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March 24, 2021

“Sometimes I try to picture it.”—The Reality of Life & Death in America.

I think the term is learned helplessness.

It’s not quite fitting, though, because what it feels like, in actuality, isn’t as dramatic as helplessness.

And there’s not much despair, if I’m completely honest. Despair was 10 years ago. Maybe even 20. One loses count.

It’s more like 10 to 20 years of kicking to stay above water, and finally realizing the freedom in deciding that maybe going under wouldn’t be so bad.

To be clear: this is a survival mechanism. I’m not suicidal. I’m just aware that I could be killed, and there’s not much I can do about that. This is my way of coping. Because these are the days.

These are the days when to heal from a global pandemic means to again be shot at.

These are the days in which, with the grace of God, the economy will stay open, my lungs will stay healthy, and I will be able to walk into anywhere. These are the days where I can’t see your mouth, but I’ll search your eyes for if you are okay. For if you will murder us. I’ll take note of the exit signs.

These are the days where we’ve lost faces and become forms, walking around to collect our needed items, no way of knowing who will breathe death onto us or rain bullets into us.

Sometimes I try to picture it; it seems like if I make myself see it, and write about it, then the chance of it really happening goes down, because how absurd would that be?

Except, that didn’t work for Jessica Ghawi. A professional sports blogger who wrote under the alias Redfield, she blogged about her experience of narrowly surviving a public shooting in a shopping mall, only because she acted on an unexplained whim to leave her sushi at the food court and go outside (seconds before the shooter opened fire):

“I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”

One month later, Jessica was again in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was killed in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre massacre.

“Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?”

Why does nobody talk about how insane this is, that she wrote about this? Not only did she have a feeling once that saved her life, she then wrote about how she could not shake the sick feeling, despite surviving. And then, one month later, she was shot and killed.

This should have changed something.

For every prayer hand trained to the sky, we missed “the sign” as it fluttered past. Not even discreet, this sign had feathers and bells.

Why did this change nothing?

I try to not think about that because it’s enough to make you mad. At least lightning doesn’t strike twice. Except that’s also a myth that we tell ourselves, because it absolutely does—frequently. So who is safe when it actually strikes the same place often, unless preventative measures are put into place?

Sometimes I try to picture it, because things play out easier the second time around, I suspect even being murdered. The very moment when I’ve forgotten is when it happens:

I’m turning over a bracelet in my hand. TJ Maxx is the best for lunch break treasures that I don’t need, like cheap jewelry and candles. This one is some sort of gold-colored metal. I finger it, wondering how long the $15 metal will last before greening.

The charm is a Turkish eye: three concentric circles of light blue, then white, then darker blue, a symbol of protection from harm. It’s purely a fashion statement; nobody these days is so naive as to feel protected by a porous sphere of wet flesh, pulsing blood with each beat of our hearts. But I do like the rhinestones around the eye’s outer edges. It looks much more expensive than it is.

And that’s when I’d hear the shots.

There would be two, close together and blanketed soon after by silence. A baby would scream, its mother unable to teach it about the need for stifled terror within its two years on Earth. Just as my eyes search for the child, my purse slips off my shoulder. Maybe following, or maybe simultaneously, the third, final sound tears through my back.

The glittering eye spills from my hand, landing on speckled tile four fingers from my sided palm—a costume-jewelry reminder of the once-trusted faith that it was ever God who was charged with protecting humans from one another.

~

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