofy little doodad.” (This same official recommended the ATF not regulate bump stocks, as they technically didn’t alter a gun’s trigger mechanism.)
Two-hundred dollars is a lot of money to me. I paid around thirteen for my kid’s Halloween costume, Pink Power Ranger, a jumpsuit with long sleeves and pants, matching gloves. Last Saturday I let her wear it out to lunch in eighty degrees, unseasonably warm for a Michigan October. It has its own “goofy little doodad,” a mask that makes the wearer look somewhere between fierce and sad with a hint of smug. She and I laughed about that expression, trying to mimic it with our real faces. Lips turned slightly downward, parted. Not quite a full pout.
Oh how I wish that silly costume would provide anything resembling a permanent distraction. Speaking of distractions, the news provides many, none reassuring. Wildfires in California leaving thirty-two (and likely counting) dead, consuming homes and that breathtaking landscape with unprecedented fury, transforming those forever blue skies to an oppressive overcoat of gray. Harvey Weinstein, once legendary film producer and studio executive, ousted for years of sexually harassing and abusing women, his brother saying he hasn’t shown a shred of remorse. (May his prison uniform be a dirty white bathrobe. May his cell and every small comfort in it be wallpapered with #metoo.) Our President. Where to begin?
A sampling of his recent tweets:
“The Failing @nytimes set Liddle' Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound a fool, and that's what I am dealing with!”
“I was recently asked if Crooked Hillary Clinton is gong to run in 2020? My answer was, I hope so!”
“Dem Senator Schumer hated the Iran Deal made by President Obama, but now that I am involved, he is OK with it. Tell that to Israel, Chuck!”
“Very proud of my Executive Order which will allow greatly expanded access and far lower costs for HealthCare. Millions of people benefit!”
“The Fake News is going all out in order to demean and denigrate! Such hatred!”
“...We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
While forty-five sputtered and spewed his everyday tweets—too many rants to list on this page, too much nonsense crowding this head and heart—a horrific story broke out of Somalia. A truck bombing. The deadliest single attack that country has ever faced. More than three-hundred dead. At least another three-hundred injured. The blast area the size of two or three football fields.
Football fields. Garnering far more media attention in the USA. Our VP walked away from one, reportedly costing taxpayers about a quarter of a million dollars for the protest of a protest. The irony of his premeditated publicity stunt, a reminder of the right to freedom of assembly or the right to freedom of association or the right to freedom of speech, all American rights—no matter who walks out or who kneels—just like the right of the people to keep and bear their precious arms.
On the subject of arms, most of the injured in Las Vegas have thankfully left the hospital and gone home to the embrace of loved ones. Most. As the city and the nation inch toward “normalcy,” forty-five remain hospitalized. TV crews have packed up their equipment. The police have handed over the investigation to the FBI. The slot machines wheel and whir, beep and chime. Overindulgence proceeds.
It’s been seventeen days and America’s New Worst already disappearing from the headlines. How have we come to accept, even expect this bleak drill?
Recovery for those still hospitalized, those released, those trying to go on living without a spouse, lover, partner, friend, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, coworker, neighbor, newfound acquaintance? A remote grasp. At seventeen days, a canyon of impossibility.
Yesterday I read a moving story about a survivor who lingers in Summerlin Hospital Medical Center hundreds of miles away from her life in California. She faces months of counseling and physical therapy, huge medical bills without insurance, and no guarantee she’ll ever stand.
This wife and mother’s simple desire: to be happy. Happiness, another unalienable right, something she isn’t sure when she’ll experience again, but a gift my daughter freely exhibits and gives me daily. An elixir of hope I swallow in every corner of every room.
For Diana, and for all the victims, I’ll do my best never to take this joy for granted.