I’m headed back to Charleston. I’ve been away since Friday morning when, at 5 a.m. I boarded a flight to Atlanta, sleep in my eyes and a thick sweater on my lap. One of the first things my mother said when I walked into the house (in Virginia, you can’t get a direct flight to Virginia), “What were you going to do with that big sweater?” It was at least 90 degrees outside.
It was that hot when we walked out of our apartment on Friday morning, gasping at the thickness of dark air that left a thin film of sweat on our arms and legs. Charleston in June.
When we’d booked the flight home (when our mother did, she always does, maybe one day she won’t) we didn’t know that a massacre would occur in Charleston on the night of Wednesday, June 17. “Would occur” sounds pretty shitty, right? What, “happen” ? No. Destroy? Attempt to destroy? Invade? Kill.
We didn’t know that a 21-year-old shooter would kill nine people with a gun in a church. We certainly didn’t know that.
I was happy to be home this weekend. I hadn’t been home in six months, since Christmas. I love being with my family and sitting on my dock and tipping my head back into the sun, worrying the only worry that home every brings: wine or beer with dinner?
But I felt restless, too. Restless and helpless. I felt as I had on Thursday, at my desk at the newspaper where I work. I went into work when the killer was still on the loose. “They caught him!” I said to no one as I scrolled through Twitter. Twitter reloads faster on my phone than on my laptop. Refresh, refresh, refresh. What’s happening now?
I paced my office, shoulders slumped, coffee almost gone. What do I do, what do I do. Something so terrible had happened. And there was nothing that I could do.
People had already started captioning images with #prayforCharleston and #Charlestonstrong and I appreciated that. I honor the ways in which others seek solace, comfort, and understanding. But on that day I could find none of it. Today, still, I just don’t know.
I love Charleston. I may even venture to say that I am in love with Charleston. I miss her when we are apart. I spoke to a radio station on Thursday. They asked me for updates on the shooting. I was stunned. Did they not know everything? They didn’t have access to the local news stations that I did. They were simply too far away. “Do you think Charleston can survive this?” they asked. Or maybe it was more like “Do you think Charleston can pull through?” I said, “I hope.” I felt some guilt, later, at that comment. I was telling them how I personally felt. I could never speak for an entire city. I told them, “Oh no, not again.”
That’s what I cannot reconcile. I see the strength in the city and I am not surprised. Charleston has its flaws but god damn if we’d let someone walk in and hurt us. No, no, no. Then again, what do I know? In a few days I will have lived in Charleston for two years. I am 24 years old. I don’t know shit.
Because I see the strength but I also wonder, when will it end? All of it. People murdering other people. Cops murdering. Guns murdering (yes, guns). I am sad now but on Thursday I just think I was overwhelmed. Again?
You know when people say, “it could have happened to anyone?”
My friends and my mom texted me on Thursday morning and they asked, “Are you okay?”
Yes, I’m okay. I’m white.
There are all kinds of evil people in the world and the evil person who ripped into Charleston’s soul hated black people. Maybe one day we can all ask me if I’m okay when a serial killer with a fondness for brunettes attacks the Lowcountry. Today, though, I feel distant. I cannot feel the sorrow of the families, of the church, of Charleston’s black population. I do not know.
I wish that I could pray. I’ve never prayed. Well, that’s not true. When I was little, maybe until I was 10, I closed my eyes and clutched my baby blanket to my chest, “Dear god and heavens thank you for Mickey (aforementioned baby blanket), and (fill in approximately seven special childhood items as well as pets and families members repeated in rapid succession).” My prayers were whispered promises to myself. They were the beginnings of my later “you are going to be okay”s.
I feel the hope. As I see the images flood my Twitter and my Facebook I begin to cry. I wish to be there, wearing the blue shirts they are wearing, holding hands across the bridge I love so much. Let me be with you. There is possibility in hope. There is growth and there is renewal. But there is no magic. God, I believe in magic. I do. But nothing can bring back those nine people. How do we stretch our strength for those families? How do we extend it beyond our fundraisers and our vigils? How do we keep this from happening again?
I am young and naive. I’m coming into a self-righteousness I’ve never known before. I hate guns. I hate, hate, hate guns. I feel helpless in the face of their existence.
I visited the church this morning. As I walked there I picked flowers from various yards and trees. Crepe myrtles are in their full flush of pink, purple, white. Crepe myrtles love the hot.
The bouquets spill onto the sidewalk. Large canvases are covered in messages and names. “Rest in peace.” There is no space for me to write anything. I don’t know what I would say.
Mothers stand with their hands on their children’s heads, whispering into their ears. Are they comforting them? Warning them? Telling them, “I love you very much.” I see crosses and bible passages and I cry, wondering how long the flowers can lean against the white church before they begin to die. It’s probably too hot and sunny for them not to wilt.
I see a board decorated with the painted caps of water bottles. It reads, “Believe there is good in the world.”
I bend down and I place my flowers at its foot.