What Not To Say To Me About Newtown
"Hug your kids."
When you make a living as a Twitter jockey there are days when you feel like Alex DeLarge, strapped into a chair, eyes pried open, watching nightmares unspool, unable to do so much as blink. A Clockwork Newtown. Friday I was swept down the dark river of social media, reading tweet after tweet, comment after comment. Variations on the two quotes above floated to the top.
There were others, of course. If I was there and had a gun. Praying for those kids and their teachers. Here are 10 Tips For Talking To Your Kids About Newtown. If you're a brand and you're tweeting you have no soul. Here is a list of politicians who donated to the NRA. Ten shot in Chicago last night. Shooter at large at Fashion Island - please retweet. Jessica Rekos was six. Over my cold dead body will you take my guns. Be prepared for civil war if a serious attempt is made to confiscate my firearms. The shooter got his guns from his mom. Read this. Read this. Read this. I can't. Hug your kids. I can't. Hug your kids.
Hug your kids.
I don't know which of those two angered me more.
Some numbers: since Columbine, there have been 31 mass shootings in the United States. Of the guns used, 75% were obtained legally. Over half of those weapons were semi-automatic pistols and brand-labeled "assault weapons". If you'd like, and if you believe that when we talk about "mass shootings" that the actual number of deaths matter (i.e., that the concept of acceptable losses in school shootings is something that you're OK with), you can look those up. Start with 2012: there were 12 mass shootings this year alone, with 88 total dead. These are facts. If you like, you can debate root causes, but the butcher's bill cannot be questioned. Some 61 mass shootings since 1982; they all occured, people were murdered, and therefore the number of those shootings that were stopped by a quick-thinking, sharp-shooting citizen with a gun remains at 0. Perhaps you've convinced yourself that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". You're entitled to your delusion, I suppose; all of the stats about countries with strict gun control laws - and we're not talking outright gun bans, just laws that make sense to rational people, including gun owners - won't change your mind. The 11,000 Americans each year who would be alive if a bullet fired from a gun hadn't ended their life...well, they'd probably argue that point with you, if they could.
A date: Friday, October 8, 2010
It's Friday, October 8, 3:12. The backpacks hang in a row below the window. The kids come running out of the classroom. Lucas waves at me, grabs his backpack off of the hook, and runs over. He's clutching a sheet of paper in one hand. He runs over and I drop to one knee and draw him in. For a second I can't speak. Then: "Whatcha got, dude?" He hands it to me. It's a map of the world, each continent labelled, the exuberant scrawl of the first grader. The continents have been colored - yellow, orange, bright green, lavender. It's the world as it should be.
It's Friday, October 8, 3:00. I move with purpose. My fists are clenched. Behind wraparound sunglasses my eyes shift, left to right, back again, looking for anyone who might not seem...right. There was talk of a second man, one who got away, and for all I know he's here. I pass the moms and their low whispers: "...and he carried a propane tank? For what?...." I know why he brought the propane tank. Because at some point, he would have run out of bullets. (And I can hear them now, the Gun People: "Are you gonna ban propane tanks too?") At some point Lucas will find out what happened up the street, and we'll sit down to talk about it, and a small part of him will die. No - that sounds too natural, too clean. He'll have a small part of him murdered by that man, the man with the propane tank. I stride towards his classroom.
It is Friday, October 8, shortly after two. I'm multi-tasking, answering some work emails while perusing Twitter. It takes a second before the words register, and then I'm on an elevator that suddenly drops, leaving my stomach five floors up. Shooting at elementary school in Carlsbad. We're in Carlsbad. Lucas' school is right across the street. I would've heard gunshots, right? I don't know. Kids scream. They scream when they're exhilarated. They scream when they're terrified. How many elementary schools are there in Carlsbad? I don't know. 6? 8? Less? I run into the bedroom and turn on the TV. I hear a voice. "Shortly after noon, a gunman opened fire..." and then a thought drowns out the rest, and for a brief second my mind goes white. It's shortly after two. Lucas. Two hours he might have been dead.
It is Friday, October 8, shortly after noon. I'm sitting at my desk, on the phone with a candidate. Beth's taken Zoe out; they're likely sitting down to eat lunch. I'm actually not hungry; it's warm and sunny out, and warm weather does that to me. My office is on the second floor; a cool breeze blows through the window, carrying with it the sounds of schoolkids. Noon recess. My boy's among them; I listen hard and try to make out his voice, but of course I can't. Fanciful thoughts turn to pragmatic ones: lately Lucas hasn't been finishing his lunch. Lack of food causes him to drift, become cranky and unfocused. The kid needs to eat. I need to talk to him about that.
It is Friday, October 8, shortly after noon. A man named Brendan Liam O'Rourke pulls up to Kelly Elementary school, a few miles from where Lucas is playing and I'm sitting. Noon recess. Brendan Liam O'Rourke jumps the fence. He leaves the propane tank by the car, but takes the smaller gas can with him. The Kelly Elementary school playground is full of children. The cool breeze carries the sounds of schoolkids across the playground and through Brendan Liam O'Rourke's gibbering brain. He pulls out a .357 Magnum revolver and starts shooting at them.
Hug your kids.
There's a scene near the end of Toy Story 3. Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang are in an incinerator, sliding down into the fire along with the garbage, there to be burned out of existence. And what they do is, they hold hands and wait to die. Part of me loves this scene. It's a comfort, knowing that you'll be with the ones you love at The End. Most of me hates it. Because fuck that. Grab your friends and kick and scream your way as far up that sliding heap as you can, because to do otherwise is to give up. Hug your kids. Listen: one of the few things (getting fewer, it seems) that separate most of us from animals is our genetic predisposition to love and protect children. This is true if you're a parent; it is equally true if you're not. Hug your kids. You will. Of course you will. And when you did, after you read the names of those slaughtered kids (Avielle Richman was six, Noah Posner was six) you knew this: Maybe that hug was for your kids. Mostly it was for you. And in the corner of your heart where the truth lies, you know that every hug given didn't prevent what happened, and in and of itself won't stop it from happening again. Because in and of itself, with nothing behind it, no call to figure out just what the hell we're doing (more accurate to say "not doing") concerning things like gun show loopholes or banning sales of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines or the abyssmal state of mental health care in this country, hug your kids is nothing more than a waving of the white flag, comfort on the way into the crucible.
Can't look. Can't read the names. Can't think about it. Horror freezes us. The deer, trapped in the headlights. If by some chance the deer does snap out of it, give him a few weeks. He'll forget. He'll be back on that road, staring into those lights, and they'll eventually catch up to him. Don't politicize this, they say - the NRA and the dogs at the end of their leash, people with money in the weapons game - as they do after every one of these massacres. Say nothing. Do nothing. Stare into the lights.
I can't. Can't look. Can't read the names. Can't see the faces. It's too much. It always is.
You can. We can. We must.