I have heard the phrase “close to home” tossed around quite a bit today. Physically yes, it was close to my house. I watched my very first movie at the century 16 theaters near Aurora mall. No, i shouldn’t even call it ‘Aurora’ mall, it feels almost redundant to mention the name of the city that has cultivated me for 17 years. How about just ‘the mall’? Its strange how one event can manipulate the entire soul of a city.
I want to tell a story, and although it will be long, and although not a single soul will read this, I think it is the culmination of every individual’s personal account of a tragedy that makes it a viable source of healing and growth. Also, I have been aching to streamline this event for my own peace of mind.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the layering and the new air of confidence that is often coupled with something as simple as a haircut. I gave Shamika, the student who cut my hair, a tip of two dollars and a hug because she was nice and an extremely dedicated aesthetician. By 8:30 I was at Michelle’s house, which meets all of the qualifications for an upper class Chinese home, complete with incense and counter tops so clean you can see your reflection in them. We planned for 12 people to be at the Chinese 16 movie theater on arapahoe road for the midnight premiere of the most eagerly awaited movie I had barely ever heard of. An hour or two had gone by unnoticed at her house because I had never seen the first two batman movies and she was the poor soul who would have to explain them to me.
The previews began, and for the first time I felt as though I had watched a complete movie after watching just the previews. Perhaps its because I am more critical. I figure, if Gangster Squad can’t even satisfy having 15 seconds of not boasting its undeniable R rated-ness, I will probably go home crying..so I have profiled the movie as being violent bullshit i don’t feel like watching. The first ten minutes of the The Dark Knight Rises felt like another preview. But unlike all the actual previews, I could not profile the film. It was raging confusion for batman fan who had never seen batman. And so the film continued recoiled into a few revelations, until it was over. I was satisfied, a deep and confusing satisfaction at 3 in the morning. The movie left no scars on my ‘vibe’, my psyche, an unfortunate reoccurring theme with some movies for me. There were drafts of people exiting, flowing out of the theater and out of the ticket booth threshold. I was with 6 of the friends as the other 5 seemed eerily reclusive behind the concessions conspiring. I thought nothing of it, I wanted to know about Catherine’s boy problems and her issues with that maxi dress.
I stumbled into my dad’s car with exclamations about its effects, and how incredibly satisfied I was, for it all only to be neutralized by my dad’s unenthusiastic response “we leave for the lab at 8 tomorrow”. There is a lingering sensation in your thoughts after you watch a good movie, like lingering of a coffee shop smell which you only notice when juxtaposed against the smell of curry. I noticed that I waned to go kick some bad guy ass, to clean my room and to know everything about biology by 8 o clock that morning. I promptly crashed without accomplishing anything.
I feared the ensuing grogginess of the morning. My dad took his audibly predictable steps into my room, but his voice was booming. And just like that, the grogginess sublimed, as did my sense of security, like dry ice. My dad told me, not Piers Morgan, not NPR, not Rush Limbaugh. THAT was close to home. Just an unfaltering smoke that was never comfortable enough to be liquid, and the smoke made me want nothing in the world more than my cell phone. All day I was texting, and now my fingers are sore and my stamina is gone.
Alex was the first to ask if I had heard about the shooting. I can guarantee his thoughtfulness will help him become even more successful. In retrospect, now that is 10 pm, I feel like ironically telling him I never heard anything. I’ve never heard of a gun, or a movie theater, or anger, or fury, or Bruce Wayne. All I could think of that morning was how bored the people in my lab would be by my story of how I was at a different theater and i am so lucky blah blah. This shooting was not that important, right? At work I was going to go do another mini prep, another transformation, right? Surely.
My dad was thoroughly convinced that James Holmes, the gunman, lived in the Del Mar apartments only about a mile from both of our labs at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Campus. Then the Lady on 850 koa said 17th and Peoria. A few days earlier I asked my boss about 17th street. As a new driver, i was apprehensive about venturing downtown with my atrocious sense of direction. 17th street was my safety net of sorts, it was one of the few streets taking me straight from the campus downtown. And i could always trace it back if I lost my way. She said that 17th was chaotic and was closed because of a CSI, a split second later we passed it. Incidentally, we also passed my usual parking spot. Oh, and James Holmes’ apartment. Literally skirting the edge of what felt like the removed and esteemed world of the campus
I got into the lab not greeted by the usual hum of last fm, but by a youtube video and a crowd of colleagues looking angry. And so it began, we each had an account, of someone..or of something reminiscent of the 71 people shot by James Eagan Holmes at 12:30 in the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during the premier of the Dark Knight Rises. I started a mini prep that was poorly attended to. While frantically, and I mean frantically texting and calling just anyone. Just people because I wanted some reassurance. Too bad no sane 17 year old wakes up before 10 over the summer.
One after another, my connections to the massacre were exposing themselves to me.
The police were outside of the hall and they politely looked at us with confidence and composure, and I looked back with disarray. The questions they asked were slightly off, and it became somewhat clear that our lab and department in particular was in question. We were on the 5th floor in a pristine environment and someone with authority had to have let them in. The officer asked us, complimented my on my big purple couch shirt, and they left. After talking to more friends i found out that two of my friends and idols had escaped the theater adjacent to the killer’s, specifically the vice president and secretary of National Honor Society. Which is a big deal when you’re in high school. Absolutely bringing the events even closer to home and into the realm of my daily existence. Indirect involvement doesn’t mean much, thank god, but it is scary to swap yourself even hypothetically into the picture.
Photos can be perfectly staged, there is a set and easy expectation to just smile, however the hell you want to do it. A coworker pulled up his photo, it had finally been released. And though it was perfectly staged, it was human, desperately close to home, a person. She said “I feel like I have seen his face before”. That’s when things felt strange because the cation said student in the neurology department, wait…like our neurology department?
About 100 feet down the hall exists a bare desk with a mess surrounding it. Freshly unoccupied. A shy and generally unenthusiastic dude used to work there, but last I heard he was fired. And the latest I heard was that the desk was James Holmes’. That means we stored our bacteria in the same freezers, we took the same elevators, my dad used the same bathrooms. Close to home because he was no longer ‘the gunman’, now he was James. Loudspeakers started screeching, like we were on a spaceship. Not like the ones at school, those don’t dispense a striking sense of impending doom. Nonessential personnel MUST evacuate and those without Univeristy IDs will be personally escorted off the premises. Hah, I don’t have an ID yet.
Somehow i finished the damn miniprep and froze it while meekly leaving the building with my dad. I saw the crane, the apartments, the parking space, soon after i felt a wave of impersonality…he was sick, he dyed his hair and booby trapped his house. Maybe he was closer to the spaceship than home. Until I realized that I was one of the 300,000 people who had such a meaningful connection. No, I had no wounds, I wasn’t there. But the fact that I nodded at him, spilled kernels of unpopped corn on the floors of theater 9, and parked my car on a future landmine proves I wasn’t spectating from Japan either.
I would do anything to distract myself from watching the TV and listening to the radios like everyone else wants to. I went to Golden with my parents and fell asleep in the car while continuing to frantically text..if that’s even possible.
Now, that’s the thing about tragedies, you have your own encounter and experience which, in combination with the populous’ experiences, is what makes an event tragic. But never in my life have I felt so much heat against such forceful winds, seen so much compassion amdist so much rage, so much concern without any apathy. I guess that’s what it means for something to be close to home, because even though it hurts deeper, it means that this community is going to become a force to be reckoned with.