This morning, I went to the grocery store. It was a simple thing to do, something I have done countless other mornings. Something I did last year, this same day. January 8th. Last year I left the house to go to the grocery store; only, first I was stopping to meet a new friend for coffee. You know what happened next; I wrote about it here, last year. My new friend and I shared a coffee across the parking lot from the shooting. I stared out the window at the first responders as they pulled up, having no idea what had happened, at first.
After my friend and I parted ways that morning, I stopped at the grocery store, just the way I’d planned (not THE Safeway, mind you, but another store, a block away). It was such a simple thing to do, a silly thing almost. I probably should’ve gone straight home. But instead I found myself walking around the store aimlessly, piling things in my cart without really paying attention to what they were or what I needed. I paid; I drove home. I put the groceries away. My hands were shaking. I was numb. The next morning, I could not find half the things I bought at the store, things that were recorded on my receipt as paid for. I checked the car, called the store. Nothing. Half the groceries were gone. In hindsight, I suspect I might have accidentally thrown them away in my stupor rather than putting them away. Because two or three bags of groceries, couldn’t just disappear.
I thought about it this morning. It has been a year, I told myself. And that is the detail I recalled first: the missing groceries. Already, my memory of that morning has become fragmented and hazy, fogged over with shock, I guess. Then I recalled driving back to the store the next day to re-buy the things I’d lost. They were easy to reclaim; they were only things after all. Food. But other things were not so easy for me. Walking back into that grocery store again, the next day, I was suddenly afraid. Anything could happen. Any time. Any place. I felt exposed. I felt that way for weeks, possibly months, this horrible sinking feeling every time I had to leave my house to go out into the world. Worse, I’d imagine how the people closer than I had been were feeling, and I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t.
I didn’t write for a while last winter. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that at first, I couldn’t. I had no words; no stories to tell that seemed worth telling. I read a lot of news, especially about the shooting and the victims, how they were doing, how they were moving on. I stared at a blank Microsoft Word document for weeks. I have always been good at writing my emotions, and so I kept pushing myself just to write something, just to make myself write through it somehow. I knew it would help me. But for a little while, I couldn’t write anything.
Last spring my words came back. Slowly, I forced myself to begin a new novel. At first, I thought I would write a novel about a shooting – because it was what I was thinking about, what I was feeling. I would do what I was good at, writing my emotions. But a few chapters in, I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe it will always be too soon?
Then I started something else. Something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but wasn’t sure how, and then suddenly, I was. I was sure of nothing else but this. I was breathing again. I was writing again. The words were all there, and so were the emotions. -- my new character was experiencing so much of what I had, loss and grief, and also, hope.
After I began writing again, I fell into the story. I slept it, ate it dreamt, obsessed over it, and then, the fear slowly began to subside. Going to the grocery store became just going to the grocery store again.
This morning, I went to the grocery store. I wasn’t afraid anymore. But I was filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. It has been a year. It feels like a lifetime, or maybe, only hours. My memory is already fragmented, but that doesn't mean I will ever forget.