Today we have a guest blogger, Erin Neathery. Erin is a creative director from Arizona who lost her husband, Wayne Henschke, to suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1991. Since then, she has become active in gun violence prevention as a member of Arizonans For Gun Safety, has advocated to keep guns off campus, and has coordinated events with the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. Here are Erin's observations on how gun violence has affected her....
I always knew a gun would alter my life. I have no idea how I knew, but I did. One of the most vivid dreams I ever had was when I was just 18 or 19 years old. I saw myself, clearly older, sitting in a chair, rocking a child, and I was staring into the barrel of a gun. Who was holding it? I had no clue. But the dream disturbed me enough that I wrote it down. And I remembered it years later, when a single gunshot shattered my life. In an instant, my husband was gone.
While I never had a burning desire to have children, I liked knowing I could do so one day. But my ovaries became diseased while I was still very young; and so my fertility and eventually the ovaries themselves, were gone. The child in my dream did not exist, and never would.
When the subject of children comes up, I exclaim, “Oh, my gosh! I forgot to have them!” Over the past 19 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at the acceptable responses. I know most people don’t mean to hurt by their words. I shrug it off most days, and I consider all children my own. I don’t have to be a parent to know they are precious.
IT, the bullet, the suicide, the aftermath, is something I rarely speak about anymore, and the few people who do know tend to forget it is part of my fabric. I try to never let it show. Some days it’s hard, like when people say things in passing like “I’m going to shoot myself.” Or do that awful pantomime where they make the gun with one hand, and mimic the bloodshed with the other. I just pretend to not really hear the words, or worse, visibly wince at the gesture. But each time I turn on the news, IT is all brought back fresh. Another life wasted. More lives shattered. More dreams destroyed.
And the pain is always there. It’s not all internal. It shows on my outside, through extra weight I carry, and in health issues stemming from prolonged periods of intense, unimaginable stress. On certain days, the pain is just lurking beneath the surface. And I’m never sure when those days will be.
When I am under stress, I dream of being chased; fleeing for my life. I am being hunted methodically and then I am shot point blank, or I am trying to protect loved ones (usually my nieces and nephews) from some unknown assailant’s bullets, shielding them with my own body as best as I can, trying to save them. Those dreams stick with me for a while before I can shake it off again, and go back to “normal”. I never talk about those.
Today, I understand that I suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), although I would be considered as very high functioning. It’s something I only recently recognized. I saw aspects of myself in the story of friend, who was brave enough to write a book in hopes of helping others. (She did. And is.) My self-diagnosis was confirmed by a doctor, years after the onset. What I do with that, I don’t know. But at least I can stop silently berating myself for not being over something that it may not be possible to “get over” because it has literally become part of my biological chemistry.
Yep, this girl has baggage that was thrust upon her by someone else’s actions, someone else’s undiagnosed, untended mental illness; one that ended for him that cold night in September, 1992 when he put a single bullet through his head at our home, leaving behind a huge pool of blood, bone and brain matter spattered everywhere, and an indelible stain on my life. I could have just as easily been a casualty that night. Actually, I was. I just wasn’t part of the body count. Nor were all the others who were affected by his death. The ripple, the aftershock, spreads further than you might imagine.
In more recent years, the sudden descent into the depths of mental illness happened twice within my own family, and I learned firsthand about the perils of the human mind unhinged, our health care system, and of just how far you have to push to get help for those who need it the most. Their right to be crazy trumps your right to try to get them proper treatment, to save them.
And so I’m still waiting for my pain to stop. I’ve had enough. I don’t mean that in the sense that I would put my family and friends through the type of suffering I have gone through. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, as the saying goes.
What I do I mean is that I am sick and tired of people going around shooting themselves and shooting one another, simply because they can access a gun. Even worse, they can get hold of big, juicy ammo clips that hold an awful lot of death and destruction, and then go forth and wreak as much death and destruction as they possibly can before they “punch their own ticket”, as my father says, or someone else puts a bullet into them.
That’s a tremendous amount of power and responsibility to hand out to whomever decides they want it and shouts that they have a right to wield it. No matter which side they’re on. Our forefathers would shudder at what we’ve become in their name.
I long to put my baggage down, but I’ve finally realized that the only way I can possibly do so is by picking up the proverbial pen and speaking out. I’ve made my living, and continue to do so, by writing for an ad agency. Over the 25+ years of my career, I’ve learned that every sales problem can be boiled down to a single point. “What’s the pain?” we ask. In this case, the pain is literal, the pain is widespread, and it’s time we talked about it. It’s time we stopped letting a relatively small group of powerful lobbyists for the NRA tell us we don’t matter, they will not negotiate EVER on gun control so don’t even TRY to take away our precious assault rifles or big juicy ammo clips again. I say BULLSHIT. The time for us to be heard and FIGHT is NOW.
