A DIFFERENT KIND OF RAIN DAY: 3 Years After the Santa Monica College Shooting, a Shooting at UCLA

Almost three years ago, on June 7th, 2013, there was a shooting rampage a block from where I live. I heard semiautomatic weapon fire as I was cleaning up the backyard where I had been playing with my infant daughter 30 minutes before. More fire followed by silence. And then helicopters overhead whirring furiously. My daughter, napping inside, didn’t wake up as I moved quickly to shut windows, lock the front door with both locks, and draw the curtains closed. I called the Santa Monica Police Department and a woman answered. “There has been a incident at the college and you need to shelter in place,” she said. I tried to ask questions. “I can give you no further information at this time.” Then the emails started coming in from my younger son’s preschool: “We are on lockdown.” There was nothing I could do but stay inside and check the Los Angeles Times online, scour other news outlets and social media, call my husband at work and make a plan with him for picking up the other two kids. Call my parents.

Yesterday there was a shooting at UCLA, where I went to graduate school, where my father currently teaches, where I have many friends and colleagues and mentors who go to campus daily to take classes, to teach, to attend talks and lectures, to watch or participate in cultural and performing arts events. My two boys now attend school a stone’s throw from UCLA, and yesterday their Westwood campus was on high alert, securing a perimeter, in contact with the Los Angeles Police Department throughout the day. My sons are still quite young and when we sat for dinner last night and my husband noted how riled up they were, how they weren’t listening and seemed extra wily, it occurred to him to ask about lunch and recess. “Oh, we didn’t have recess today,” said my older son, who is in second grade. “We were inside because of the rain.”

“Ahhh…,” my husband was about to launch into some commentary about the day’s events. He had called me midday when he heard the news, to make sure I wasn’t at UCLA for a meeting. I thought about the sound of his voice in that voicemail, and how he sounded when I called him back: tentative, hoping. “Ahhh…,” my husband said to our son about the “rain” that impeded his school’s outdoor recess. I was standing up and spooning more rice and chicken and vegetables onto our younger son’s bright orange plate, so I couldn’t kick my husband under the table. I cleared my throat loudly and shot him a kicking glance. His eyes met mine and he changed course: “Ah, yes…well…” Our older son has a habit of talking over adults when he has something to say, a habit I was suddenly grateful for. He was still talking and had not noticed my husband at all: “We were inside for recess so we had a free-for-all and it was awesome…”

As my son launched into telling his story about indoor recess due to “rain,” I thought about his appropriation of his teacher’s term “free-for-all.” I could hear her saying “this is not a free-for-all” in that firm and disappointed tone the best elementary school teachers know how to deploy in order to tell their students “you know better” without saying it with those words. My son’s usage of “free-for-all” was so natural, so unencumbered, giddy even. For him, the day had not had anything to do with the words “tactical alert” or “lockdown” or “shelter in place.”

I think about what happened yesterday at UCLA and the anniversary of what happened three years ago at Santa Monica College, an anniversary that needs little prompting especially because we walk past the site of the automatic weapon fire every weekend with our kids as we go to our neighborhood park and farmer’s market. Every weekend we walk by the memorial plaque dedicated to Carlos Franco, the groundskeeper who worked at Santa Monica College for more than two decades and who was gunned down in his car while driving his daughter Marcela, who later died of her gunshot wounds and who had been in the process of transferring her studies in clinical psychology to the college so they could commute together. I think about the anniversary of the Santa Monica College shooting, how close that day feels with the sound of fired ammunition ringing in my backyard and the furious helicopters whirring whirring overhead for hours into the night, and the future anniversaries of yesterday’s UCLA shooting, and I ask myself: This is not a free-for-all, is it?

My oldest son made me this bracelet over the weekend. Today is #WearOrange for #NationalGunViolenceAwarenessDay. I think I’ll wear my orange bracelet every day.

Magdalena Edwards was born in Santiago, Chile, and raised in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. Her undergraduate thesis on the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita’s first book Purgatorio (1979) was awarded Harvard’s James R. and Isabel D. Hammond Prize and led to a stint with the “Artes & Letras” section of Chile’s leading newspaper El Mercurio. She received a PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA with a dissertation on the poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979) titled The Translator’s Colors: Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil & Elsewhere. Her work has appeared in the Boston Review, The Paris Review Daily, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, The Critical Flame, Rewire Me, and The Millions. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband and three small children. More at magdalenaedwards.com.

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