Loss comes in waves and is difficult to describe. At first the loss is the only thing you can see, snapped tight as a ripcord around your heart. Each absent thing is delineated against the background of what is there until what is missing is the only thing visible. But in time, the loss loses its sharpness, diffuses. The vanished footprints you used to see so clearly trail off into many paths never taken.
There is the old ache of looking alone at something over which your eyes used to meet other eyes, but there is the new ache of looking at something new a first time and knowing you will never know what they would have thought about it, that it is guesswork from here on out. And then there is the ache of watching the hole in the world close, like a wound, when there ceases to be room made for what is absent.
Imagine being careless enough and cruel enough to allow someone to punch such holes in the world deliberately, repeatedly, in the name of a lie. The lie is that we have no choice in this matter. The lie is that any effort, however common-sense, to restrict firearms or lower the capacity of magazines, is part of a vicious scheme to strip you of your freedoms. The lie is that this imaginary, vast conspiracy is more to be feared than these deaths that occur so frequently that we are almost out of synonyms for "horror." How do you tell someone he is a sacrifice worth making to preserve this lie? How do you tell a child?
On Sunday, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a 19-year-old opened fire on the crowd, wounding 12 and killing three. One of the dead was a 6-year-old boy.
Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said in 2018, after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, "For them, it is not a safety issue. It is a political issue. They care more about control and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms. What they want are more restrictions on the law abiding. Think about that, their solution is to make you, all of you, less free."
How does a gun become freedom? The answer is another lie, a nameless, faceless, lawless threat. Laws bind you. They are unbound by them. “Their laws,” LaPierre went on, “don’t stop illegal criminals from crossing our borders every single day. Their laws don’t stop the scourge of gang violence and drug crime that savages Baltimore, Chicago and every major American community. ... No wonder law-abiding Americans, all over this country, revere their Second Amendment freedom to protect themselves more than ever.” The gun is only necessary in the face of this manufactured, constant terror.
It is no coincidence that the same threat of the Other lurks in the shadows of all Donald Trump’s words. This is the same racist, xenophobic horror that has whistled through his whole campaign and presidency, the threat of faceless rapists and murderers from elsewhere — the horror that shadows even Baltimore into an ominous place where “no human being would want to live.” It is to fight these ghosts that we must arm ourselves! Never mind those, here, who kill in the name of this same fear. We must protect this fear at all costs.
And those who die from guns are not the only people we sacrifice on that altar. Those who die in custody at the border, in conditions in which "no human being would want to live" — they, too, are the casualties of fear. Fear tells us these losses are acceptable. Fear tells us that what is to be feared are the people fleeing to us for safety, and not the way we treat them.
In the blind worship of fear, we are losing real children. The world is being steadily shaped and hollowed out by these absences. And for what?
The lie is that this is how things must be. The lie is that to permit these deaths will not damage our world beyond repair, that these losses are acceptable and that change is not.
Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.