It is late Friday afternoon. My work week is finally over, but I keep myself busy doing the dishes and putting away more moving boxes until my husband finishes his work. The countless projects that accompany a new house are weighing on my mind but I distinctly hear the sound of sirens passing by our neighborhood, screaming for a moment before they are gone.
When my husband’s work is finished, he comes downstairs and wraps me in his arms. Ah, the weekend. We talk about our plans for the night and wonder what time our show will be on - we still aren’t used to having cable. “I’ll check,” I say, grabbing the remote and turning on the TV. Two news anchors appear on our screen. The words “Mass Shooting” flash across the bottom of the screen, and for a second I want to change the channel, to pretend like this hasn’t happened again. But instead I read on, and as the newscasters continue to speak, the truth sets in: this time, it happened here. In my hometown.
We just moved back a few months ago. I spent my entire childhood in this place, then I moved away for ten years, and now I’m home. I feel safe, I know this place like the back of my hand, memories flow from every corner of this city, but now? Now the unthinkable has happened. Now the darkness of the world has intruded on my hometown.
Without thinking, I lower myself onto the couch. My husband stands behind me. We are frozen.
The newscasters say that the shooting happened in one of the municipal buildings around 4 p.m. I distinctly remember the sirens passing by our neighborhood, just ten minutes from the municipal buildings. They show footage of the colonial brick buildings with yellow tape waving in the wind, acting as a blockade. I clearly remember going to the courthouse a few yards away from that building to get my license when I was 16. They say 6 people are at the hospital, some in critical condition, and they encourage families to meet at a local school for information about their loved ones. I immediately text my family and close friends, making sure they’re okay. The newscasters say the police will make a public statement soon to update us.
They say it should be any minute.
They review all of the confirmed details again - there was a shooting at the municipal building, 6 people are in the hospital, and the police will address us soon.
After what seems like hours, the screen switches to the mayor and police chief. I reach for my husband’s hand and he takes it. The mayor somberly states that this is the most devastating day in the history of our city. He leaves the podium and the police chief approaches it. I expect an update on the injured but instead, the police chief bows his head as he says through tears that eleven lives have been lost. Eleven.
The tears are flowing down my cheeks before I can even process this information. Eleven people gone? What happened to only six people in the hospital? I sit and stare at the TV, willing him to take those words back, to say he made a mistake. I hear reporters asking questions. “Is the shooter dead?” “Are there still six in the hospital?” The police chief gives as much information as he can. He says the shooter’s name once, and only once. He focuses on the victims. You can see the heartbreak on his face. I can feel it on mine.
We stay downstairs, glued to the TV, eager to know what happened, why, and what we can do for the victims and their families. I find out that my best friend’s brother was supposed to be at that building at that time, but he was running a few minutes late. I am grateful for that miracle in the midst of despair.
A few hours later, I try to find updates on the victims by checking the trending section of Twitter. To my disbelief, people are already forgetting the reality of the situation and trying to use it for their political gain. I feel sick. Hundreds of lives have just been changed forever, and yet countless people are focused on getting their political point across. I close out of the app, trying to forget the terrible comparisons and words I just read, but my hope sinks as I am unable to erase them from my mind. My heart breaks for the divisiveness of our country.
Two days later, we are running errands. I see the building from the road and the flowers, memorials, and people surrounding it. I knew we would pass it. I let the tears fall and grip my husband’s hand. Seven minutes later, I am finally able to speak again.
Three days later, everyone in the city wears blue. #VBStrong is written on shop windows, proudly displayed on marquee signs, and scribbled on cars. We mourn together. We stand together.
Four days later, orange ribbons appear all over our neighborhood, to honor the victims we knew. As I tie mine on our mailbox, I hope there is more we can do for the victims’ legacies, their families, and for this world.