A little over 30 years ago I was hanging out at the house of an acquaintance near the densely populated Ohio state university campus in Columbus, Ohio when two armed young men entered the house and told everyone gathered there too surrender our valuables.
Many elements of that evening have faded from my memory. Even right after the crime happened, I still couldn’t tell the police what the guns looked like (They were black). I remember that the criminals were young, but I can’t remember the names of anyone at the Catherine, or even the name of the person whose house I was at.
Sometimes, though, I will hear a a news report on TV on the radio that, for years, could transport me back in time to certain moments of the crime. For a minute, for example, I will relive the few seconds of trying to not look at the face of the boy taking my brand new handbag with my car and house keys and drivers license. I’ll remember trying to think of every trick in every movie about not looking at the face of your assailant, so that they wouldn’t have a reason to kill you. I’ll hear the kid by the door telling us to lie down the floor and wondering if it would be better to be shot in the back or the head (paralyzed or dead) as some other people who had been in an armed robbery in the area a few weeks earlier. And most of all, I will smell and see the beer-soaked variegated mustard and yellow carpet as I wait to find out.
Last night, two stories filtered into the evening. When was the horrific shooting in Lewiston, Maine. I instantly thought of the terror being experienced by the people in and around that bowling alley, as they wondered if they were looking at the last thing they would ever see.
The second story was much closer to home. Reports of gunfire between police and a suspect in the rural town adjacent to ours started appearing on social media in the late afternoon. Then the news reported shelter in place warnings for the town and recommendations for our town to lock doors and windows.
Thirty years ago OSU’s off-campus housing area was a known area for illicit narcotic activity. I couldn’t/wouldn’t even tell my few close friends, because I was too embarrassed to tell them where and how stupid I had been. It was at the wrong place at any time.
I would pay for my bad judgment for years, moving apartments, jobs, and cities constantly to try to find a place that felt safe. I briefly bought a gun to feel safer but, still in a state of constant panic and anxiety, nearly killed my cat one night and decided I was not mentally fit to have a gun. For years, I wouldn’t live in a building that didn’t have a security door or in an apartment on the ground floor.
For a long time, there was a part of me that believed that the anxiety was a product of the guilt of my stupidity. Over the years, as reports of mass shootings have become all too frequent, however, I realized that the anxiety was founded, and fed by the nagging suspicion that at some point, even the most innocuous place is going to have a wrong time.
The people in Lewiston Maine we’re doing nothing wrong last night when they went out with their friends. The people in Salem New York who were being told to shelter in place, didn’t deserve to lose their sense of safety or well-being.
For me, it is no small irony that we are listening to updates, and feeling more secure, in a hotel in Boston with a strong security system than we would have in our own home. But the security system is not the only thing that is keeping me from spiraling backwards this morning.
I have an antidote.
Last night we brought our son to the city to begin peeping at colleges. We took him to to see a band that has influenced his music and, for some reason standing in the music hall, surrounded by people, enjoying young people making art help quality anxiety for a short time. I had to leave because my Ménière’s disease won’t let me experience light shows the same way anymore. For the ride home, however, the knowledge that there were young people dedicating themselves to creating something that brings people together was therapeutic.
It helped me remember that at least some of the answers are in leaning in when the conversations get hard. They’re in reaching out to kids who are struggling and kindling creative sparks. And, for me, they are the antidote.