Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just a shot away

This is not what I usually write about. But I have not been able to stop thinking.

Last week, a horrific thing happened in the small beach city where I work.  A troubled young man shot and killed five people, including his father and brother, before he himself was killed by the police.

I think when these things happen, most people see it on the news and although it's terrible, it's across the country. It doesn't touch you.

But this one touched me. That's my college campus in those news photos - I'm starting a class there next Monday. I have colleagues who were hiding in an office nearby. That police dog patrolling the sidewalk as the students were rushed to safety? I know him and his handler.

Today I found out that my coworker, J_____, went to high school with a young woman who died. Her friend was shot in the head multiple times, and finally succumbed in the hospital this weekend. The young woman's father died at the scene.  I learned that he was another friend's uncle.

This weekend, while sitting on my back deck on a beautiful Sunday evening, we heard something that must have been a gunshot ring out in our canyon, and the echo fade away. The next day our Block Watch bounced emails from neighbor to neighbor. "Did you hear it?" "I heard it." "It was down by B____'s house." There were sounds another night, too. "I was asleep, but my husband heard it." 

We live in a rural area; maybe someone was shooting a coyote, maybe a deer? Was it a car backfire? A firecracker?

"I know a gunshot when I hear one," writes one neighbor.

"War, children. It's just a shot away," sings backup singer Merry Clayton, behind Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones' most notorious song, "Gimme Shelter."

Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away 

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away 

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin' our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet, mad bull lost its way

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

It was recorded in fall of 1969, just a short time before the Stones played at Altamont, and because of the violence that happened there, and the Maysles Brothers' film of that incident, the song resonates with a sinister forboding that it may not have originally deserved. Although in hindsight even the artists speak of it as apocalyptic, the product of the deep pessimism of the time, the riots and turmoil of the Vietnam War.

After Keith Richard's guitar solo, Clayton steps forward to sing, and her voice wails out. The sound is one of the fiercest and most despairing in all of rock and roll, chillingly presaging what was to come at Altamont.

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

In 1969, Greil Marcus wrote in The Rolling Stone magazine that "Gimme Shelter" is a song about fear. He writes, "It's a full-faced meeting with all the terror the mind can summon, moving fast and never breaking so that men and women have to beat that terror at the game's own pace."

This morning, today, Tuesday, another shooting happened in Santa Monica. Unrelated to last week's shooting, this one appears so far to be more typical of the crime that was more common here ten years ago - drugs, maybe gangs. Another friend of mine's son was hit by a bullet back then. He still deals with PTSD today.

J_____ visited her friend's family in the hospital on Saturday, as they waited for their daughter to pass. She and her father had been running errands together in his car when they were shot; she had texted her sister about laundry; her father left "I love you" on his wife's voice mail that morning - who knows? just because.

So quick, so close. So random. They didn't know their killer; he didn't know them. But in one moment, a whole family was devastated. You don't know when it's going to happen. Find shelter, children, because you don't know what's just a shot away.


jenn said...

Terrifying. I'm so glad you are ok, but my heart breaks for these devastated families.

Kizz said...

It's really scary when that stuff hits close to home. As well as far away but...you know.

I've been reading a little about the injured from the Boston Marathon and I hadn't realized before that, because of the nature of the event, often more than one person in a family was hurt.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I'm so sorry. Doesn't take much to remind us that life is short.

mikey said...

Indeed. So much...is just a shot away.

We are engaged in a gigantic social experiment with life-and-death consequences. There's no informed consent, and there's no way to opt out. America's political leaders have decided to take a very large, relatively wealthy and highly diverse modern society and allow it access to unlimited modern weapons. These are weapons that give an individual the combat power of a WWII squad, or a WWI platoon.

And we all - you, me, our neighbors and family - are all in that petrie dish. Those weapons are spread evenly across our community, available to anyone who is angry, drunk or unhinged. Someone who needs meds, or someone who needs detox.

And so far, the deaths and the related tragedy and horror are nowhere near enough to convince those same America that this is madness, that the time for an armed citizenry is well and truly behind us, that you can allow reasonable access to firearms without allowing unfettered availability...

smalltownme said...

Horrible. Just horrible.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

When I saw headlines that day, you were the first person I thought of... and I checked, ASAP, for an update from you (here and facebook) to make sure you were okay. My first reaction then was relief. But then I started thinking about those families...

This is a thoughtful post, and "mikey" writes a comment that echoes my thoughts. Actually, every single comment here echoes my thoughts.
It could be any one of us, any day.

knittergran said...

I've just discovered your blog (thank you Mrs. G.) and have spent an hour or so reading it today. My daughter lives in Los Feliz and I love visiting her in LA.

But this post---sad, stunning and powerful all at once.

And beautifully written.