By Roshie Xing
i. Innocence The first time it happened, I was ten. Almost ten and a quarter, I liked to protest. Numbers are such a big deal when you’re young. It was near the end of the day when they herded us into the auditorium, the sound of children chattering a fluid undercurrent of murmurs in the stillness. I thought that there was an assembly, beaming at the chance to miss class. Then I looked at my teacher’s face. The teachers huddled together, speaking in that low tone adults have perfected to not worry children. I was close enough to hear a few stray words DuckPondshootingagaincampus dead? I didn’t understand. It wasn’t until later that day, in the solid walls of home, that I learned my little brother of flesh and blood and hair-pulling and bright peals of laughter when I hug him had been a few buildings away from being another statistic. His daycare was close to the shooter’s path. Fifty-some toddlers are no match for the crushing bite of a bullet. ii. Apathy I don’t remember the next two or three or ten cases. They weren’t near me, and I was much too absorbed with quadratics and taxonomy and salvaging friendships that were irreparably shattered into thousands of shiny jagged shards that ripped my pre-teen heart to notice. Besides, I didn’t care much for the news then. iii. Understanding I was at a swim meet the next time. Warmed up, ready to hit the water and go. Bracing for the icy blow of impact, the flood of sharp chlorine, and the intense liberation of single-mindedness. I probably didn’t swim well. I’m not a very fast swimmer. I didn’t have a phone (my parents were strict about minimizing technology exposure) and if I did, I wouldn’t have downloaded a news app anyways. But one of the girls did. I was old enough then to understand 20 children gone, in an instant. My brother’s age. But it’s almost Christmas, I remember thinking, watching the president cry. iv. Deluge I don’t bother remembering specific instances today. 315 shot daily, 93 fatally. I thought that a new state would mean escape from these stories but it is the same sorry politicians that can do nothing but give the same thoughts and prayers while ignoring the same red flags and making the same empty promises until the same shootings happen again and again in a bloody pattern. News alert after news alert pops up on my phone, a “ding” much too cheery for what it is associated with accompanied by that familiar sinking feeling stomach tense awaiting the blow of knowledge that I can’t tear my eyes away from. 14,657 dead this year (so far). 243 more than the last time I checked six days ago. Those numbers don’t mean much anymore. In any other circumstance, it would be an epidemic, the red flood of dots covering the map, one for every shooting. In some places, you can hardly see beneath the red. Two of the deadliest American mass shootings in the span of 35 days. But nothing. Most of them aren’t even headlines anymore. (How many deaths slip beneath the surface of our knowledge?) We’ve accepted it as normal. Four dead isn’t such a big deal, I guess, not when we have the president’s latest tweet to be splashed over headlines. Interlude My physics teacher tells me objects with greater velocity are more dangerous, even with less mass. A tiny AR-15 bullet can therefore disintegrate bone with lethal disregard for precision tearing apart a body with the ease of shredding paper and none of the finesse. A bullet through the liver turns it into a jello mold dropped on the floor. v. Frustration And so we prepare for our monthly intruder drills and evacuations at lectures and at school and at theaters (run out this back door, climb through the window, hide, don’t move, don’t breathe), teaching children to play dead before they are taught to play music, steeling for the discordant melody of prayers screams gunshots pleas wails (if death had a sound, this is surely what it would be), with the knowledge that seven kids a day will have their bodies torn apart beyond repair by a shred of metal, seven families a day left with a gaping hole (it’ll be okay, one day it won’t hurt anymore) (who knows, maybe kids should carry guns too?) because no place is safe anymore. But this is the price for freedom (if they are to be believed). This is life in a nation with 89 guns per 100 people and daily mass shootings that no other high-income countries face (25.2 times more gun deaths than the average of other developed countries) see no evil hear no evil the evil must not exist it will resolve itself by itself (it must). We are Generation Z, of technology and inferences and cold logic, taught to draw conclusions from data and passages and hard evidence. (What can you most likely conclude from this information?) What other conclusion can I make? But so it happens, this endless cycle. Shooting. Call for stricter gun laws. Search for motives or are they excuses? Mentally ill lone wolf or domestic (no, foreign, un-American, domestic means home and safety) terrorist. Raise hopes – maybe this will unite us again, maybe there will finally be change? (90% of Americans support universal background checks but there are still none) Don’t politicize this tragedy, now isn’t the time. (I thought we should stop being politically correct). If only there were stricter gun laws/good guys with guns/people were better… And then the furor of “don’t come from our guns” (these weapons of mass destruction in the hands of fallible humans) Sure, there are good people but humans make mistakes and those few bad apples can kill hundreds and at the end of the day, the numbers of the dead still grow and the dead are still dead. It’s the right’s fault left’s fault NRA’s fault Islam’s fault men’s fault maybe it never happened in the first place they scream furiously as bodies grow cold. But no, never forget, always remember this litany of names (that were once people, with lives and loves and now just memorials) until the next one, and the list of names grows, unending. All booms must eventually bust right? Loosen gun laws and regulations, gun sales spike. If one way doesn’t work, perhaps someday, one day, we’ll try the opposite. Repeat. vi. Resignation (Hope) Maybe the children will have a solution.
About the Author
Roshie Xing is currently a junior at North Allegheny Senior High School in Pittsburgh whose hobbies include writing, reading (either fluffy coming-of-age novels or dark works outlining the flaws in human character), playing flute and piano, and seething over the latest newspaper headlines. She has, in recent months, been particularly outraged over the lack of meaningful action against gun violence.