There's Been a Shooting

Your day is chugging along pretty well. You got your nine-year-old son to camp on time and now you click away on your computer drafting an opposition to a motion for a new trial in a nasty case you've just won. Most of your co-workers sit in the Ronald Reagan State Building's cafeteria eating lunch and tossing loving barbs at each other in the way only litigators can appreciate. You didn't join them because you had lunch plans at 1:00 with a former law clerk who was now a young attorney in a boutique Beverly Hills firm.

As you type, you decide that you could use a little jazz so you turn on your RCA clock radio. After a few moments of music, the disc jockey breaks in and says words that don't quite register: "shootings" and "North Valley Jewish Community Center" and "at least three children wounded" and "there may be more than one shooter." These words finally seep into your consciousness and you yell, "Oh my God!" and start to call your wife at work. No answer. Just voicemail. You leave a frantic message telling her what you've heard.

You try her parents' house because they live near the Center. Your parents live too far. You reach your mother-in-law and tell her to get to the camp to find your son. You run out the door and head to the parking garage. You arrive at the car and your legs start to buckle so you lean into the cool metal of your Honda Accord. You realize that you had not taken a breath since you left the building so you concentrate on breathing deeply while repeating to yourself, "I have to get to him." You feel in control again and get into the car to start your drive from downtown L.A. to Granada Hills not knowing.

As you break the speed limit and listen to the news, you remember when you studied for your conversion to Judaism. One day, your Rabbi asked you, "Why do you want to take on the mantle of a people who have been hated and slaughtered throughout history?" It was a good question but you offered a snappy answer: I am Chicano. I know prejudice. You acknowledge that you could think of little in history to compare to the horror of the Holocaust, but you could, in the very least, empathize with the Jewish people because of your own people's history.

But now you wonder how you would answer the Rabbi's question. Your mind is bouncing to unspeakable thoughts, images, sounds. Is he dead? You shake your head to clear your mind and you think of a song your son learned at camp last month, sung to the tune of "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen:

Pharaoh, Pharaoh.
Whoa baby, let my people go!
Yeah, yeah, yeah!

You try to conjure up the smell of your son's hair as you wonder if you and your wife have been made childless this hot August day.

["There's Been a Shooting" is featured in Devil Talk: Stories (Bilingual Press). Though included in a short-story collection, the piece is based on the author's experience with the hate crimes perpetrated by Buford O. Furrow Jr. on August 10, 1999. Furrow shot and injured three children, a counselor, and a receptionist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. That same day, he murdered United States Postal Service mail carrier Joseph Ileto who was Filipino American. Furrow was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty.]