Tag Archives: fear

More shootings

Northern Illinois University. At my friend’s house, I looked at the TV, saw blood on tarmac, heard the announcer’s voice. And then….

  • A movement to allow guns on campus
  • The shooter had recently discontinued psychiatric medication
  • Five school shootings in seven days

I left the living room, went into the bedroom, and sat on the bed. I didn’t want to think about it. But the blood on the tarmac. The blood spilled. Just that image, and the words running around my head, and all the implications. And the realization that I hadn’t heard about the previous killings. And the realization that just a week before an angry boy had been stopped from entering a local high school with a gun, just a few miles from my home. And the realization that I had heard about it and not sought out any more information because I couldn’t face the thought of my daughter going to school every day in a place where she might die. And the realization that I go to school every day in a place where some disgruntled student might pull a gun on me. “I try not to make them angry,” my colleague said the other night. But a grade — a kind of judgment — might make anybody angry. And my daughter… And my daughter…

I was crying. My friend came in, held me. Was it Valentine’s Day I saw the news? The day after? I don’t remember. I just know I can’t bear to live in a country where the response to school shootings is to encourage more guns. I can’t bear to live in a country where the response to anything at all in a person’s psychological life is “take pills.” My friend tells me that there’s a movement to authorize counselors with MA’s only to prescribe psychiatric medication. That’s madness. Except for the pharmaceuticals, who profit, profit, profit, on their dangerous, mindless policies.

And I’m living in a country where five school shootings can occur in the span of a week, and it’s so normal now that it’s hardly publicized. And maybe that’s a good thing, because there are copy cat kids out there. After Virginia Tech my campus was closed for a day after a bomb threat was found in a bathroom in my building. Most of the local high schools had a spate of bomb and gun and knife threats. Then it quieted down for a few months. Till now.

I couldn’t write about it. Wouldn’t think about it. I kept avoiding thinking about the irony of our performances on V-Day and the days after, in the aftermath of more shootings. I found myself wondering was Northern Illinois U planning a V-Day performance. So many colleges do nowadays. What horrible irony: on a day set aside for love, and more recently for activism against violence, a man went berserk and killed people and himself.

I’ve been wrapping myself in numbness. It’s all I can do. I don’t know how else to deal with it. Finally, today, I read a little bit about it. I don’t want to simply pretend it didn’t happen, blithely write on as though I have turned my back. But I did. I’m doing it now. I cried and cried and then I walked out and into the dusky night and went to my V-Day performance. My daughter put on my make up (I never wear it), and covered the red eyes, and I pretended everything was OK. And nobody talked about it.

Always, in the past, there has been desire to talk about it, to express horror, to wish it had never happened. We are long past that now. After Virginia Tech, something changed. It’s just part of our day now, in the same way bomb scares used to be part of the grocery shopping experience in Northern Ireland when I was visiting my grandparents as a child. We got used to it, leaving our carts with their groceries behind in the store and walking out onto the street, into the drizzle and mist, or the fleeting sunshine. And now, now, we just move through our days, knowing that when we walk through the door into our classrooms, we might encounter an armed and angry student. Knowing that our kids might walk into a burst of gunfire. It’s a tiny hint of what people in countries like Iraq or areas like Africa live with daily. So small a connection that I feel a rush of denial when I think of it. They have it much worse. Much worse. I could be run over by a bus, could trip and fall and hit my head and be brain dead. All those cliches. In the meantime, what’s a school shooting or two in this vast country, with its thousands of schools? The chances are so small, so minutely unlikely, that it doesn’t bear thinking about.

It’s just that something has changed now. In this country. In me. A way of shrugging off what once would have been unthinkable. My own institution’s total lack of reaction. The silence around the acts. My own desire to turn away, to blink my eyes clear of the blood, and walk on into sunshine, without a nod to the victims. There will be more. We all know that. And nothing can be done.

I will pray for them. I will not turn away. And we will go on. We always went back into the grocery shop in Ireland, after the bomb scares were over. We bought our groceries and walked home in the dying light, the dogs happy and oblivious on their leashes, happy for what they did have, rather than unhappy for what they lacked.

Confessions

There is nothing to confess. Nothing of Jack Kerouac grandeur, that is. I was the good girl, hyper responsible, the baby-sitter whom everyone called. I read stories to the children, and gave them piggy-back rides. At Christmas parties at my parents’ friends’ houses, little kids surrounded me, begging for attention, while the other babysitters were ignored. It’s not that I liked them, or wanted a household of kids when I grew up. (Here it is: my confession, trickling out despite myself, I suppose.) I didn’t. I always said I hated kids, didn’t have the patience for them, would have to forgo them or else be rich enough to hire a nanny. I just needed money for my horse. My parents paid for hay, but that was it. Everything else was my responsibility. (It occurs to me that many parents pay for car insurance and no more, and my parents were right in line with other parents except that my “vehicle” was a horse.) I paid for grain, shoes, vet bills, show entries, tack and blankets for my horse, membership in the local pony club and drag hunt (no we did not kill any animals), and any other horse-related needs. During Christmas season, I baby-sat six or even nights a week. The rest of the year I averaged four nights a week. But I hated it, or told myself and everyone else I did. I did it only for the money that would grant me the freedom to gallop across country most Saturdays of the hunting season, that would allow me to enter any shows close enough for me to hack to, or to which I could hitch trailer rides with my friends. I rose at 5:30 in the mornings in the winter three school days a week so I could ride my horse in the dark before school just to keep him fit enough for the Saturday hunt. It’s quite demanding, galloping across country for two or three hours straight, over whatever gets in your way, ditch, wall, coop, brush. Hunts that pursue live animals are actually slower than drag hunts because they’re dependent on the cooperation of the beast being pursued. The story was that the Wicklow Hunt caught on average one fox a season, that most hunts consisted of standing around, waiting for the wily creature to show up. And mostly the fox was too smart for the humans. I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t fox hunt, but my avid foxhunter friends tried to convince me it was harmless, that the chances of actually chasing a fox, let alone catching one, were almost nil. (And it’s true that the two or three foxhunts I observed or half rode in — without intent but because it was part of my job — entailed a lot of standing around and false alarms. I never did see a fox).

Drag hunts, in contrast, are set in advance when a bag of some ripe stinky material (usually aniseed oil and meat, I believe) is dragged along a pre-arranged course. Then the hounds and hunters follow, often at great speed, till the end. Horses and riders must be fit as there is little enough time to catch one’s breath, except on stretches of road between fields, if such passage is necessary. It’s exhilarating. I’ve jumped things I can’t imagine jumping now: five foot forestry gates and gorse bushes as wide as a downed horse. I’ve slugged through bogland so deep my horse has been almost entirely covered (try cleaning tack after a hunt in which you and your horse and everything you’re both wearing has been submerged in bogmuck up to your waist). I’ve heard the music of the hounds, of the horn, and watched a retired hunter scream from the gate because he’s being left behind. For both horse and human there’s nothing more adrenaline-making than the bugle of the horn on a brisk fall day. Every pound I earned went into my horse. Every sleepless night was given over in honor of the time we could spend together. And I learned responsibility, discipline, compassion, even the patience I swore I didn’t have, from the animal I had loved since I first saw one at the age of three.

Nothing to confess? I don’t believe it. It’s there, hiding. I just don’t want to uncover it because it’s so mundane, so boring, because I’m the good girl. And yet that’s a cover too, because nobody is really good all the way through. If I unpeel enough, the confession must come. What dirt hides there, in the crevasses, but the skankiest bogmuck, stuck to me down the years since those days hunting? I shall uncover it in time.