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  • cassieebrown

When You Remember What You Are.

It’s an unseemly warm Ash Wednesday today. Bulb flowers are threatening to bloom before March, with stems and leaves pressing up through ground besotted with last year’s coffee-brown leaves. Things rot so other things grow.

I cheered my football team—the Chiefs—to Super Bowl victory in my living room on Sunday. And today, at their victory celebration in Kansas City, a mass shooting left victims in Children’s Mercy Hospital. And dead.

I am old enough that I grew up without active shooter drills. I left for college the year that Columbine left my peers afraid of kids in black trench coats, Marilyn Manson t-shirts, and fully automatic rifles.

I grew up seeing hunting rifles in gun racks in the pickup trucks my classmates drove into our school parking lot, before the Safe Schools Act, along with some light-hearted finger wagging, made them remove them.

Except during deer season. Somehow, administration seemed to look the other way when a kid rolled in, cheeks a cheery, cherry-red from the cold, hair all static-cling under a safety orange cap, proud as hell of the buck they’d bagged.

Somehow then, then, the guns were invisible.

Guns were woven into the fabric of my childhood. When handed a gun, I kept its muzzle controlled, never so much as tilted towards another person. I checked the safety myself, never trusting anyone’s word that “the safety’s on,” and never trusting that a gun with the safety thumbed would not kill. I was raised to treat every gun as loaded.

I hunted. This was the purpose of firearms, to me. I used them for shooting raccoons from atop the crotches of trees at night, spotting them by the reflection of eyes in my headlamp. I trailed behind my father for squirrels and rabbits. And I shared a tree stand with my father, though he got the ten-point buck that ran beneath our stand.

I remember the way the gunshot rang against my unprotected ears, an agonizingly long silence after the eye-stinging pain of the shot hit my right ear drum, bringing tears.

I knew what guns did.

I watched my father field dress game, a buck knife slicing into animals so recently alive that the steam that rose from their bellies could have been their spirits rising into the sky. I saw animals hung to bleed out and be skinned from the same tree in my front yard that held my favorite swing. I watched my mother butcher out animals on our kitchen table, wrapping them into neat brown paper packages that filled our chest freezers.

Guns were death, pure and simple.

Growing up, this was the kind of death that sustained life. It was a cycle, a season, a sacrifice. It was purposeful: culling to balance the white-tailed deer population while keeping my family fed.

When I heard of the Columbine shooting—high schoolers my age killed by high schoolers my age—something changed. The word “mass shooting” became more and more frequently used. It became an unholy, omnipresent word, but always, somehow, far away. Some hurt a lot because of the unbelievable innocence of the victims: Sandy Hook, Uvalde. Some lodged into a painful place in my heart because what happened felt so directed at my community: Pulse Nightclub. Some were crimes against groups I did not belong to, but I ached at the injustice: Monterey Bay, Mother Emanuel AME, Tree of Life Synagogue.

I cannot name them all.

I cannot remember them all.

Forgetting them feels like a kind of indictment.

Tonight, walking onto my porch, I looked up at the sky over my state’s capital. It’s a clear night, but the air still clings to the warmth of a day that broke into the mid-60s. I was barefoot on the porch of the place I call home while I work here. I spend my days working towards legislation to make this world kinder, healthier, and safer. Protecting queer kids. Advocating for childcare and education. Pushing for reasonable, rational gun laws.

I looked up at a sky inky black but still prickling with stars, and I pushed my hair, all split ends and lanky lines, out of my face. My barber will admonish me with his eyebrows when next I make it in, for waiting so long between haircuts.

And when I pushed back my hair, the ashes on my forehead rubbed onto the back of my hand. The ashes that remind me how short life is, and that I am made of dust.

The kind of dust that daffodils press through in a false spring. The kind of dust whose swirling comprises those stars up above my head. Those who shoot not to live, but to kill. They are dust, too. The kind of dust that made up every deer or squirrel ever parceled out on our kitchen table, whose blood sacrifice let me live. I am that.

I am only dust.

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Feb 15

I was heartbroken to see the active shooting at what should have been a wonderful celebration. It is all too common and we seem at a collective loss as to what to do about it. Thank you for sharing.

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