I can recall during the final years of my grandmother’s life how often she would say, “This world is going to hell in a hand-basket.” It was an expression that I’ve often heard from elderly people and I used to attribute it to them being aware that they were in the twilight of their lives and wanting to believe that they were leaving this world at just the right time.
For a short while Thursday night, I thought my Grandma was right.
Now, I’ve come to the realization (just recently, of course) that I’m no longer a spring chicken. But if there’s one redeeming quality I’m proud to say I’ve always possessed, it’s that I can usually take whatever life throws at me. Sure, there are often times when things don’t always turn out the way I’d like. But I’m usually able to put on a happy face even though it belies every emotion I feel inside. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me. And I never want someone to look at me and comment about how much life has beaten me down.
I don’t know if this is a form of vanity on my part. I do know, however, that it certainly feels better than the alternative. Bitter people just aren’t that much fun to be around.
Another expression I’ve often heard is that “every man has his breaking point.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever reached mine before but maybe that’s because each man’s “breaking point” is different.. And even though I’ve experienced fits of rage and bouts of depression, I’ve always known that there was a line I just don’t cross. And my line never approached hurting myself or other people. Thinking about it right now, my history of extreme acts of rage never went past punching holes in couple of walls when I was in my 20s. And I honestly believe that 95 percent of the people in this country have their lines placed in a spot that is pretty similar to mine.
But I guess it’s the other 5 percent that has us telling ourselves that “the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.” The other 5 percent have their own lines they don’t cross. And about 1 percent of them have no line at all. They want the world to know how angry they are. They want the world to know how their hand has been forced to do something awful. They want the world to know how they were destined for wealth, greatness and the love of a beautiful woman before they were “wronged by society.” And they want the world to feel their pain when they harm members of society who are content with what the world has been kind enough to bless them with.
Or to put it more adequately, by what they’ve earned.
Unfortunately, a member of this 1 percent paid a visit to Lafayette this past Thursday night. And now the city that was designated as the “Happiest City in America” less than a year ago is being placed on a list that includes Littletown, Colorado; Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; and Aurora, Colorado.
I was feeling quite happy myself Thursday night. I was visiting with one of my best friends, Abbie, and we drank a glass of wine while she cut my hair. We were laughing, gossiping, and talking about everything we’ve done since the last time we visited. Abbie’s salon is located in a strip mall on Doucet Road next to Zea’s Restaurant. Right between Red Lerille’s and the Grand Theater. In fact, she parks her car in the parking lot behind The Grand.
In a strange twist of irony, Abbie also recently hired a new employee from New Mexico. I had worked there building a Home Depot in a city called Rio Rancho, which was about 10 miles north of Albequerque.
What I remembered most about Rio Rancho is that the gang problem there was so bad that the receptionist at our hotel advised that we stay off the streets after 11 p.m. So basically, I told this girl from New Mexico how violent a city in her state was on Thursday night at around 7 p.m. She left work soon afterwards.
Abbie and I continued to carry on for about 15 more minutes when the phone rang. It was Abbie’s new girl from New Mexico. At the time, she thought she was just giving us a traffic tip.
“Don’t turn right up Doucet Road when you are leaving because there are police everywhere,” she said. “There must have been a really big fight at the Corner Bar or something.”
When we walked outside the back door of Abbie’s shop it was evident that this was no bar fight. The police were on foot, circling the theater, approaching every car in the parking lot and pointing their weapons into them as though someone may be in there hiding.
Then as we looked towards Doucet Road, we noticed that the police were herding the crowd that had been inside The Grand to the apartment complex across the street. I, along with another one of Abbie’s employees named Robert, walked over to the crowd and the shocked look on their faces told the entire story.
“Some man was shooting in there,” said one woman.
My immediate thoughts were that it must have been a domestic situation — a guy who had recently been dumped by his girlfriend seeking revenge. However, as soon as I noticed the number of ambulances in the parking lot I realized that this couldn’t have been the case.
I pulled out my cell phone and began to record. A person on a stretcher was taken out of the theater. Then another followed. Then another.
There were hysterical mothers who had dropped off their children at The Grand pacing across the grass. One man, a resident of the apartment complex, told me what every parent in Lafayette must have been thinking: “My kids could have been in there.”
By now we all know the facts about the tragedy and the shooter. They don’t bear repeating. It was the worst tragedy that I can recall in the history of the city I grew up in.
I’m going to use one more expression that I’ve heard before: “Out of every tragedy comes something good.”
A teacher pulled a fire alarm which alerted first responders. She was able to do that because her friend, also a teacher, took a bullet that would have struck her head.
Within 60 seconds, the biggest heroes of the day arrived. They had obviously been trained for such a scenario. They could not have acted more professionally. They saved lives.
We will mourn the victims for a long time. No question about that. But we will each honor them by doing what comes naturally to us. By returning to happiness and having fun again in a way that nobody else on this planet understands. It may take some time but we will get there.
It always takes a little time for our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark theater and return to the daylight.
Until next week.
Howell Dennis is a native of Lafayette. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington where he graduated in journalism and public relations.