Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When home isn't

I was all set to write an awesomely funny post about traveling around the country without children and all the beef I ate over the last month. But the world has made me sad again. I really, really wanted to be funny, but I can't in the face of so much preventable sadness and heartbreak in Las Vegas. And why what happened in Vegas ended up in my heart 1/2 way around the world begins with a story.

You see, many years ago, more years that I would like to admit, I had a friend whom we shall call Missy. Now, Missy and I both lived in the same town in Texas and went to the same school. We had the luck of having the same homeroom teacher in 6th grade and when we realized how close we lived to each other, we became best friends. You see, when the only public transportation in your town is your own feet plus a pair of roller skates that you are supposed to share with your sister, proximity is hugely important. Missy lived down the street and two blocks over--practically on my way home if I went a couple of blocks in the wrong direction which I did almost daily. There were other kids in our neighborhoods, but they were mostly boys, so ick! Missy and I stuck together like glue. Plus, Missy had her own room and only one annoying little sister. I had two, plus a brother and an older sister and I had to share my room with Sister 3 who was 3 years old at the time and had this super embarrassing habit of stripping all the Barbies naked and throwing them up onto the roof of our house. Ugh! Seriously, Sister 3, what WAS your obsession with undressing the Barbies and why in heaven's name did they need to be on the roof?

So anyway, Missy's own room with actual decorations and matching furniture meant that we spent a lot of time at her house. Plus, she had Connect 4 and Operation. And Toss Across! And plus she had super nice parents. That's a lot of plusses so you can see why I liked hanging out at Missy's. Her parents were the kind that invited you to sleep over and fed you McDonald's and bought ice cream and laughed at all your jokes. Missy's dad and mom both smoked like chimneys, but this was in the days before we cared about smoking and sometimes, I wouldn't wash all my clothes right away after spending the night so I could smell them and remember all the fun times at Missy's. Her parents felt like my parents and I loved them.

Then a couple of years later, I was in the living room while my parents were watching the news. (See, Children, before the internet and cable, you had to tune into the news at 6pm or wait for the morning paper to know what was going on.) And I saw Missy's mom crying on TV and I stood up. Because I knew. Because grown ups didn't go on TV and cry for fun. And what was important was not that she was now famous for being on TV, but that she was crying. Sobbing actually. And then they showed a list of the victims' names, and her dad, whom we'll call John, was on the list. But it couldn't be him because he went by Jack, and everyone knew that. He told me I should call him Jack which was the coolest thing in the world but made me uncomfortable so he was Mr. Jack. So it wasn't him and I had missed the beginning of the newscast, so I wasn't even really sure what he might be a victim of.

But then there was Missy's mom on the cover of the newspaper the next morning and there was no doubt that it was very, very bad. A disgruntled employee had gone into the office and shot 9 people, including Mr. Jack. Six of them died, including Mr. Jack. And at 14 years old, I learned how grief can crush you and make you stupid. I felt so dumb and helpless and numb and stupid and helpless. And it wasn't even my own loss--it was Missy's dad, not mine, but even now it still hurts! I think my mom took me over to Missy's. I don't remember walking. I do remember being there and just sitting there while well-meaning people dropped off casseroles that no one was going to eat and Missy's aunt who came down from Chicago wrapped them in Saran Wrap and stacked them in the fridge. I remember the flowers everywhere and the people talking in whispers like Mr. Jack's death was a secret they didn't want us to find out. But we knew! Oh how we knew. And we felt that loss like 14 year olds do like the world was ending because we thought it must be. Something that horrible had to be the end of the world.

I stayed by Missy's side through the wake (we weren't allowed to go) and the funeral (I got the day off from school) and we sat together numb for hours and hours even after Missy came back to school--we'd still get off the school bus at her house to sit in her room. Doing nothing. Just listening to the radio. And occasionally talking about Luke and Laura and I wasn't a Luke fan and Missy was and that was the beginning of the end--the first little wedge to nudge us in opposite directions. We slowly drifted apart as teenage girls sometimes do, with thankfully little drama. Missy changed (how could she not?) and I changed and we both discovered that boys weren't so icky and the sand that was the foundation of our friendship slowly washed away until we were just acquaintances and the smell of stale cigarette smoke just made me sad. We were still kind to each other throughout high school, but we ran in different circles. Things are different, now. If we were teenagers now, we probably never would have been allowed to walk home alone, and after-school activities wouldn't ever involve looking through tabloids for news about General Hospital. Plus who needs sleep-overs when you have FaceTime and SnapChat? Oh, and cigarettes are regulated now because they are deadly; isn't that ironic?

Every once in a while I wonder about Missy and how she is, most often when shootings like Las Vegas happen, which is way, way too often. In fact, that event which was so central to my life and my nightmares for so long barely even warrants a Wikipedia page. Weapons have become deadlier and body counts have skyrocketed and six people dead would barely cause a shrug and maybe not even a mention above the fold. Except to those six people and everybody who knew and loved them. To us, each new mass shooting is another tear at a wound that can never fully heal and a news story that links us to too many other people who bear that same awful burden of violent loss.

I'm older now. I've totally lost track of Missy. I hope she is well and that she is happy. I hope she has amazing children of her own. We are older now than Mr. Jack was when he died. I didn't realize that until just now because Missy's parents have stopped aging in my head and I regularly forget exactly how old I am. And Child 3 is the same age as I was when it happened. So tonight I'm going to hug her until she whines and be grateful that it wasn't her watching the news and finding out that someone she loves just had the world ripped away from them. This time. And I will pray that it never is her. And I will write every. single. effing. lawmaker who will listen to me until my fingers bleed until we as a nation do something to make sure that it never ever is. Because action on keeping assault weapons out of the hands of killers, well I would have given up brownies years ago if it would have led to that. And I love brownies more than anything--except people.