The kids go back to school this Monday. I am not sure what happened to summer. It went by so fast, but some highlights were: traveling to Iowa and Michigan as a family, hearing the excitement in Ulysses’ voice when he talked about the new found freedom of roaming the nearby neighborhood with his friends, celebrating Molly’s birthday holding snakes, tarantulas, and other critters, and watching Henry work his tail off to keep up with Ulysses on the basketball court.
As summer started to close, our kids went to sleep away camp for two weeks. It was wonderful being with Beto during that time and not have to worry about who was babysitting when or coordinating rides.
The camp’s closing ceremonies started last Friday with a camp rodeo. I joined the other parents at the base of the beautiful Davis Mountains, hugging our children, laughing with friends, and cheering all the campers on as they competed in the barrel race competition.
The next morning, shortly after I packed up the kids from their cabins and started the drive back home, I found out there was an active shooter in El Paso. We stopped for gas and lunch, and there on the TV was a shot of what I knew to be Cielo Vista Mall with the caption “Active Shooter.” Ulysses quickly remarked that it looked like El Paso, but he thought it must be a coincidence because he, like many of us, never expected that could ever be possible in our hometown. I tried to wrap up lunch quickly, wanting to protect them from the news and not have the tough conversation about a mass shooting in a gas station restaurant.
When we got home I had a chance to look at my text messages, read the news and learn the full extent of the shooting. We were all in disbelief. Ulysses asked, how could one person kill so many in such a short time? Henry asked if we were in danger. Would this happen again? I did my best to give them some comfort while admitting that I didn’t have all the answers.
I left the kids with friends and went to pick up Beto from the airport. He told me about a young man he’d met on the plane who had just learned that his mother had been shot, and who asked us to join him and his family at University Medical Center. We met Rosemary, his mother, who is beautiful, kind, and strong. She survived a bullet wound that pierced both her lungs but thankfully missed her heart. We learned that both her mother and aunt had also been shot. As we left the intensive care unit, we met people in the waiting room whose family members were in surgery, and others who didn’t know which hospital their loved ones were taken to — or if they even made it to one. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
We got home late and starting getting the kids to bed. Ulysses asked to read the news on my phone. I hesitated, not wanting to upset him further. But knowing he is the type of child that needs to know the facts, I turned my phone over to him for a few minutes. He told me how sad it made him feel for the families who had lost someone. He asked me a lot of questions. And he told me that it brought him some comfort knowing the gunman was not from El Paso — that he could still feel love and pride for our city because the hate didn’t come from here.
Over this past week, Beto and I have met survivors and their families at the hospitals, attended vigils, donated blood — anything that seemed like it would help. As I write this, we’ve just returned from going to the makeshift memorial outside the Walmart. It has been full of people all day, every day. Beto was there last night and came back very moved. We wanted to return tonight as a family, so after Ulysses’ basketball game we brought the paper flowers that Molly, Ulysses, and their friend made to offer at the memorial. We stood with hundreds of people in front of twenty-two white crosses covered in flowers, cards, flags, candles, and love. People praying, singing, crying.
We are a beautiful city, full of beautiful people. It has been clear to me since I moved here 15 years ago, and it shined through so powerfully following the shooting. The outpouring of love, support, and strength could be seen everywhere and from everyone. But we are not insulated from the rest of the country. That much became clear to us last Saturday.
At the memorial tonight, Molly asked me why there was an ambulance there, lights flashing, ready. I told her it was to help anyone who was too hot, dehydrated, or maybe got scraped up in the big crowd. “No, that’s not why” she said. I knew that she was afraid it was there in case there was another shooting. Her fear was similar to the fear Beto and I saw from several young children who approached us, simply wanting to know when they would feel safe going to school again.
Kids are smart. They know we can’t guarantee their safety, especially when we haven’t taken the most basic steps to reduce gun violence. But young people, like those I met at a memorial organized by students at El Dorado High School earlier this week — students who gave stirring tributes to the dead, spoke of their love for El Paso and its people, and also called on all their fellow students to action — will lead us out of this with love, compassion, common sense, and fortitude.