Monday, May 21, 2007

Death in a Small Town

I attended high school and college in a small Idaho town nestled in the foothills of the Rockies. My own daughter’s looming graduation recently stirred memories of those times. Yesterday’s news of a shooting spree around my old alma mater stirred even more memories.

Moscow’s courthouse is right across the street from the high school, while the church in question is right behind it. Our high school had an open campus policy, so at lunch and during free periods we’d go stand around in front of the church and grab a smoke. On one memorable cold, rainy day in January, I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend under that church’s portico. The thought of a gunman charging through those memories is dislocating. Moscow is a beautiful, leafy town of lovely old buildings and that air of intellectual inquiry and creative excitement that always seems to hang over a university. Everyone keeps saying, Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in Moscow. And yet…

I remember once, in my twenties, sitting around with a small group of other young women. One was from New York City, another from Philadelphia, a third from Chicago. None of them had ever personally known anyone who had been murdered. I had known four, and three of those young women had been murdered in Moscow.

A few weeks ago, my older daughter called me, upset because she’d just heard that a friend of hers from her undergraduate days had been killed in a car accident. “I never knew anyone my age who died,” she said. I commiserated with her, but I also thought, Wow. People died in car accidents all the time when I was in school. Perhaps it had something to do with the lack of seat belts and air bags, but I suspect it had more to do with icy mountain roads, which are a bad combination with inexperienced or drunk young drivers.

There have been times when I wished I was raising my girls someplace like Moscow, Idaho. Being a parent in New Orleans can be unnerving, what with Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, second lines and Southern Decadence. And then there’s the constant shootings—a cousin of mine caught a bullet in the throat just driving to work one day (she survived). And yet when you live in a country where the rate of firearms homicides is NINETEEN times higher than that of the other thirty-five high-income countries COMBINED, the idea of safety anywhere is an illusion.

I know this. And still I mourn. Things like that shouldn’t happen in a place like Moscow.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm sorry to hear of this. I remember one of the first school shootings in modern times took place in a small town in Arkansas, and people were flabbergasted. Safety is an illusion, although most of the time, for most of us, it seems quite real.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I hadn't seen that statistic you quote. What can, or should, an outsider say? I know your history and constitutional rights argue against it, but it seems you do need to change your gun control laws, and take steps to see that those you have -- who can sell what to whom and how -- are administered properly. In case anyone should think I'm being smug, I can report that a two-year-old girl was killed in NZ just the other week, in a drive-by shooting involving Black Power and Mongrel Mob gangs. Most of the nation's four million people were horrified and indignant.

Steve Malley said...

I used to go out with a girl from Idaho. She often claimed they had one of the highest per capita murder rates anywhere.

The 'Memoriam' pages in her high school yearbook certainly supported it.

cs harris said...

Chap, I'm not sure if it's all the guns or the tradition of violence that's to blame, or both. There's definitely something wrong when a man with a history of mental illness can get an assault rifle (why does anyone need an assault rife?) And Steve, I hadn't heard that statistic, but I haven't personally known anyone who was murdered since I left Idaho! (That said, I've just discovered that two people have been murdered--shot-- three blocks from my house.)