I am safe, but I am not okay

The texts started rolling in around 4pm MDT. I got out of the pool and chatted with my coach and made my way, soaking wet and hair freezing stiff, back to the car. I glanced at my phone before heading home and my only thought was, I can’t. I don’t want to know.

You might think, well, she must be thinking if she doesn’t know about it, it won’t be real. She can delude herself into believing a situation is truly non-existent if the details are fuzzy enough. But it wasn’t that. I knew what had happened, even though I didn’t open twitter or the news app, even though no text message mentioned the actual event. You just know.

My adult life has been punctuated by these alerts. First in the form of an interrupted business economics class–why we were watching basketball during class on April 20th will never be quite clear to me, but that our world had dramatically changed was crystal–then in this form, text messages.

Are you safe?

Is your family okay?

Please tell me your parents weren’t grocery shopping this afternoon.

Because you know where someone’s parents grocery shop. It’s the same grocery store you shopped at when you lived down the street from them. It’s where you bought yourself a package of peanut M&Ms once a week to try to forget for five minutes about how difficult grad school was. It’s next to Neptune’s where you had your teles mounted after too many years of them sitting in a closet. It’s next to the Sun, where you played hours and hours of Scrabble and celebrated Stout Month every February and met that one boyfriend who later married your friend’s labmate and grabbed a beer with your roommates after learning to fly fish. It’s where you carpooled with your roommates to grab groceries and to debate Colorado’s then-archaic blue laws.

Because it’s a small town, Boulder, and for me, it was home, for a long time. Boulder is the place I lived longer than any other besides my childhood home. It’s home for me in all the ways a home is, and so many more, because it’s where I made my own way as an adult, as an economist, as a feminist, as a scholar, as a friend, as a lover.

But I couldn’t be the one to send those text messages yesterday. I could barely read the ones I received. I texted some friends to tell them I loved them, but not anyone who I knew would have been in harm’s way. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t ask whether my stich n’ bitch crew was okay. I couldn’t check in with folks who I knew were still there. I couldn’t even read the news, waiting until this morning to know how many died, waiting until I’d gotten through a difficult conversation with my CEO to know their names.

Because we’ve done this so many times before. Because I’ve gotten these text messages while skiing, upon arriving to a hotel in Kolkata for a wedding, leaving classes and meetings and doctor’s appointments. Because so many moments in my adult life have been shadowed by this dread of not knowing whether someone I loved, or was part of my community, or I just had been at drivers’ ed with had been wantonly gunned down by someone who had encountered no trouble accessing weapons.

So, yes, I am safe, as I posted on twitter yesterday in the only form of outreach I could muster. But I am not okay.

Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

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