old hat close to home

As I approached my street on the way home from work, my heart froze.  A sense of dread came over me. I felt hot and numb and nauseous, the feeling strongest in my gut. The scene was one I’d witnessed before but the familiarity proved to be of no help today. Police cars, news vans and people were sprawled all around. Yellow police tape blocked streets and alleys. I slowed the car and rolled down the window of my VW Beetle. Outside the car window stood one of several small groups of people. A couple and a single Father with his daughter were standing together. The girl looked to be about 8 and had perfect braids and a pretty pink dress. As I asked the dreaded question, my eyes kept diverting to the little girl. She was standing near her Father, swinging her arms, looking relaxed and maybe just a tiny bit bored. The little girl smiled at me, her chin tucked under, looking up at me shyly with dark brown eyes. She was not shielded from the conversation. As the woman told me what she knew about the shooting, I watched that little girl. There were no obvious signs of distress. The conversation may just have well been about cookies or weekend plans. She waved at me as I slowly drove away.

I turned onto my street, barely able to squeeze between the car and news van that were parked on either side of East Columbia. The guy from the van, carrying a huge camera, let me know I had plenty of room on the other side. “You’ve got at least two feet over here”, he said. All in a day’s work, I thought, helping a driver navigate between two vehicles while on the way to shoot footage of a crime scene, witnesses and such. Following him was the  tall, dark and handsome one, the young man I saw on the news later that night. He had interviewed the victim’s Mother who had found her 41 year old son in the front yard, bullets in his back and legs.

Later that night, before I went to bed, I thought about that little girl again. I remembered when I was eight years old and heard, while in my third grade classroom, that JFK had been shot and killed. All the feelings I experienced that day came back to me and they were as clear and strong as the day I heard them over the loudspeaker at my elementary school. It was the first time I’d ever heard news about a shooting and it was a long time later before I heard of anything like that again. I thought about that little girl with the braids and pretty pink dress and I had to wonder if she’d remember later how she felt when she heard the story again about the man in her neighborhood who had been shot. I wondered if she had already heard enough stories or seen enough television to where the neighborhood shooting was pretty much old hat.

And then I felt very sad.

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