Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Naming the Beast

They always say things are easier to handle if you can name them. The monster in the closet is a lot less scary when you know his name is Frank.

The pictures in this post may seem irreverent, but it's a heavy post and I needed to break it up somehow. 

Putting a name to the guy who did what he did on Thursday night hasn't done anything to help. In fact, the fact that he has such a generic name has made things worse.

Let me back up a step.

In case you've been living under a rock (lucky you if you have), last Thursday a guy named James Holmes, after apparently months of preparation, walked into a theater just a few miles from campus and shot over 70 people. He killed 12 of them, and when he was done (his THIRD gun jammed before he could use up the 6000+ rounds of ammo he had with him) he walked out to the parking lot and didn't even resist arrest.

Something like this has never happened so close to home for me. Even 9/11, which happened in the backyard I'd just moved away from, didn't freak me out this badly. I won't lie...I haven't been as nonchalant and brave as I'd always hoped I'd be in the face of something like this. And I wasn't even at the theater.

But I've got exams to take and a summer to survive, so I need to process this and move on. So to that end, I'm going to put a name to my emotions. Think of it as a little roll call for the monsters in my closet. Maybe it'll help some of you guys who may be dealing with this too.


There are some obvious sources of the fear. The big ones stem from the what ifs though. Like, what if we hadn't had an exam on Friday morning? Half my class would have been at that theater that night, quite possibly at that showing.
Or what if he'd decided to take his show to our school instead? He was a student at UC Denver AMC (my campus) until last month. He still had access to all the buildings, which are unlocked during the day. He could have come in to any given classroom and pulled the same thing. Wouldn't have had quite the theatrics of a dark theater and tear gas, but the devastation would have been similar.
And the what ifs don't stop at the past...what if someone else out there is just as sick and decides to copy him? What if this becomes a thing?

Which leads to the next monster:


What he did was heinous and horrifying. But it was also infuriating. How dare he invade a place of assumed trust? How dare he take away one of the few places that people can go and be gathered in the dark and feel safe about being there?

A little history on me: I don't like haunted houses. "Don't like" is an understatement. I have a long history of complete and utter terror in small, dark places where I think someone might be out to get me.

Movie theaters have never been an issue for me - they're dark and closed in, but they're big and there's no one trying to startle, scare, or kill me. Or, you know, that's how I felt before Thursday. Friday night, my brother went to see the movie in another state, across the country, and I literally couldn't breathe until I heard he was out again. That shouldn't happen. It's a freaking movie theater for crying out loud.

So, I'm angry. He didn't "just" hurt and kill all those people, he stole a safe place from the rest of us.

Which is a nice transition to the next monster...


Not only did he steal the sense of security we have in a favorite place of pastime, but he betrayed our ability to profile. Bear with me here.

This guy came from a good family. His parents are smart, kind people (per neighbor accounts), and he was raised in a good neighborhood. He's smart. He's awkward, geeky, and probably was a little reclusive from moving to a new place.

Guys, this is what's killing me the most.

He's my people. I know his type. I watched the video of him giving the speech at summer camp. I know exactly the kind of guy he was before this. He's familiar territory for me. He could have been any given one of my classmates in undergrad.

Not only is he familiar territory, but for those of us who spend 8-16 hours a day on campus, he was one of us. When you go to a place every day...work, school, etc...there's an implicit pact you're making with everyone else who goes there every day. By showing up every day, you're saying "I'm part of this community, and so are you. You may annoy the crap out of me, but at the end of the day I've got your back." Maybe he missed that memo. Maybe no one told him he was part of the crowd. But he betrayed that pact in the worst possible way.

He brought a darkness and a chaos to a place we all held to be a safe space. It is a medical campus. Inherently, the place is there to teach people to do no harm. Of all the campuses and schools out there, this is the type that should be the safest of all. He broke that.

But on the flip side, there's this last monster...


He walked our campus for months, and still in the end didn't feel connected enough to not do what he did. He didn't see himself as enough of a part of the organism that is our community to stop him from destroying it. Where were we? Why didn't anyone notice? He spent literally months preparing for this. Why didn't anyone notice?

I've found myself searching through half remembered faces to figure out if there was ever a moment where I might have run into him and done nothing to bring him back to the light side. What if I kept my eyes on the ground instead of looking up and smiling, at exactly the moment when he turned? What if I'm still doing that? What if there's someone else out there, breathing the same air I am, decaying inside because they don't feel connected to humanity anymore? I know, I know...everyone is responsible for their own decisions. But if everyone's seemingly independent decisions add up to a complete breakdown for someone else, it's hard not to take a little responsibility for that. I've been trying harder to make eye contact and smile when I'm out...it's hard, coming from 6 years of New England hospitality. But it's the only thing I've found to "do" right now that feels like I can at least say "I did the best I could" if something like this ever happened again.

I don't really have any answers here. I just needed to put it on paper (or computer) and name what I'm feeling so I can start moving on. We've had heightened security on campus this week, and they evacuated two buildings yesterday because of "suspicious packages". None of that's made me feel safer about being on campus. I think if they'd been more discreet in their security and let us keep pretending it didn't happen here, and it wasn't our campus, that maybe it would be easier to manage. But that's not the apples in this bushel, so we keep trucking.

Anyway, sorry for the heavy post. I hope it at least helps someone else process this...or at least doesn't turn everyone off reading for good. I promise, I'll have more fun stuff posted soon...ish.

Go hug a loved one. You just never know.

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