18 Years

By Heidi Rosenberg

This summer we vacationed in Door County—similar to the summer before and a few summers before. We love Door County—plenty to do, water, good weather (usually for late June). Nothing to complain about at all.

But this story is not about Door County and it’s not about our vacation. At least not really, but let me connect. It may take a moment.

We’ve been renting a cottage for the last few years. This cottage, though in the same area as the others, was a new one for us this year. At one point, I was looking through a magazine rack in the living room, and I found a guest book from years ago. I flipped through it and it opened to an entry from November 2000. The person who wrote it was up with her girlfriends for a girls’ weekend. She managed to write about what they did in rhymed verse—impressive, even if rhymed poetry makes me break out in hives. But something caught my eye. She mentioned that they watched some coverage of the 2000 election—who would end up being president, she wondered, as two of her friends were Dems and at least one was a Republican. And then I paused. Oh, that election. The one that took over a month and a few court rulings to determine who was president.

That got me thinking. Were there other entries commenting on what are now historical events?

It didn’t take me long to find one dated September 12, 2001, just the day after.

In that entry the woman writing apologized—Door County was still beautiful, the weather was great, but she just needed to get back home to family and friends. I think a lot of us felt that. At the end of her entry, what she wrote that struck me. She said something like: But we are better than this. We are stronger together. We’re Americans.

Frankly, I don’t remember all that she said, but this is the tone. That is to say, she wanted to tell the perpetrators of that horrible day that, as Americans, not only will be get through these dark days, but we will be stronger than that. Just you wait.

And now, it’s nearly 18 years later. Eighteen in Judaism means life. To life. And are we any stronger?

Twenty-eight days ago in El Paso, Texas, a man went to a Wal-Mart and started shooting. Twenty-two people died and many more were injured. There was such chaos some families didn’t know their loved ones were alive or dead until the next day.

He wrote a manifesto—some “2,300-word screed” as the New York Times called it. In it he said, “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” He was talking about the Latinx people he was targeting as he drove from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to El Paso, a border town. And he was talking about the 51 people mowed down in two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand. And the folks terrorized in synagogue in Ponway, California back in April. And the 11 murdered in shul in Pittsburgh in October. And on and on.

Then less than 24 hours later, a person with an “AR-15-style assault rifle and a 100-round drum magazine” went out in Dayton, Ohio when most folks were thinking about one more drink before last call and in about 30 seconds killed nine people. I don’t know anything about guns or ammo, but that sounds both like a lot and awfully fast.

And then yesterday, a man was stopped at a traffic stop. There’s not more information than that, except, instead of showing his license and registration, he grabbed a rifle and started shooting. He drove away, shooting randomly, killing seven people.

All of this within one month. One month.

According to German Lopez and Kavya Sukumar of the online news organization Vox, “As shocking as mass shootings are, they are responsible for only a small portion of all gun deaths.” In fact, they note, crime and murder rates have generally gone down in recent decades. At the same time, we as a country are a “big outlier among developed countries when it comes to gun deaths — in large part because it has so many guns, making it easy to carry out an act of violence.”

And there you have it. This isn’t the end. This isn’t even the middle.

After each incident, we send our thoughts and prayers. We are Pittsburgh Strong. And Boston Strong. We show our pride. And say this will never happen again in our community. We have drills. We will be safer next time.

And then it happens again.

Leaders make noise for a day, then get a call from the NRA and say the same thing again and again: It’s not the guns, it’s the people.

So then they say we must train people.

Most public schools have active shooter drills and trainings for teachers. There was a teacher training for an active shooter the day before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

So far, most of these guns, I hear, were bought legally.

So people can legally buy enough weaponry and ammo that it took a shooter several trips to cart up all his equipment up to a hotel room so he has a bird’s eye view of the people he planned to shoot the daylights out of. Or that a guy in a car on a holiday weekend can just grab a gun and start shooting. Or that a kid can walk into school and pull a fire alarm and start shooting Or that another kid can walk into an elementary school and start shooting.

