What I do now is look at people's pockets. When they walk by on the street, or in the supermarket; when they sit on the bench where my daughter plays tennis. My eyes turn down, to the spot on their hips, and latch on. Used to be, I admired their haircuts, or shoes, noticed their expressions, listened for a cough, maybe, and moved out of the way. Now, I look at their pockets, if that is where to look, even, if pocket fabric is strong enough to support a gun, deep enough. Do people carry guns on their belt, instead? How do they hang them on? Should I be looking for a bulge under a sweater? A weighty droop where the handkerchief should be?
The Friday in Newtown has directed my gaze. The murders have pierced my subconscious, such that I now behave differently. I am not free to behave as myself because of the killings. I am not free to walk on a street without fearing that someone might whip a firearm from inside a coat, or out of a purse. I am not free to react when another driver cuts me off on the road, weighing the odds of what might be in his glove compartment. I am not free to send my kids to school without worrying that someone might fire up the front door and gain entry. I think, now, of the vestibule of the high school and how, once buzzed into the building, a person can choose where to go -- left to the office to show his identification, or straight into the hall to escape the cold, or roam, or enter a classroom and shoot. His choice. I never thought of the vestibule before. In this free country, people are free to own and carry weapons of mass murder and, clearly, without proper checks, are free to destroy whatever and whomever they want with them. But I am not free to live without threat.
This is backwards, terrifyingly backwards. My freedom should be protected first.
I am heartened that the president, lawmakers and gun control advocates have acted quickly to try to make change, this time. They should be thinking broadly though, and from the perspective of the many citizens who want nothing to do with weapons, the ones who are duly scared by the sight of one, the ones who still get the quiver in the belly when they see one on a movie screen or in a policeman's holster, even. The ones who are not immune to violence. People in power, now, should be thinking only of what they can do to return our psyches to their natural state of peace and equanimity, to the time when soldiers and law enforcement were entrusted with weapons,and kids in inner cities and sweet suburbs alike feared getting pushed around on the way home, maybe, but not shot dead.
Lawmakers, now, should not entertain what gun manufacturers and their lobbyists think. Journalists shouldn't be interviewing them. When corporate polluters kill the environment for financial gain, does the EPA ask them what they think? When food companies drench children's snacks with fat for financial gain, does the FDA ask what they think? Ask me what I think. Ask the parents in Newtown what they think. Get rid of the guns. Period. You want to kill a deer because there is not enough to choose from in the supermarket? Rent a hunting rifle, like you do ice skates, and give it back when you are done. You feel a jolt of machismo when you've got a weapon strapped to your loin? See a shrink.
We have strayed. We have failed to identify and provide treatment for the mentally ill, we have made violence de rigueur, we have allowed corporations to corrupt our basic morality. And, we have adapted to the insanity.
On the Monday after the murders in Connecticut, security guards at my daughter's high school found two machetes on the ground near the football stadium, wrapped up in a sweatshirt. From a distance, they waited until someone retrieved them, and then intervened as he attempted to take them into the school. The 17-year-old student admitted to slashing the heads off of inflatable Santa Claus decorations the Friday evening before. He was arrested for having weapons on school property. The superintendent alerted parents.
The kid had to have been aware of what had happened in Newtown hours earlier that very day. Didn't his parents discuss it with him? Didn't they share their horror, try to impart some sort of ethical responsibility in their young adult? Wouldn't his conscience, his sense of outrage, kick in and tell him to leave the knives in the garage?
It is backwards, all over the place. I am squinting at pants pockets, and now at sweatshirts left on the ground, seeing madness, feeling anything but free.