Monday, November 6, 2017

Here We Go Again (And Again, and Again, and Again)

In January 2015, I was in France when the Charlie Hebdo shootings shocked the country and the world. I was Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, in the Swiss and Italian borders, and some amount of chaos ensued as France closed its borders and friends who had gone to work in Switzerland or skiing in Italy that morning found it more difficult than usual to get back into the country, although, as far as I know, they all eventually did get back in by the end of the day.

I went to my favorite pub that day, Monkey Bar Chamonix, and just as they had a few years earlier during the England riots, the bartenders had turned on the TV and everyone was watching the news coverage. The owner, Steve, was there, and when he saw me walk in, he said, “Are you seeing this, Marjorie?”

“Yeah, I heard,” I replied, but what I couldn’t say was that, for me at least, a shooting was nothing out of the ordinary. Twice in the previous three years, in both of the neighborhoods I’d lived in in the U.S., there’d been an active shooter incident. In my senior year of high school, on the first anniversary of Columbine, the school received a shooting threat and the entire student body was moved to the gymnasium “for safety reasons” (Although I never understood this – wouldn’t congregating in one room just make us all easier targets for a shooter?). As we were filing through the halls, a classmate opened the door to the stairwell too hard and it banged against the concrete wall behind it with a loud BAM that had all of us screaming and some of us running before we realized it wasn’t a gunshot. In the Monkey Bar in 2015, I could see that everyone around me was shocked and shot through with a pain and terror I recognized. I had seen it for the first time when I was 19 years old, and a college sophomore. It was a morning in September when I, returning from the university’s lap pool, had walked into my dorm and heard the sound of hundreds of TVs, all tuned to the same channel. Every door to every room was open. I walked into the room next to mine, and found the girl who lived there sobbing. I watched the second plane hit the second tower and thought, Well, it looks like we’re fucked.

I thought so again in that French bar fourteen years later, as I had done many times before and have done many times since and will continue to do again and again and again, and again, until the day I die, when it may very well be my last thought. Yesterday, a gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killed 26 people at a church service. Not long before that – not long at all – a gunman opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring 546. Before that was Orlando. Before that was another, and another, and another, going back to what feels like the beginning.

And those are just the big shootings, the really bad ones that kill dozens. There is a literally a shooting every day. Thirty-two Americans are murdered with guns every day. Fifty-eight more commit suicide by gun every day. Two-hundred-twenty-two are shot and survive. Ten years ago, when I was living in Asheville, North Carolina, my house was burgled while I was out of town. When I discovered the crime and reported it, a kindly police officer came to take my statement.

“What do I do now?” I asked when he was done.

The officer looked at me in a fatherly way. He was an older man, portly. He wore glasses and had blonde hair combed over the top of his bare scalp. His mustache drooped down over his top lip. “You can’t live in fear,” he said.

And I wanted to tell him, Yes, I can. Because we do.

Almost three years ago now, I was sitting in my favorite bar in France, watching the news coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. While they watched, a British friend and a French friend sitting nearby discussed it.

“This just goes to show that this country isn’t as safe as you all thought!” the British friend said to the French friend.

I was baffled. “But it is that safe,” I said. “It is, because this only happened once.”

But the British friend didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand him, either.