Do we sense a pattern?

Certainly there are people are the ones getting shot. And funny, they are being shot with guns.

On Facebook, a friend says, “You can’t go anywhere.” My husband has echoed the same.

But how can we avoid going to the grocery, school, work, our places of worship, or even our own backyards?

After 9/11, being an American was cool. Everything was wrapped in red, white, and blue. I still remember a student in one of my college writing classes was working on an ad analysis and brought in a catalog for collectors’ knives (not kitchen). There was red, white, and blue on nearly every page. To sell knives.

Also, after 9/11, crimes against people who happened to be look “Muslim” increased, including anyone who happened to be brown or wear a hijab or a turban.

But that was only a beginning.

The killer in El Paso noted in his manifesto that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The president has noted that people trying to get into the U.S., legally or not “…is an invasion!”

See any similarities?

The New York Times says that the Justice Department considers a mass shooting as “as three or more killings in a single episode.” I’ve also heard four or more—there’s not a legal definition. But, if I looked at every mass shooting in the last 18 years, I’d be here all day. I’d be here all day because I’d be too afraid and depressed to get off my couch.

In these last 18 years, from what I can observe casually, the following are under fire:

Brown people and Black people.

And White people too.

People driving or walking or sitting in their own damn houses.

People who go to elementary school.

People who go to high school

People who go to college.

People who go to the grocery or the bank or Wal-Mart

People who go to synagogue

People who go to church

People who go to temple.

Amish girls who go to a one-room school.

People who go visit their elected officials.

People who go to work.

People who shop.

Gay people.

Straight people.

People who like to listen to music and/or go to a festival

People who like to eat in restaurants.

People who like to go out at night.

Women people.

Men people.

Children people.

People. All of them, people.

Another friend asked, “When will this end?” A good question there.

If you’re ask me, and I realize that you’re not, we are not any stronger. Sure, we’ve had mass shootings long before 9/11. We’ve even had them before Columbine. Check out the University of Texas in 1966. We were afraid then, and we are more afraid now. We’re afraid of everything we’re not. And that’s a lot of fear we’re passing on to our kids, and at this rate, it’s not going to end.

So what should we do?

God, I wish I knew.

But I have a few ideas of what has not worked.

Thoughts and prayers are great when one’s 98 year-old grandmother or grandfather passes. But what kind of sense does that make when we’re talking about someone’s six-year old child?

Love is certainly love, but we know that there’s a lot of people who don’t love each other. In fact, there are some so-called humans that do not see others as fully human if they’re not the same as them.

And shaming the Senate and the House into doing their duty hasn’t worked either. Ask Gabby Giffords how gun laws have changed since she was shot and six others were killed? Hell, ask the congress people who were shot at as they practiced for a softball game.

What do you hear?

I hear crickets.

I don’t know what we should do. I can’t say anything about hope or love or prayer or thought, because Not. One. Thing. Has. Worked.

There are two things I’ve been able to do. I can write. Here I am, writing, and sharing this with you. I hope this doesn’t result in crickets.

And I can vote. I do and will vote. I hope to vote folks into office who have better ideas than I can come up with.

But I know this much:

I wish we were better than this. I wish we were stronger. I wish love was love. And I hope we can vote any bastard out of office who helps to loosen gun restrictions.

Because right now, we are not strong, not all of us love enough, and we are not yet better than this.

About the Author

Heidi Rosenberg is a poet and fiction writer. Her work has been published in Minerva Rising, Passing Through, Redheaded Stepchild, Oyez Review, Sistersong, 5 A.M., Pearl, Home Planet News, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Her short story, “The Weight of It” was the 2005 winner of Pearl’s Fiction Prize. Rosenberg was also finalist in Heavy Feather Review’s fiction chapbook contest in 2013, a 2000 recipient of a Mississippi Arts Commission grant for fiction, and an artist in residence at the Ragdale Foundation. Visit her blog at https://heididrosenberg.wordpress.com.

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