It feels a bit presumptuous to try to write about such large-scale tragedy, but it is what I do now. To try to make sense of pain. To try to find a way to go on. To resist the immobilizing fear.
I read the news on twitter and through the afternoon, obsessively refresh my feed, which is at turns shocked and angry and sad. I say nothing. I read the updates from the news outlets as the death toll rises. Twenty children.
My son’s school sends a short statement. I email back impulsively, asking for resources on how we might talk to our children, but before I can receive a response, I search online and find a one-page guide that is organized by the age of the child. For under 7 years old, it reads: “Shield them from this. They do not need to hear about this,” and I stop there. The school responds with a link that is broken. “Thank you,” I write back.
It is the randomness that appalls.
Over the summer, I read that a heatwave in South Korea kills hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks. The birds fall over, collapse. Their tiny organs unable to regulate their temperatures.
I read articles about heatwaves, how the heat can kill. The complexities of age and health and the particularities of urban centers. How some heat waves kill more women, others more men. The reasons are complex. Aspects seem mysterious.
In one article, there is a note at the end, an afterthought. It reads:
People have an instinctual fear of random death. Of the chaos it suggests.
In the evening, there is a holiday party at my office. For us to bring our families. Hot chocolate with marshmallows, a table covered with cupcakes and cookies and treats. Little toys for the children. I had told my son in the morning that I would pick him up early from his after-school program to bring him to my office for the party. He had jumped up and down near the front door.
My coworkers greet him at the entry way with glowsticks. He gets a glitter tattoo of a star on his hand. He chooses his toy - a set of activity books with colored pencils - and stands expectantly at the table where the marshmallows beckon.
I pour the hot chocolate. I put whipped cream on it and marshmallows. He points to the candy canes and I unwrap one, hand it to him. It is perhaps a foolish response to the day’s tragedy but a very human one, and I give into it: Eat cupcakes for dinner if that is what you want. Another handful of marshmallows? Here, I will get them for you. A cookie for the car ride home? Of course, of course, of course. My child. My sweet, perfect child.
By evening, the news slows. My feed is back to book reviews, sardonic one-liners, and food photos. I have a party to attend for the birthday of a dear friend. I drag myself out despite my exhaustion. The night is cold, clear sky. There is a sliver of luminous moon.
At the party, no one talks about the shooting. My friend hands me a drink and I chatter with his friends. An amateur weaver. An architect. A photographer.
Someone is talking about drug addiction and the problem of bath salts in Phoenix. “You can have a manic trip,” he says, “and just stay manic forever.”
There is a white bowl of kumquats on a low coffee table. I eat them, one after the other, savor the tartness in my mouth. I bite into one so piquant it makes my eyes water.
I slip out, drive home in the cold night. The house is dark except for the front room, where I find M. on the couch, watching a movie. I curl up next to him and almost immediately, I am asleep.
I dream it is the first day of school again. I dream my son onto our front porch in his navy blue shirt and khaki pants. His backpack on his shoulders. I dream him to the entrance of his school, approaching the double-doors. How he is greeted there by a teacher who takes his hand, walks him in. How he turns around to wave at me through the glass. How he pauses there for a moment and adjusts his backpack before he disappears down the long hallway.