What if this is how I die?
I take a deep breath and let it out. I’m being ridiculous.
But what if I’m not? Those kids at that school (any of the schools). Those people at that concert, at that theatre, at that grocery store, at that office building, that temple. I doubt they looked around and thought, “Maybe someone will murder me today.” And with the amount of hate being lobbed at queer folks lately, specifically trans people and drag queens, maybe it’s not so ridiculous to worry.
Where is the nearest exit? The host—a queen wearing a sequined dress, a big, blonde wig and two days’ stubble—never told us to take note, like they do on airplanes. Or like I do with my children when they come home talking about the active shooter drills they have at school. Know where the nearest exit is, and run like hell, we always tell them.
I’m in one corner of the hall, and there’s a door behind my left shoulder. It goes to the kitchen, I think. There’s no red lettering above it advertising a way out. Maybe I could hide back there, though, crouching under a prep table or huddling inside a walk-in freezer with the staff as they pray to Jesus and wonder if I’ll ever hug my kids again.
If the guy was determined enough, though—if he were hateful enough or crazy enough or nihilistic enough—we’d be fish in a barrel, and no appeal to a higher power would make a difference.
A queen wearing a sheer bodysuit dances her way down the aisle, collecting $1 bills from eager patrons as she lip-syncs to a gospel song. I should have brought earplugs. This music is so loud, it would probably mask gunfire.
There’s no shooter. But my eyes dart around the rhinestone- and crystal-encrusted room anyway, squinting against the periodic flash of blue light from the disco ball overhead.
The sign in the corner opposite our table, white with tall red letters, catches my eye. There’s no door to the outside, though, and I register the word on the sign: STAIRS. The balcony overlooking the ballroom, with vintage art covering the pink glitter walls, offers a refuge away from the melee. But it’s no escape. Only the bathrooms are up there, tucked away above the stage. If he found us in there, we’d be cornered. And that’s if my old knees could carry me up there before he took me down.
I finally find the exit sign in the last corner I check. The entire ballroom stretches between me and that door. There are 300 people in this place, and my family would be the last to get out.
The table, maybe. I test its heft with a hand. Feels like flimsy particle board under the tablecloth, the kind you’d fold up and move into a storage room to clear the floor for a rager of a dance party. It’s big enough for one, maybe two of us to hide under. There are five of us.
It wouldn’t matter anyway. Nothing would, really. He would shoot the people he shot, miss the people he missed, probably not even register the pleading and crying and bargaining. Would I plead or cry or bargain? Would there be time? Or would my light wink out in a moment, my identity reduced to one of many who went out for a fun morning and never came home?
I look back to the door we came in, closed now against the late-morning light. Is it locked from the inside? I bet it is. And a door on a commercial building like this must be pretty heavy and hard to breach.
Another dancer has taken the stage. “She’s live singing, folks, so give her some love,” says the host. I put my hands together and cheer for the performer whose name I can’t hear over the shouting and the music.
I allow myself to be comforted by the presumption of a heavy door, a heavy lock. What choice do I have? The biscuits and gravy are good. The mimosas are bottomless. And, so far, shots haven’t broken out. I allow my anxiety to dissipate into its usual background hum and grab a dollar bill.
But, in the back of my mind, a mantra has formed that I’ll carry with me whenever I’m in a public place.
Know where the closest exit is, and run like hell.
I wish the right people could read this or listen to your voice, and by that I mean the people who are holding us back from fixing this incredible problem with guns and violence. Your words are haunting and perfect in how they capture that reasonable fear of not knowing if we will be the next victim. The joy that was taken from your day, your experience... that matters. This fear takes up so much space in our lives.
But also, thank you for writing this. However much time you spent thinking, editing, kicking it around, it was time well spent.
I've spent most of my adult life working in aviation, where we learned the hard way that there is no limit to hate, or nihilism- especially if it's in the name of jihad. I don't mean to oversell it, but the in a lot of ways the culture wars feel the same way radical Islamic fundamentalism (ISIS, etc.) does.