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Near Highland Park Part 2: The Aftermath

Dedicated to all those at the HP parade whose lives are forever changed.

I wish someone would invent invisible armor. Hospitals could give it away in their take home bags after labor. Here’s some padsicles, a few mesh diapers, and a shield for your heart to prevent it from breaking. And don’t forget this magic helmet, that will help you think straight post-trauma. Wouldn’t that be nice? And certainly useful.

On the 5th of July, the day after we were rushed out of a neighboring festival since the shooter was still on the loose, I walked with Autumn to the park. Although the route was usual, everything felt different. As cars drove by, I imagined machine guns peeking out windows. When I saw a bike with a kid trailer by the slide, but no people, I wondered in what dark corner they were being held hostage. It was like I was wearing lenses showcasing all the potential “What Ifs,” and I couldn’t get them off.

And that was just me. Someone not even at the parade.

“I don’t think everyone is seeing the world this way now,” my mom said.

But I have the blessing and curse of a mind that wanders, paths from the known quickly meandering into uncharted waters. My vision eased a bit later, and over the next few days, returned to normal – until the concert. The Laurie Berkner concert we had been anticipating that’d take place in Highland Park. Some were putting their tickets up for sale. A big gathering with lots of kids so soon after the tragedy on the 4th. Was it careless to go? Or silly to skip?

“I don’t know,” my sister texted when I asked her opinion. No one did. “I’m sure there’ll be tons of security.”

But I couldn’t count on guards to save us. And I couldn’t help but think of all those families not going as similar to people who took the day off from work on 9/11. And so I pondered more, looking for signs from the Universe. The day of the concert, while strapping Autumn into her car seat, I got one.

“Toddy crying,” she said. Our dog rarely whimpers when we leave. Maybe he knows something? Or maybe I’m imagining? I cleared my mind. He just wants to come. It’s not a supreme warning. And Autumn and I went.

Driving there, I thought about the cloudy weather. So nice it’s cooler, but also, is it setting the mood for what’s to happen? And when I realized it never got too crowded at the sold-out event, I was grateful, but also curious. Did I put us in harm’s way? I thought of something my driver’s ed teacher said:

“Always have an out,” referring to a place to veer off if necessary, but certainly applicable to a potential large-scale attack. Where would I run? What about now? Then, to haze things more, from the stage, Laurie said:

“Bang, bang, bang,” the clanging of a hammer from her song followed by her sprawling out — a pretend nap — on the stage. Both innocent, and also scary.

Now I’m sitting here, days post-concert, Autumn napping, aching for the people who were at that parade. Who heard the bullets. Who didn’t run from the report of a gunman, but who ran from an actual gunman. The eight-year old who went to bed one day healthy, and the next paralyzed in critical condition. The mom who’s sitting by his side, holding his hand, praying. And I can’t help but think about how far we’ve come with technology, but how it’s still impossible to erase from time one day’s occurrence, one hour, or even ten minutes.

And how it’s all so unfair. How it should be simpler. How bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. How we work so hard to learn what’s right so we can be the best parents, and then so many external forces grab hold anyway.

And also, how strong we must be, despite no invisible shields, that we somehow, in the face of fear and uncertainty, muster up the fortitude to…

Mommy On.

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