“This is a violent civilization — if civilization’s where I am.”
— Gil Scott- Heron, “Gun”
Alexis Knutson doesn’t want to see her friend reduced.
That friend, she told The New York Times, “had the biggest, brightest smile. She always just had these dimples that, especially when she got excited about something — her smile was just huge.”
“I always had a rule,” said Knutson. “She couldn’t call me before 9 a.m. because I like my sleep. She would always call me at 6 a.m.”
Of course, she did. Because that’s how friends do one another. And Knutson hates the idea of seeing that friend reduced to a CNN chyron or a column of newsprint. “I don’t want her name to be another name next to an age on a list,” she said.
And yet, here we are. When death comes in acts of mass carnage as it did for Knutson’s friend and nine others last week at a supermarket in Boulder when a deranged gunman opened fire, what option is there? When death comes in bulk as constantly as it does in America, there is little time to individuate victims, to mourn them as singular persons, the way those who loved and knew them will.
Even to make a partial list of cities where it has happened — Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newtown, Littleton, Charleston, Eugene, Atlanta, Pensacola, Thousand Oaks, Tucson, Pittsburgh, Parkland, El Paso, Annapolis, Orlando, Dallas, Blacksburg, Sutherland Springs, Honolulu, Hialeah, Washington — is to draw a bloodstained map of America.
And to name victims through the years, to try and give each proper weight and reverence, would be to drown in sorrows: Annabelle Pomeroy, 14, Sonny Melton, 29, Isaiah Shoels, 18, Joyce Fienberg, 75, Sharonda Singleton, 45, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, John Roll, 63, Yaakov Aminov, 46, Martin Bodrog, 54, Melvin Lee, 58, Patrick Zamarripa, 32, Jordan Anchondo, 25, Xiaojie Tan, 49, Dennis Steinhoff, 73.
And on …
Singer Francesca Beghe once sang about the black granite memorial in Washington, D.C., to the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. Her words insinuate themselves here. “Once living, they were once breathing. Now they’re all just names on a wall.”
Except that the victims of this war don’t get a wall. No, they get only chyrons and newsprint, to go with smarmy platitudes of inaction, specious pieties worn smooth by repetition.
“There will be a time for the debate on gun laws …”
“Drunk drivers kill people too …”
“Our thoughts and prayers …”
And on …
And in the meantime: Tanya Jackson, 50, Mohammed Haitham, 19, Christian Garcia, 15, Enrique Rios, 25, Rob Hiaasen, 59, Jessica Rekos, 6, Olivia Engel, 6, Noah Pozner, 6 …
Too many names. Names most of us forget even as we learn them. Names we’d never have even known if lawmakers served the will of the people over that of the powerful. And yet, names each representing irreparable holes blasted through countless neighborhoods, families and lives.
Which lends a painful, albeit implicit, indictment to what Alexis Knutson said. “I don’t want her name to be another name next to an age on a list.”
But how can it not? We’re dealing in volume here.
So, for the record, 10 people were killed last week in Boulder. Among them was a woman whose friend will miss her dimpled smile and early-morning phone calls.
Teri Leiker, 51.