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 Joseph story, like you’ve never heard it before.

Once upon a time, the story of Joseph nearly ruled my life. You know, the biblical story of the dude who had 11 brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

I was Joseph. Sold into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph got to Egypt and was bought buy a guy named Potiphar (sweet ancient Egyptian name right there). This Joseph guy was super wily and rose in the ranks of slaves in Potiphar’s house until he was put in charge of all of them. That is, until Potiphar’s wife tried to sleep with him. She even grabbed his robe and stripped it off trying to make him stay (he must have been pretty fine, I’m just saying). But Joseph was also a goody-goody and so he ran away naked. Of course Potiphar believed his wife when she told him that Joseph had tried to seduce her (It was the best soap opera of the day, ya’ll). So Joseph was thrown in the can.

I was Joseph, thrown in the can for something I didn’t do. Trapped away in prison.

Except Joseph was one crafty sonuvabitch. He kept being his goody-goody self and got put in charge of the prison. If he didn’t get freed, he might as well be top dog, right? One day, two dudes from Pharaoh’s staff show up – the guy who tastes Pharaoh’s wine to test for poisons, and the guy who bakes his bread. Both of them had been thrown in prison for offending the Pharaoh. Obvi. Well, they both have dreams that trouble them, and Joseph being the awesome cunning man that he was, interprets their dreams. He says that the baker was gonna die and the cupbearer was going to be given back his position. With that in mind, Joseph goes “Hey cupbearer dude. Don’t forget the awesome dream interpreter who saved your life in prison, K? Tell the Pharaoh about me.”

Of course, the cupbearer forgets Joseph while reeling in his good fortune. Until the Pharaoh wakes up from a dream all pissed off. Probably afraid for his position (again), the cupbearer is like “WAIT!!! I know a guy!” Thus… Joseph magically interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, and like all his positions before… becomes second in the land only to Pharaoh. BOOM, son.

I was gonna be Joseph someday… elevated to second in the land, with lots of barns and “storehouses” that I was in charge of…

AKA LOTS OF MONEY.

This was according to my dad, one of the best storytellers and imaginative minds of our time. Yes, you detect a bit of sarcasm… but to be honest that is probably pretty true. He is the most imaginative person I know.

Joseph was a metaphor for our “imminent” riches. (Imminent was a code word in our house, one of many which also included “it’s time to see IT“, the “magi“, “man from the east“… I could go on) Joseph had been wasting away, utterly invisible from the world, just like us in our 900ft², 3 bedroom apartment crammed with 6 people. Just like us wearing our thrift store clothing. Until one day… dun dun dun. He was REMEMBERED by the cupbearer.

Except we would be remembered by the magi man (magic man???) from the East…aka from Persia. He would suddenly remember that he had stuck my dad’s business card in a back drawer.  (The way he got my dad’s business card was through an Iranian coworker of my father’s, who took it with him to Iran around Christmas of 2003 -2004, after my dad had asked him to give it to “whomever he felt he should.”) The magi man would pull it out, look my dad up, and call with an offer to bequeath us with $1.7 billion dollars.

Suddenly like Joseph, we would be elevated to a higher echelon of society.

One of my dad’s “mentors” and favorite preachers frequently used Joseph as an example in his sermons. He referred to Joseph as something like “the dream bearer” and used Joseph to describe how God would fulfill your dreams if you only waited. In looking this preacher up again for this post, I also came across a sermon titled “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (This is so hilariously ironic to me that it made me laugh) My dad listened to this man’s sermons consistently, at least once a week, for years. We were often required to listen along. I remember being a teenager, 16 years old or so, laying on my parent’s bed listening to the sermons being streamed over the internet. In our 3 bedroom apartment, the computer was located in my parents’ bedroom, because that was the only place we had room for it. So, on some Sunday mornings and many Wednesday nights, we listened to these sermons on the internet. I was required to do this and if I didn’t or tried to avoid it (by sleeping in or staying in my room) my dad would get angry and controlling.

At one point, my parents each bought an amethyst ring for themselves, because this preacher said that amethysts were “the Joseph stone” and instructed people to go out and buy one to demonstrate their commitment to their dreams. My dad bought a huge rock of an amethyst ring that he still wears fairly often.

My twin sister, myself, and my sister Rachel all had birthdays within 2 days of each other. My 16th birthday (Rachel’s 14th) was spent in Florida at a fancy anniversary dinner for this man’s 20th (25th? I’m not sure) year in ministry. We got to wear fancy prom dresses for the occasion, which made it seem like a birthday to us. At the time it was all very exciting.

This man’s sermons were also a huge subject of our nightly “family chitty-chats”. These were really made of my dad pontificating for a couple of hours before we went to bed. Rachel fell asleep most of the time. I was too terrified of my dad’s wrath, and too invested in gaining his approval, to try and do such a thing.

This was a lot of my life for 10 years or more, incidents such as these. My sponsor likes to say that my family sounded like a cult. I remember quite a bit of it if I think about it, but ever since my first 5th step almost a year ago, I’ve been remembering things spontaneously. I’ll be washing dishes, or walking through the grocery store, or on the phone at work, and all of a sudden I’m assaulted with another crazy memory of my old life. Honestly, I’m still wading through anger and resentment. My therapist said this past week that it’s probably a part of the healing process, to be angry. And when I think back to a couple of years ago when I first started trying to deal with anger at my dad – I didn’t feel ANY. Not a speck. So this is improvement. It’s like when your foot wakes up and you have pins and needles. At some point, the pins and needles will go away and I’ll be at acceptance.

It helps though to let people witness my memories.  Because I’ll never stop hearing my dad’s voice in my head, spinning delusional worlds. But at least this way I won’t be alone with the voices. They’re easier to bear when I’m not lost in them, like someone wandering through fog at night.

I plan to tell more stories from my childhood in this coming year, both here, and in the memoir I’m attempting to write. So stay tuned. 🙂


An update on where I’m at with things with my family – It’s Complicated