Worse than monsters
We are worse than monsters; at least vampires are afraid of garlic.
That would be a cheap joke directed at Gilroy, California, if it were in fact a joke, but it’s not a joke, because I’m not laughing. No one is laughing.
Well, that’s not entirely true, is it? Someone is, or this wouldn’t be happening.
I used to suspend the humor in my column to write about the mass murders when they happened. To ignore them felt like a violation of my privilege. To say nothing was to be complicit. The first time was Sandy Hook. It took me weeks to decide whether to say anything in this space. Folks come here for a laugh. I decided to write about it. But then the shootings kept coming and coming. If I were to write about all of them, this weekly column would have to be taken from the lifestyle section and moved into the obituaries.
The most recent one I wrote about was Pulse in Orlando. Or maybe it was the country music festival in Las Vegas. I can’t remember anymore. The columns had to stop. I needed to smile again. We all do. And small little humor columns and comic strips and playful opinion pieces serve an important purpose. Even if you just barely crack a smile, a crack is enough to let light in.
I don’t know much about the Gilroy attack. I haven’t been able to research it. Not for lack of time but for lack of nerves to spare. I asked my friend who immigrated here from Lebanon after surviving a war — shrapnel still in her shoulder and back from bombs that had fallen through her apartment complex, through her school — how people could possibly stay living in a war zone. She said quite simply that the war zone itself becomes home.
Is this home?
My son is going into first grade. He spent his summer in the woods. The camp counselors covered themselves in furs and feathers. They taught the kids to forage for mushrooms and smooth rocks to give to the Old One, moss growing from her head instead of hair, in exchange for a clan in which to belong. We all have to belong somewhere, my son says.
“Where do the monsters belong?” I asked him.
“To each other,” he said.
My son was chosen first by the Old One to be a blue jay. And then he was an owl. Ah, good, I thought. He has feathers. He can fly far, far away.
The counselors painted my son’s face with war paint. They hung outlines of monsters on bulletin board paper from the trees. The children crafted spears from arrowheads and bamboo. They charged the woodland monsters. They were victorious every time. The monsters were flimsy — quite literally paper-thin. They fell to the ground, drifting like dried leaves. The children rejoiced. They’d been to war. They were victorious. They had defeated the monsters.
I wonder whether this is why we, as a nation, still act as if we have this all under control, as if change need not happen. The monsters have come at us from under the beds and inside the closets and around moss-covered trees, and we’ve defeated them. They never had a chance. Like the Old One, who claims to be older than the trees but younger than the hills, monsters have been among us for a long time. And still we stand.
But we have become worse than monsters.
The numbers are growing, with no antidote in sight. Antidotes are for monsters, not us. And I’ve checked out because when I check in, I am disgusted with myself. With my inaction. With my acceptance. With my frayed nerves that keep me up at night. With still choosing to send my kid into the world, out the door with a Pop-Tart and a prayer as if they were the same damn thing, as if either could nourish him.
“You tell yourself that you’re living at home,” my friend said. “Not a war zone, home. So you lose sight of how bad it is until it’s too late.”
I don’t want this column moved to the obituaries page. I wish garlic were the only thing necessary to protect us all.
“Did you know that blue jays come back to the same home every year?” my son told me when I picked him up from camp. “Even if a snake ate their babies there last year.”
Katiedid Langrock is a
nationally syndicated columnist.