It is late Friday, just after 10 p.m., and I turn off the news and walk toward the bright red bullseye on the front of the plain brick building. The news reverberates in my mind as I walk through the glass doors, a rush of cold air greeting me, a sterilizing splash that neutralizes the world still spinning out there.
Virginia Beach, 11 dead, 6 injured, suspect dead.
My daughter reminds me why we are here, in Target, and we march along the silent aisles, just like I did on that clear night nearly 18 years ago.
Planes into buildings, thousands dead, suspects sought.
I feel embarrassed, out of place, a fool for going about my business picking up cream for tomorrow’s morning coffee while families are being notified that their loved ones are dead; their lives will never be the same.
And yet, here I am, seeking normal, craving sterilizing silence, desperate for a task to keep me busy, occupied, distracted from what awaits outside those smooth sliding doors that seem so protective, comforting.
I continue about my shopping while the weeping of mayors seeps through my veins.
Cream. We have come here for cream.
I stand in some random aisle and listen to the swelling silence around me. There’s a hint of a page over stereophonic walkies. It only adds to the dystopian nature of my time here in the wake of tragedies that cry out for anything but the normal response.
Thoughts and prayers, more gun control, we demand action.
I remember a shot-less victim’s voice on the news telling me through tears that all she thought about was getting home to her 11-month-old baby.
The lives of many change in the hours after such a tragedy.
We say our prayers. We take to the streets. We demand change while the next suspect is loading up another cartridge and sets his sights on the ones who have made him feel this way.
I walk up to the cashier and a man half my age with the name tag “MR. BILL” helps me navigate the transaction. I am more flustered than I had originally believed. But of course, I’m also looking out for pickpockets, thieves, and gun-slinging disgruntles that make me want to know what the afterlife is really all about, if it is about anything at all.
I think about other-worlds up there with the victims all together, gathered for some purpose or energy that they hope we can hear. They are the wise ones, after all. The whispers of first graders gunned down, of college kids and grandmothers, of high school seniors, all part of a club clamoring for some kind of voice, some way to break through the stratospheres of chaos and rain some wisdom upon us.
My daughter tells me it’s time to head home, and she leads the way through the double doors that slide open. The air out there is heavy, and yet
I step through and slug through the night, heavy boots heading home to busy routines that mute the madness out here.
The next day I stay off the news, walk to the beach, and fill my head with jazz blues and the sounds of Miles Davis. I allow the notes to resonate, marinate within, a certain swirl of temporary healing until the next tragedy that breaks through my feeds, trumpeting fear, madness, and that same heavy weight of helplessness, searching for that bullseye target of sterility to get me through.
In my Miles Davis-infused meditation, I slip into a dream of weightlessness, and I become the Catcher in the Sky, building an out-of-sight high rise to reach the victims. Help them. Apologize for our ineptness at fixing this fixation with guns and violence and death. If I can’t save them here on this gravity-soaked America, I might as well grab my hammer and nails and climb high, leave behind the memories of senseless deaths and join them at their common-place space, an exclusive club they never wanted to join.
How do we stop it, I ask, hammer still in hand. How do we mend fences and rest weapons in weightless bins, send them beyond this common-place space? How do we dissolve the membrane between us and allow zero-gravity wisdom to rain upon us, teach us, save us?
They smile resolutely with unwanted experiences, but offer no words. Instead, I feel their wish in the aether around me. I absorb their wisdom and close my eyes, desperately holding on to the wistful permeations all around – and in – me.
I understand, I nod, as I feel myself being pulled down, hammer first, through the membrane that separates us, down and down and down, past the thin pieces of pine at the top of my high rise, past the three floors already built, and on to the sandy ground.
The waves encourage me, and I turn back to my house and emerge with new wood and tools. My daughter joins me.
Maybe this will make a difference, she whispers.
I pull a thick black marker from my pocket and pick up a fresh piece of pine, two inches by ten inches by twenty-four inches. With quick precision, I pen the letters as big and as bold as I can. When finished, I pull six four-inch nails from my other pocket. She holds the handmade sign centered atop the front door, and I pound the six nails into the wood – bullseye strikes on each nail – securing the sign to the frame.
I step back, envision the Miles-high high rise climbing in the sky, the open pine planks, so skeletonesque, transparent. Welcoming. My eyes fall floor by imaginary floor: three, two, one, and settle on the black letters etched across the just-nailed plank.
I smile, resolutely, and raise my hammer to the letters as my daughter raises her hand, effortlessly as in zero gravity. We tap the pine as we walk through the gateway, and the passers-by stop, read the sign, and approach.
There is hope, they think.
There is hope.