Around 3:30pm MTN yesterday I heard sirens. I didn’t think much of it at first as I’m used to the noises of Manhattan even six months into relocating back to my hometown of Boulder. Then I got a text from a friend in Texas “you aren’t at the grocery store are?”
I asked what store. “Where?” And I scrambled onto Twitter. The Boulder Police Department had posted that they were responding to an active shooter situation at the King Soopers on Table Mesa. I told my friend no I was at home but the grocery store was just 2-3 miles down the road. We had picked up takeout from the shopping center just yesterday from a favorite pub Southern Sun. It’s a staple of the community. I had dinner at its sister restaurant Mountain Sun after I ditched prom in high school. One of the servers snuck us a beer in our hideous outfits even though it was clear we were in high school. The detail feels important for some reason. I don’t know why.
I quickly found a livestream and police scanners to monitor. I opened the door to our porch and heard the unmistakable sound of helicopters. It was the “whack whack whack” of the blades that made me realize it was serious. News choppers wouldn’t be on scene so fast. But medical response scrambles fast. Especially in Colorado where search and rescue leans on helicopters for rough terrain.
My husband Alex was on a call I couldn’t interrupt but I desperately wanted to get his attention. Partially, and I’m sure this will upset a few people, because I wanted to make sure he retrieved and loaded his daily carry. A small part of me considered whether we should break out body armor and get further into our interior rooms. The police had asked folks to avoid the area and stay home.
I closed the curtains so I wasn’t likely to catch the attention of anyone on Pearl Street below. I wanted to be away from windows and with barriers between me and the street. We’d actually given thought to this kind of emergency which is why we own guns and armor. We don’t advertise it but the threat of unrest and violence is something we plan for in our preparedness efforts. Especially in the wake of the January 6th insurrection it’s felt wise to be armed.
America fixates on gun violence. But not the kind that happens in areas with crime or drug violence. We like a media circus around mass shootings. Especially if it involves children. You see this isn’t my first mass shooting. I lived in Boulder during Columbine. I still remember the lockdown at school as we got word. Kids whispering who they knew. Who went there. I’ve seen this before. I’ve had proximity before. I don’t even want to get into it here as it makes my family sound a little cursed when I recount the close calls. But maybe it’s normal and other Americans have had similar close calls.
I was shaken all night as the news got reported. I checked in with my family. The only person who wasn’t worried was my mom. She knew we didn’t go grocery shopping on the South Side of town. She hadn’t considered that we would do pick up at the Mountain Sun. I spent an hour pulling tarot cards with a friend to keep my mind off of social media. We watched the press conference. We put our phones outside of the bedroom so we couldn’t doomscroll.
I had already become incensed by a viral tweet from Meena Harris the sister of Vice President Harris discussing the urgent need for gun control. Urgent my ass I thought. Why can’t any community have its tragedy and be graced to account for its grief in peace? Why do we need to discuss policy and regulations when I don’t even know the names of who was murdered yet? Fuck off Meena Harris these are my neighbors.
Without my phone and thanks to the wonders of Ativan I slept well. I woke up to a new press conference. A phone full of national news alerts. Great, I thought, the New York Times is going to fixate on this isn’t it. I had texts from all over the world. People I play games with online had heard the news. People wanted to know how I was. I wasn’t great.
We got names in the morning. I recognized one name but I wasn’t sure if it was the aunt of a schoolmate or just had a similar name. I went on Facebook. It was a different woman. Media frenzy was at a peek as we learned 10 people were dead. Somehow this was worse than the originally reported 6. It felt more mass. I got a new round of texts from folks. As if it wasn’t clear how bad it was last night.
I knew there would be attention and media. A mass shooting in a wealthy white liberal town with a history of trying to pass municipal ordinances against assault weapons is zeitgeist bait. Of course the narrative isn’t quite true. I wondered if the media knew that Table Mesa was in the shitty side of town. That a town like Boulder even has a shitty side. Alex thought the shooting was further away than it was because when we were house hunting I said I wouldn’t consider living on the south or east sides of town. Those parts of town had been othered by me and I didn’t even realize it. Because I prioritized us living in the “good” parts of town. I wanted to live where my childhood self had dreamed I would live a kid. Whether it was conscious or not I wanted to live in the wealthiest, whitest and safest part of town. I didn’t feel guilty about it at the time. It seemed prudent and I had always wanted to live on Pearl Street. As a teenager I worked on the local tv station’s documentary about its history. My mother saved the poster for the 25th anniversary which now hangs on my wall. That was in 2002. A lot of time has passed.
Of course the coverage is sensational. I should have known it would be. The media tends to prioritize wealthy liberal white lives. Boulder is a wealthy liberal white place for better or worse. Add in the A-15 for the shock value (for some reason they really freak out folks who don’t own guns) and the fact that it was in a grocery store and we’ve got the ideal blend of fear and banality. Grocery stores have been the safe place of the pandemic. A shooting at a grocery store felt particularly violent. So he’s is all anyone was going to talk about today.
Despite it not being something that was happening to any of them. It was however happening to me and Alex. We live here. This is our town. This tragedy belonged to Boulder and everyone who calls it home. I felt like we deserved to grieve in peace. To have our anger.
But I was going to have to live through everyone I knew demanding gun control on social media. Talking heads butting in. Because American media treats these acts of senseless violence as if it’s a shared moment to discuss gun policy. But it’s not. It’s a time for the people affected to have their own feelings without the glare of political opportunism. I knew this in a hazy sense before but I know it in a visceral way now. This shooting isn’t your opportunity. It’s our tragedy. I turned off my phone and slept all afternoon after finishing my workload. I felt too sad to be conscious. And everything hurt.