Terror Attack or Shooting? – A Poem

Trigger Warning: Mass shootings, gun violence, graphic depictions of violence.
I wrote this poem in response to the talk about the Pulse Orlando shooting being a terror attack because it was perpetrated by “possibly a Muslim”. As a shooting survivor, I have a lot of feelings about that.

Do not tell me what is a terror attack or what isn’t.
You do not know the ice of hearing windows shatter
You do not know the terror of hearing sister is shot
You know nothing of what bullets sound like hitting human flesh
or the screaming of your sisters
or the desperation of being on a phone to a 911 operative
begging them to come because my sisters have been shot
because my twin is lying in front of me on the floor of a minivan
with blood streaming out her nose
and she looks like she’s asleep but she won’t wake up
Do not tell me it is not terror
to try to hide behind a leather seat
to see bullets hitting windshield
to not see where they are coming from
to watch father fall to ground from one piercing him
to want it all to stop, stop, stop
but the bullets are ringing over and over and over
there is so much noise
time is so slow but it keeps going
do not tell me it is not terror
to rip a scarf from your body to try to stop twin sister’s bleeding
to have to look your twin over for an exit wound
do not tell me it is not terror to not have her answer you
to hear your mother saying “I can’t find a bullet hole
I can’t find one, oh God I can’t find one”
do not tell me it is no terror to stumble out of the car
to see other sister on the ground
with face blue from lack of oxygen
to feel your heart fall apart into your stomach as you know she is dying
to have to run from her because the shooter could be returning
to feel your soul is being ripped from your body
because your sisters’ souls are leaving you
do not tell me it is not terror
to wait for news of which hospitals they went to
to know on the way there that twin sister is gone
because you don’t feel her soul next to yours anymore
to watch a policeman speak what you already know while he is trying not to cry
do not tell me it is not terror
when father comes out of surgery, silently looks at you all
looking for the people missing
looks at you and asks where your twin is
and mother is quiet and says nothing so your mouth has to open
you say the worst words you have ever said
“Dad, Stephanie is gone.”
Do not tell me it is not terror
to stand by other sister’s bedside begging for her to come back to you
to sing all of her favorite songs in a desperate attempt for the bullet not to win
to try to cry it out of her heart and take the bullet into your own heart instead
to ask her to please not leave you alone here
do not tell me it is not terror to have the doctors
come out to waiting room to tell you that other sister is gone
that she has left you here alone despite all your begging

you say that a mass shooting is not a terror attack
unless it happens to have a Muslim face behind it
I want to tell you to fuck yourself and wait until you live one.

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Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!

The Best Steak I Ever Had

(Source)

It was Vail, Colorado, somewhere around 1999-2001. The setting: a Swiss themed hotel with all German/Swiss/Austrian staff. 5 Star Restaurant.

I was 10, 11, 12 years old. The years blended together along with the stories my dad told. Fantastic tales of money (1.7 Billion Dollars to be exact) that God would bestow upon my family someday, if we only believed. Maybe it was an effort to drag this money towards us, I don’t know. But I know that one fall, we spent a weekend in Vail at a fancy hotel. My dad loved flashing his American Express gold card.

I remember my parents’ suite had an upstairs loft bedroom and I fantasized that one day, I’d go there for my honeymoon and have sex in a bedroom like that.

The swimming pool downstairs was a combined indoor/outdoor pool and it was magical to me to duck under the opening and find myself outside.

We played chess and checkers in the little library just off the lobby. We wandered down the streets of Vail, eating lunch at Pepe’s and afterwards, browsing the outrageously expensive Gorsuch store. I was desperate to have the lovely alpine themed clothing they offered. I loved the jackets, especially.

Erika Kneecoat, $1998.00 – Gorsuch LTD.

It was in that hotel, in their 5 star restaurant, that I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

We had dinner there one night. I still remember precisely what I ordered: surf and turf. The red lobster shell gleamed temptingly in the candlelight. My knife flashed through my tender filet mignon. I raised my fork to my mouth and suddenly I never wanted to eat anything else for my entire life.

I can still taste the succulent, juicy texture of that steak. It was so soft you could cut it with a butter knife. I’ve eaten steak hundreds of times since and it has never compared.

