Postcard #38: Morning After Tragedy, In Living Colors

The colors of my first reaction burst in a hot rainbow of anxiety.

Alarm_Shock My heart is hit, my head is hurt, the ache is sudden, my whole body slammed with the numb heat of panic, and my arms go heavy with emptiness. I feel as if one of my own has been attacked. I put myself immediately into the scene described to me. I imagine my brother, my nephews, my friends… they could be there, this could be about them, this could happen here or anywhere.

Pink Pink is not always a color I associate with cute things. Pink is in the thick of our insides, in our brains, in the guts, it’s a sore color, a raw color, the color of scraped skin…  This pink is electric, it is peeled off me, it is irritated, it has kept me alarmed and wanting relief.

Hurt_in_the_HeartThe hurt cools into an icy concern — an unsettled sparkling of chills that tickle over the skin of my arms, neck, and legs, manifesting into goose-bumps to the point where I feel as if I am made of prickly pear cactus.  This ache is hollow, makes my stomach rumble as if I’m hungry, and I get dizzy, about to faint.  When I close my eyes, this is the color I see behind my eye lids.
Sense_out_of_MadnessWhen shock stings me, the only comfort to keep me standing is to reach for reason. Why did this happen? Who did this? Why did they do this? Were they mentally ill? Or were they just cruel? What would drive someone to do something like this? Why did these people have to suffer? Why does their demise make me suffer? The questions feel like answers, just asking them brings me out of the stupor of alarm.
indigoAnd then… I find my calm by turning within. I separate myself from my alarm and plug into something more powerful than myself. You can call this God, or The Gods, and this is the color that comes forth first as fear gives way to devotion.  Yet this color here is not a true indigo, it is more a violet-blue, a kind of midnight neon light indigo that reminds me of distant car lights or the deepest blue of faraway stars.  That distance takes me away from the helplessness of troubles I can do nothing about because the tragedy happened to other people in another city a long ways away from me, and what can I do immediately about it anyway?  Throw money at it?  Take a road trip there just to hold strangers and cry with them?  So I pray.  I connect with the indigo light and pray.


These are the colors of the theater, almost neon, bright, yet fading, as dawn rose out of the screaming night, and sun woke the nation into mourning.


It happened in Theater 9

“And you see a black – see like a – it’s a black dude figure come in, he was in all black with a black mask on. Come in, he throws like a teargas bomb. Everybody thinks it’s like an act or like it’s just part of the movie…”

“And then he brings out like his little rifle and starts shooting. And you see it’s real because you can see the fire and you hear everybody in panic, and I just ducked down and ran out. And as I was running out, like the teargas, it was like stinging my eyes and you just hear everybody in a panic.” — Shale Jackson, a survivor (from NPR’s first report on scene)


He was alone, they said, and called himself The Joker.  He even sported orange-red hair, but no one could see it because all he wore was black.  He was nothing…  not even black.  No thing.  No one.  Nobody.

That’s why I think he did it.

He ran away.  He left a trail of booby traps and threats… but all I see is his cocky, grinning university identification photo on my television screen smugly egging everyone on to attack him. He is thrilled to be not nobody anymore.

He is enjoying infamy.

Don’t give in to it.  He wants to be famous.  He wants to be celebrated as a killer.  He wants to be considered crazy.  He’s not really deranged.  He’s nobody.  NOBODY.  He even had to use a fictional character to hide behind!

And it’s not Batman’s fault!


Watching the news… I gasped. The parents threw their bodies on their children to save them, children bumped into lifeless adults trying to get them to move… and one 24-year-old woman had, just a week ago, escaped a mall shooting only to fall prey to the bullets shot by the gunman in Theater 9.

