At 8.30 yesterday morning, I sat in a cold, quiet veterinarian’s office with my mother-in-law and the two family cats in carriers on either side of me. As we waited for the vet to call us in for Boo and Meesa’s yearly check ups, I stared out a window looking onto the street. A pretty unremarkable day to say the least. I dazed off a bit watching the cars go by when my mother-in-law, Dee, interrupted my daydreaming. 'Did you hear about the shooting in Las Vegas?' she asked. I replied that I hadn’t, to which she responded, 'Two people died.'
As awful as it is to admit, in this day and age when we’re so desensitised to violence, my first thought was, 'Well that’s not that many…'
I pulled my phone out and searched for an article that would shed some light on what happened. And on the front page of Yahoo I saw the headline: ‘Two dead, at least 20 injured in Las Vegas shooting’. I scrolled through the article quickly, but there weren’t many details yet including who the shooter was. I put my phone away thinking maybe it was gang violence and two people were where the body count would end.
We finished up at the vet and took the cats home, at which point I braved the chilly British autumn to go to my own doctor’s appointment. This visit would mark my fourth to her since I started taking my anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. I explained I’d yet to see any consistent changes in myself and I was still regularly experiencing panic attacks and depressive moods. She advised me to give it one more month and if I saw no further changes we’d make an adjustment to my medication. I pulled my phone out as I left her office and began walking towards home, searching Yahoo for any update on the Las Vegas shooting story from earlier. On top of the picture of the Mandalay Bay hotel was a new headline: 'Latest: Las Vegas attack leaves 50 dead in America’s worst mass shooting'.
I felt the air leave my chest as I stopped in my tracks, furiously swiping up to ingest more information.
'Two off duty police officers dead…200 people injured…gunman killed…'
Almost immediately I was transported back to June 2016 when the Pulse shootings happened in my hometown of Orlando. I had also woken up that morning and seen a similar vague headline referencing a shooting taking place, but nothing overtly alarming. As the morning progressed I began getting calls from loved ones back home advising me to watch the news. On every British network, there was footage, both live and pre-recorded, of Pulse Night Club and the area around it. Bloody people ran from the club into the arms of officers, and other officers stood behind their cruisers waiting for their next orders. And much like with Las Vegas, the news went from reporting a few injuries to 40 deaths and counting.
The Pulse shootings hit me hard because it was a place that I had made beautiful memories in with my friends. I wasn’t just seeing the outside of the club on the news; I was also seeing the inside of the club in my mind. I was imagining the glitzy entryway that I’d walked through a dozen times. I’d stood on that same stage right next to the door to the main dancefloor overlooking all the clubgoers and male dancers. I envisioned the illuminated long bar and the leather booths rented out for birthdays or bachelorette parties. I’d sat in the very cozy back room by the bathrooms and secondary bar, waiting for a drag show to begin. I burst into tears seeing the images on the screen. That was my home. I had wonderful nights out with my friends that would end with us drunkenly singing as we left Pulse, walking across that same parking lot that people were currently dying on.
It wasn’t long before the news started calling it 'the worst mass shooting in American history'. In Orlando? Home to ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? It didn’t feel real. You always see things happen on the news and feel awful, but you never think something of a major scale could or will happen in your hometown. My friends and family were all okay, but some would later find out they had lost loved ones of their own. What can you say? How do you console someone through the inconsolable?
I went to a vigil the next evening in Soho wearing my Orlando City Lions jersey. I was heartbroken, but I was still proud to be from Orlando. Thousands of people showed up to show their support for a city 4,000 miles away. And as they released balloons into the sky, I broke down becoming so overwhelmed with emotions. A complete stranger, who’s name I never got, embraced me. 'We’re all feeling it, love. It’s going to be okay.' And I thought that might be true. Maybe THIS would be the catalyst to creating comprehensive gun control. We surely couldn’t let something of this magnitude happen again. But we did.
As, I’m typing this the news is reporting the police found multiple rifles in the Las Vegas shooter’s hotel room. The shooter, who by the way was a Caucasian male; not a radical Muslim terrorist as many Yahoo commenters were so quick to assume. But please don’t assume just because he was white that he wasn’t a terrorist. The news has conditioned us to only associate that word with people of the Islamic faith, but it’s not reserved for any one type of person. Stephen Paddock was a terrorist. He, like Pulse Night Club shooter Omar Mateen, murdered innocent people in senseless acts of violence. He ended the lives of over 50 people, but more so he altered hundreds, if not thousands, of other lives forever.
I feel anxious. I can’t turn on the TV or read anymore articles. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, but I don’t feel mentally able to handle another day of mass loss of life. I feel afraid nearly every day I have to leave the house. Is someone randomly going to throw acid in my face? Am I going to get robbed? Is someone going to try to blow up the tube or bus I’m on? Is someone going to drive into the crowd I’m walking amongst? What would I do if someone ran into this club or restaurant and started attacking people? I have to change my route because I can’t stand to go over Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, or Borough Market and see where people were murdered.
But that’s what all terrorists want. They want to change the way we live our lives. The way we treat each other. And even though it’s not so easy for me to challenge the way my mind works, I don’t want to live my life in fear. But I think in order to do that, I need elected officials to make some changes. Americans need comprehensive gun control. Britons need tougher regulations for who can buy corrosive materials, or rent massive vans. There are certain things we can’t control, but we can make it that much more difficult for those who want to do us harm.
How many more innocent people have to die before we stop allowing their deaths to be in vain?