I ate slowly to make it last. I never wanted that moment to end. I thought about it longingly the next morning as we circled the breakfast buffet. It was the morning after walk of shame, wishing the night had never ended.

Over a steak.

My dad spent $600 on that meal for my family of 6, my youngest sister barely old enough to count. All of that was on a credit card.

1.7 billion dollars has still not arrived. It’s 2014.

It was a lovely fantasy, after all… because of that fantasy, I:
-spent enough time on corporate jets that if I sat in one now blindfolded, I could tell you exactly where I was.
-walked through $6 million dollar homes for sale, feigning interest in buying one.
-still remember my regular order at the restaurant at Denver’s corporate airport.
-can tell you about finishing schools in Switzerland, Prince William’s 3 middle names, the royalty in Monaco, corporate jets that can cross the ocean without stopping, how money can cross illegal borders (i.e. Iran to the US) and a thousand other things I’m forgetting now because there’s too many to count.
-know how to feign an air of the elegantly wealthy and hold up impeccable pretense.

It was unrealistic, ridiculous, totally delusional. I hate even the thought of wealth now and shy away from any mention of even winning the lottery.

But sometimes, I still think longingly about that steak.


 

An update on how I’m working things out with my family now – It’s Complicated

Food Stamps and American Poverty

I’ve had a poem in my head around this subject for a good week-ish now. It all happened after I stopped into Local First Grocer, a local food co-op that only sources local food. I asked if they take EBT, which I have been on up until the end of this month. They said, “not yet.” I knew the cashier and I mentioned something about going off of food stamps soon, and that it was kind of embarrassing.

“No, it isn’t.”

Say what?

You see I’ve bought into the American philosophy, namely this: If I am on food stamps, I am abusing the system, I should have done better, and I should work harder to get myself out of the mess I put myself in.

Nevermind that I am a poor college student who just graduated with $40,000 in student loans. Nope. Nevermind that.

I was still just a broke ass trying to usurp our precious tax dollars. But my friend’s statement brought me up short.

Why in God’s name is this an embarrassment?

So here’s my poem war cry about the whole shitty thing.

 

I’m scraping the bottom of the penny jar
to find cash for a quick meal
swiping what they seem to think is a
“magic card”
at the grocery store so I can get lunch at work.
I feel guilty as I walk into Whole Foods.
I buy a bottle of sparkling water
because damn it, I don’t drink alcohol
and I need something to tickle my tongue.
But this is a “luxury”
and someone with this card
should never buy “that bottle.”
Yet instead I’m relegated into a group of drunks
with a far more dangerous and expensive bottle
just by virtue of the fact
that my wallet carries this card that
in Colorado, is labeled differently
to hide the fact we are poor.
Let’s not display it now.
Let’s not publicly tout the fact that
I can barely afford my monthly utilities
and this card is the only way I can buy groceries.
Nope. Let’s pretend
that this poverty doesn’t exist
that hard work is an eraser
if I just had more “initiative”
“ambition”
“drive”
well then, I can stop being accused
of stealing your tax dollars
even though you don’t even know my face.
the one that stared at death stark in front of me
looks cold sadness in the face every day
willing myself to survive
to burst forth in imaginative color
against the black stage backdrop of my
surprising little life.

So many other faces
just like mine
stared at death just like mine
have “sadness” and “despair”
as angels and devils on each shoulder
portways to enlightenment
dark hallways to oblivion.
How do you not think of this
the white-hot pain of uncovering death
staring at faces hanging in nooses
trying to cope when your own children are starving.
And yet they say
work harder
it’s your fault that
the system is against you.
What happens when the system buckles
under the backbreaking
muscle tearing load?
“Buck up,” they say.
“chin up,” they say
despite the broken necks
they keep standing on
to claw their way to the top.

I’ve got to stop buying in
to this mentality that food stamps
are an embarrassment
I am an embarrassment
I should be invisible.
I refuse. This load is too much.
I will not be relegated to your ashamed oblivion.
Look at me, America.
See your masses.
See your suffering.
And dare to lift another finger
in the face of our certain death.