Cold_HandsI like to think the deaths were instant. That no one suffered. That the bullet blasts hit hearts and heads dead-on fast, but I know all too well how sloppy amateur gunmen are. How bullets don’t hit clean and often miss and hit at random. I know the stench of the smoke, the sound and spark, burnt blood, powder, the sensation of the spray, the screams, and the cold hands, the sudden panic and the just as sudden and unreal stillness. No one need ever experience this. This belongs to war. This does not belong here. Every time I hear the pops, the fire cracks, even when I just smell gun powder and recognize the unnatural scent of hot blood combined with… don’t let me say it anymore because it is terror to me, to all, and keeps me away from the crowd.

It is the cold hands of friends I held as they faded. Saw their last gasp. Felt festival swing to tragedy… I weep for the dead when I party. No one understands it. You should never have to. Don’t dare study it. Don’t let the news expose you too much to it. Let go of it before it destroys your life and keeps you in the dark.

you_bitchShe’s a kindly one, if you let her be. She’s the color of blood and kisses, roses and dear misses. She reminds me of the deepest pink and red funeral flowers laid to rest over coffins, just like the bodies — the naked shells — of people I loved (that you loved, too), laid down on white satin inside those coffins. This is also the color of dying and dead flesh that lies beyond the cosmetic shell of the corpse. It’s beautiful and disgusting. We don’t want to think about “her” and so we get angry — anger is at the heart of sadness. We are angry our dead are gone.

Traces_of_TearsLike smoke, like silver, like rain, like slug slime, almost rain, spit shine, drawing lines through carefully made-up cheeks and melting mascara… I hate tears. You probably do, too. Even if they are necessary, even if they show up to go along with all the grieving, they have a habit of making the eyes swell up red, the noses run, and the head well up with ache. I can even “smell” tears on people. It is almost like sweat, but everyone’s tears smell different, just like everyone has a different scent. When in a group of mourners, the smell of tears is akin to the combination of sea salt, vinegar, piss, mineral oil, wet moss, with a hint of bleach. Even when I see mourners on television, I can recall the smell, but there is a metallic tinge to it that makes my teeth hurt and I cringe.

One wish I have: to lend my body so they can embrace me to numb their pain.  They can squeeze me to death, if they must.

PsychopompurpleIt’s in the wine we drink to swallow away the thoughts, the feelings, the anxiety. To wash away the ugly and leave behind nothing but the beauty that was who we loved. We need a psychopomp for the living adjusting to the dying. We already have midwives for births and even midwives for the dying… There must needs someone, something to guide us out of the tragedy, guide us away from revenge, guide us into surviving and striving. Perhaps our psychopomp are our own beloved dead. Having died, they influence us to LIVE.

dried_landI didn’t plan to wake up to reports of tragedy, yet today I did. Despite recent rain, I still woke up to dried land. Feeling stronger, I still weep, but not over the dead. I weep for the living who have lost and who survived. I weep for the ones who will know the suffering of trauma. You don’t know for a long while. The body puts you into this state of alert after the trauma happened and then you grow numb. The numb can last for years. Then a trigger is pressed — just like the gun that killed — and the tragedy plays out all over again when you are some place safe and all logic won’t matter and then there are years to go to brave the trauma, to make it a friend, to use it to fight and realize you’re stronger, better somehow, then you’ve ever been. Some survivors get it right away, some never do, some live on inspired and motivated to heroes, others hide and fade. We never know how we will end up until we face trauma. The color of having survived to see the dead you saw die get buried in the graves that could have been yours, is the deepest brown red cavern color that welcomes you into the void. Dark and dry, it goes down into a forever where you don’t know you’ll ever come up from. You can stare into it until you feel you are there, or…

We can get up, dust it all off our knees, and let the tragedy die but never let the beloved dead disappear without honor.

I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning to watch victims and survivors exploited.  I don’t want the gunman to have his fame.  I want peace to blanket Aurora, Colorado — as I wish it to over all places wounded by violence — because we should be shocked everyday over the many tragedies that happen in our world!  There are TOO many shootings that occur that never get media attention simply because they are not happening to Americans.

And that, my friends, is the tragedy behind our every tragedy.


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