So here I sit. Deciding to stop pretending it’s all OK, and asking myself what is the point of me, of anyone, having to suffer like this if we don’t learn from it; grow from it; effect CHANGE so that others don’t have to go through it. Indeed. And what about our collective pain? The things we’ve been touched by and grieved as a nation in my lifetime alone?
Dallas. The McDonald’s Massacre. Columbine. Memphis. Luby’s Cafeteria. Omaha. Virginia Tech. The Amish School. These sit at the top of my consciousness, but sadly, no, horrifically, there is no end to the daily madness and death toll by gun. Especially not for those directly involved. The people left behind after the news cycle. The ones left behind as the door closes quietly as the police take their leave. The ones who slump to the floor, trying to figure out whom to call first to break the terrible, awful, blood soaked news even as their hands shake uncontrollably, too unsteady to dial the phone. The ones trying desperately to learn how to simply keep going in the aftermath.
It’s so easy and so simple for people to push away the reality when it’s someone else’s child. Someone else’s father. Brother. Sister. Wife. Husband. Mother. Daughter. Son. Friend. It’s time to stop pushing things away, and start pushing for change.
And so I ask you, when is enough, enough?
And then there was Tucson. In the aftermath, our President challenged us all to be better people. To make this country a place that lives up to the expectations of a nine-year-old child who was born on the day this nation was stricken by an incomprehensible tragedy. A child who died on the day this nation was stricken by an incomprehensible tragedy. A child who we CANNOT allow to have died in vain.
Many died that day; others lived, and their stories were heart wrenching; they were valiant and most of all, they hit home. The young intern, who cradled Gabby Giffords to his chest and tried to staunch the flow of blood from her head.
The elderly man who shielded his wife’s body with his own. He gave his life so that she might live.
The mother who threw herself in front of her teen daughter, and was shot three times. My nightmare, playing out in full, bloody Technicolor. In real life, they both lived.
The kindly family friend who brought a bright, inquisitive nine-year-old girl to see their Congresswoman. Whose anguish at not being able to save this beautiful child entrusted to her care haunts her, even as she struggles to recover from three bullet wounds.
The two men who pinned the gunman to the ground, even as he struggled to reload.
The middle-aged mom who wrested a big fat, juicy clip full of death from the hands of the gunman as he struggled to reload.
The gunman, who was once a nine-year-old boy, the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of his parents. Now he’s forever the child who slipped away into madness, and took others with him.
These people are not someone else. They’re our family. Our neighbors. Our friends. THEY ARE US.
So when will enough be enough?
I’m sick and tired of hearing hateful words pouring out of people, and in turn, feeling hateful by being exposed to it. I’m sick and tired of ignorance and fear. I’m sick and tired of seeing homeless people who are clearly mentally ill, and who are homeless primarily because there is no health care available for them.
I’m sick and tired of the NRA shouting about the constitution and their Second Amendment rights and of zealots touting Second Amendment remedies. I’m sick and tired of politics and divisiveness and “us and them” mentality. We are ALL human. WE. ARE. ALL. HUMAN.
Since I was nine, more than one million sons, daughters, moms, dads, wives and husbands, neighbors and friends have been killed though gun violence and suicide by gun. ONE MILLION. And I look at my soon to be nine-year-old nephew, and I pray that he doesn't have to live in a world where this is acceptable, where this is the norm. I pray the same for the child down the block. And down the next one, and the next, to Tucson, and beyond. I don’t have to be a parent to know they are precious.
We don't have to live in a world where this is the norm. Why, I ask, is this acceptable? It’s NOT. We have to make a choice. Can we please have a civil discussion about what we want our society, and our lives and our children’s world to be like going forward?
We are Columbine. We are Virginia Tech. We are Tucson. We are human.
Don’t push away the reality because it’s someone else’s child. Someone else’s father. Brother. Sister. Wife. Husband. Mother. Daughter. Son. Friend.
It could just as easily be you, or someone you love. And if it were, would it be enough then?
When is enough, enough?
Please, please, let it be NOW.
Since the Tucson shooting on January 9, 2011, there have been more than 61 mass shootings.
ADDENDUM (From Baldr): If you know someone who is suicidal, there are some commonsense steps you can take to prevent tragedy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an excellent source to learn about suicide prevention and warning signs. Go here to find out about the risk factors and warning signs. Click here to find out what you can do to help prevent suicide. The C.A.R.E.S. suicide prevention organization is also a great resource.