Trigger warning: gun violence.
How redundant: a trigger warning about guns. I’ve never put a trigger warning on my essays, but I don’t want what I’m about to discuss to hurt any reader who has already been hurt by gun violence. It’s a story about the day that mass murder came close to me and mine and the day after that when we cried on the kitchen floor.
One summer afternoon in 1999, my office phone rang. It was my first husband, herein known as Fartbuster, on the line. He didn’t sound anything like himself.
“Hey–um–I’m fine. Have you heard what’s going on? Everyone here is OK, but somebody shot some people in the building across the courtyard.” The SWAT Team had herded everyone in his office into the conference room and told them to block the door with the table–just in case. They thought the shooter had left the area, but they didn’t know for sure. Fartbuster’s office was on the top floor of an adjacent building, so he wasn’t in any immediate danger. But they couldn’t find the guy. He didn’t know how long they’d be sitting in the conference room. The police had to check every car in the deck, every room in every office, every stairwell and closet.
What a strange mix–the relief of knowing that he was OK along with the confusion of processing the idea that someone was shooting up the place where we sometimes met for lunch. After we hung up, I sat at my own desk and pulled up CNN to see what I could find out.
Not much, just that the financial district was locked down and my husband was right near the killing. No one knew who the shooter was or where he was or why he was shooting.
Soon Atlanta would find out that Mark Barton was the angry white man who decided to shoot up two brokerage firms because he was pissed off about losing all his money as a day trader. He killed nine and injured 13 in that rampage. Later, he shot himself when police cornered him at a gas station. He had also killed his wife and two children before he came to Atlanta.
Fartbuster made it home safely that night and went right back in to work the next day, past all the yellow tape at the scene of the murders. That night, he came home quiet, still in shock. Awful, just awful. All those lives and families. Awful.
He put his briefcase up on the ledge outside the kitchen and popped open the lock. He reached inside and pulled out something wrapped in cellophane and tied with a yellow ribbon. I stopped poking around in the fridge for dinner makings and peered at the package.
He held the little bouquet of flower-shaped cookies out to me. “Check this out–a bakery sent these over to every office in the building today. I think the property management company ordered them.” Cookies on a stick were The Thing in 1999, after Dippin’ Dots but well before the dawn of the cakepop. This gesture was so Buckhead.
I shook my head in disbelief. “You gotta be kidding.” He raised one eyebrow. In his best Stan Q. Salesman voice, he boomed, “We’re sorry you got shot at–enjoy a cookie on a stick…on us!”
I snorted. “Please accept our sincere condolences and this COOKIE. ON. A. STICK.”
It got worse from there. “One taste of our cookie on a stick will blow you away!”
“Workplace terror bringing your team down? Cheer them up with cookie on a stick!”
We both ended up in tears on the floor, laughing in shock or delayed relief or whatever it is you feel after a day like that.
How ridiculous, this world we found ourselves living in, where digital technology led to investments flickering across a monitor which led to gunfire at the office that culminated in a smiling daisy chocolate chip cookie on a stick.
And now, 15 years later, the violence has only gotten more commonplace. More than one mass shooting a DAY, this year. I know three people who have lost family members in gun rampages that end up on the national news.
This story came back to me after the massacre in San Bernardino, so close on the heels of Colorado Springs and Paris. And Charleston and Newtown and Umpqua and Aurora and and and…. all those scenes of flowers and candles laid in memory outside the doorways where people went in as normal folks only to be carried out later and enshrined in the long rolls of names of The Victims. Teddy bears and angels and cookies on a stick–is this the best we can offer them?