There is no “putting it behind you,” really. For Uvalde, there is a line in the sands of time: life before this and life after.
I had anxiety days before I even left to head home. Miles out of town there was already a baseball-sized lump in my throat. How do we go back, now? Our quiet hometown, once unknown to much of the world has been stripped of all anonymity.
Its innocence was exposed—and we’ll never get that back.
A Grieving Community
It’s strange really. I used to respond to the quizzical looks by saying, “Well, have you ever been to Garner State Park?” and work backward from there. The Tree City, the Honey Capital. Now, when we say where we are from, we are met with a solemn, “Oh.”
I think they all feel this way; the towns that make national news when mass shootings happen. If you weren’t from the area, you probably never heard of Sandy Hook or Santa Fe, either.
Watching talking heads on every news channel pick your town apart is gut-wrenching. Twisting words and throwing punches from the safety of their New York studio.
The sad thing is, the shots did not end when the shooter went down, did they? No. Shots were fired over and over at the police, leadership, governor, and anyone people could get their hands on. Rumors spread faster than a brush fire—and you can never quite put words back in your mouth once they’re out.
The problem with an ongoing investigation is that it is ongoing. There are still things to figure out but everyone wants an answer and they want it now.
Meanwhile, the community grieved.
Community members begged and pleaded not to have this tragedy politicized, but we all knew that was an unrealistic dream. The tension and the grief are palpable. You cannot take a gulp of air in Uvalde County without inhaling lamentation.
Every news station and every letter of government descended upon Uvalde, Texas like you stepped on an ant hill. My mother warned me that we might not be able to go to the memorial in the square because there had been reporters camped out there for weeks.
Following her best friend’s funeral, my cousin had a reporter in her face asking her how she felt. A stunned fourth-grader who was already confused about how to process saying goodbye to multiple friends in such a heartbreaking way.
There are signs of this tragedy several towns over. Windows painted with “Uvalde Strong,” crosses along the road, and signs on marquees. Once you hit the city limits, there’s no question something terrible happened here. It hangs in the air like an ominous cloud no one can shake.
There are mini memorials in various stretches along the highway. Multiple murals have been painted and the main memorial continues to grow as pieces of it deteriorate. The rawness is felt with everyone you encounter. It is the thread of every conversation.
This is not the town I knew. The ripple effects of one unimaginable act have impacted generations—and we have all felt the pain in varying ways.
Now, because we are corn-fed and dirt-bred, we will bounce back. One day people in Uvalde will be out on their porches again and you’ll hear children riding bikes in the streets.
One day the flowers will be cleared away and the square will be filled with lights or decorations or cast a seasoned shadow across a parade strolling by.
Not today. Not any time soon. But one day.
May 24, 2022, changed my family’s life forever. And the saddest part is, that this is not an anomaly. Memorial Day Weekend, there were at least 14 reported mass shootings.
At some point, we must call evil, evil because that’s what it is. We must recognize that there are very large problems in the world from mental healthcare crises to irresponsible gun laws as we navigate the effects of a confused and convoluted culture.
Ages ago, I had to memorize a poem for a presentation called “The Box” by Lascelles Abercrombie. In essence, it’s a box that is purposely locked up that contains the makings of war, but someone let it out.
As I sat slack-jawed on my floor, watching the body toll continue to climb as a result of the Robb Elementary shooting, the chilling prose came back to my mind:
“…it didn’t really seem to care
Much who it bumped, or why, or what, or for.
It bumped the children mainly.
And I’ll tell you this quite plainly,
It bumps them every day and more, and more,
And leaves them dead, and burned, and dying
Thousands of them sick and crying.
‘Cause when it bumps, it’s really very sore.
Now there’s a way to stop the ball. It isn’t difficult at all.
All it takes is wisdom, and I’m absolutely sure
That we can get it back into the box,
And bind the chains, and lock the locks.
But no one seems to want to save the children anymore.
Well, that’s the way it all appears,
’cause it’s been bouncing round for years and years…”
As fellow Uvaldean Matthew McConaughey so eloquently said, “We have to take a sober, humble, and honest look in the mirror and rebrand ourselves based on what we truly value. We have to get some real courage and honor our immortal obligations instead of our party affiliations.”