I originally thought that I would write an entry in my social-political blog but the emotion surrounding these issues spills onto this page and seems to belong here.
The bend around which I stumbled in shoes that do not fit started with my post of a Stephen Pastis cartoon. Pig crosses off locations in which we as Americans no longer can feel safe with certainty. Someone commented that regardless of the violence besieging America, he himself would continue to feel safe in all of those places. Another person replied that he tended to agree and cautioned that people should calm themselves and take a break from social media. I read those statements, here paraphrased, as springing from an odd misunderstanding of the cartoon’s intent. In my next breath, I muttered, None of us can know what survivors of these massacres experienced because we have not walked a mile in their shoes.
Except — that I can. I have. I did. What I mean to say is: Those are my damn shoes.
On 20 March 1981, Bradley Boan entered the KU Medical Center Emergency Room with a shotgun and a wickedly troubled mind. He turned to his right and slaughtered a patient’s mother as she idled in a wheelchair waiting for her child to be summoned. He then strolled down a hallway, raised the gun again, and murdered a physician.(fn1)
I froze mid-step, a dozen feet behind the prone body of the doctor. Then I dashed to the side and cowered against a wall. I shivered, waiting for more of the terrible sounds which still reverberated in my ears. Slowly, I raised my eyes, gasping at the sight of someone staring straight at me before realizing that I beheld myself, reflected in the window. My stomach lurched as a dawning terror spread through my groin: If I can see my reflection, maybe someone else can too.
I took myself as quickly as possible into an examination room, where I dragged a table across the door with a strength that I had never known myself to possess.
Hours went by. Tactical squads rushed the hospital, called by security guards and police officers who had by chance been at the ER. Eventually the first responders gathered us into one room; another eternity passed before we could leave, escorted to a parking garage from which all of the lights had been shot, supposedly to plunge the killer into darkness.
Nobody realized he had fled.
So: Those shoes stand at my door, a constant presence all these years later. Social media did not exist. Calming down cannot erase the absolute redirection of my neuro-pathways which that trauma likely caused, an unfortunate result probably worsened by other, worse traumas which I had already experienced. I have never forgotten the killer’s name. I have never lost the recollection of each moment of that night. The SWAT team banged on the locked door behind which I quivered. I would not emerge, a stubborn refusal which prompted them to conclude that the perpetrator held me hostage. They brought my friend to coax me out, hands held high. With her, I scurried into a larger room, where children cried and doctors furiously scribbled in paper charts to keep themselves from remembering the anguished moments when they tried to save their colleague’s life.
A life which they knew had been stolen from him even before they rushed to his side.
I worked a full day today. I had no time for posting on Facebook, or challenging anyone’s misperception. In the few idle seconds allowed given the demands of my job, I contemplated what I might say in an essay on this subject. It’s all very well for you to feel safe. You haven’t been there. You haven’t seen the sweat on the brow of a mother fearful that her child might be the next to fall in a spattered pool of crimson blood.
It’s all very well for you to tell us to calm down and stay off the social media sites which you apparently suspect of exaggerating the danger, since you clearly are not aware of the actual extent of the threat
So what does all of this have to do with a blog about trying to live joyfully?
On the way home tonight, somewhere between Highway 12 and Brannan Island Road, I stopped to watch a hawk in flight across an inner field on Andrus Island. At about that moment, my phone made an odd little blipping sound. I glanced down just in time to see a post by my friend Adrienne Wyker about losing her husband, and each truly bittersweet milestone or memory which opens the wound anew. I thought, Now those are shoes in which I cannot walk; those are miles over which I have never traversed.
I lifted my eyes as the bird spread its wings and rose, higher and higher, into the pale blue of a California sky. When I could no longer see even a shimmering feather, I put the car in drive and continued on my way.
It’s the first day of the sixty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Untitled; 01 January 1982
On Warwick, a car backfires.
I, scraping ice from my windshield
on 43rd, react –- a tribute
to the eternal impact
of rifle fire on human minds.
Across the country
a handful of once-upon-a-time friends
raise Wassail glasses in New Year’s toast
and I, in the Midwest forever,
can almost hear their merry-making
over the sound of passing traffic.
c. Corinne Corley, 1982; 2019
(1) The article to which I link consists of the appellate decision in the criminal case. The narrative in that decision reverses the order of the deaths. My memory stands; I’ve always understood that the patient’s mother, described in the decision as “a visitor”, died first. I underwent numerous interviews about that night, including one with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations. That interviewer confirmed my recollection. But, perhaps I misunderstood.