She had only heard gunshots at a distance. Sometimes an explosion echoing through a tranquil wood, a wild fire in a distant part of the forest, the question of life or death for sport. Sometimes a sound that might have been a shot or might have been a car backfiring or might have been a transformer blowing and shutting down power to a block that wasn’t hers, something that she had chosen to believe was anything but while the question lingered. Mostly she knew the sound of gunfire from films, depictions of violence after which actors stood up, unhurt, and walked away, blank rounds and a bit of gunpowder to make a light like a firework maybe if the era or the drama called for it.
What news footage she had been forced to witness by well-meaning teachers, she had suppressed or lost to the doldrums of busywork and summers where she didn’t have to learn.
What she knew of gun violence was not firsthand. She knew people who knew people but had never known anyone. She had seen what it had done to those who knew people. She knew enough about human experience from fiction and experience to know what it did to people who knew people, even before she knew people.
She remembered a day in middle school when too many lives had stopped and the world had tilted and flung weeping students into teachers’ arms and shook out flags, when breaths were short and quick, and tumult had come crashing down like airplanes out of the sky, like a set of buildings.
That day seared.
That day years later anytime could still be conjured in stark-shadowed Baroque and flashbulb image. Images and camera footage kept resurfacing on anniversaries and in unexpected places.
That day could still cause horror and anger—anger for the hurt caused, for the hurt that could be caused again by a simple illustration, a brief reminder, for the unthinking reminder.
Then another day. More questions. A lone gunman this time. A gunman in a school. A day that had to be gotten through when others’ days had been ended too soon. Every child a reminder, every parent and child another whiplash, a ghost of a similar embrace lost that day. A tiny town struck silent while a nation, while a world turned eyes that couldn’t yesterday have found it on a map, and a president who could pronounce names like Tehran and Kabul fumbled the name in a speech in a town he would never otherwise have visited.
Now a day. Two dead. One hurt. One running. Questions. Where? Here? A clip unloaded, a clip uploaded, a clip gone viral. Everywhere. CNN? BBC? Everyone talking. What will happen? What did happen? What have you heard? What do you know?
The schools locked down all over. Grief counselors coming into schools because of two people the students never met.
Students too young to understand, and all the parents’ talking. All the news channels showing.
Are they thinking?
What do they remember?
There is an oft quoted and misquoted and misattributed quote: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” (Quote Investigator attributes this quote to sportscaster Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.) This is one of those pieces. It poured out of me after cutting a vein, and I’ve not edited it much sense spilling it onto the page.
And then I made it the legal theft line of the week, a tricky challenge.