This Time Last Week

My father had a turn of phrase–I’m sure he still does–when we were growing up that he loved to use. “This time last week,” he’d say at the appropriate hour, “we were riding rides at Six Flags.” Or maybe it was something one of us kids had done, like gone on a church trip and called home from a pay phone somewhere to give our parents an update on the trip. Whatever it was, my father could uncannily remember exactly the time it had happened and remind us of it the next week around the same time. To preface my “This time last week” story, this is the blog I didn’t want to write. I’ve resisted and resisted, but it’s haunted me to write it and so here it begins…

This time last week I was still sitting in the office at work, as the hotel was still on lockdown after the unfortunate event that unfolded last weekend here in Vegas. (Disclaimer: I work at the opposite end of the Strip from where the event happened, about 1.5 miles away.) As I texted my family and friends and wrote on Facebook so that they could know I was okay when they woke up the following morning, the last hour of my shift at work felt more like working at a 911 crisis hotline than a five-star resort. The calls quickly went from vague inquiries to calls bordering on hysteria, including explicit calls from across the globe from incoming guests who knew more about what was going on than we did. (A catty British gentleman comes to mind who asked me, “Is this just another one of your American snipers or a deranged country music fan?”) The last call I took was from an in-house guest who had run all the way back from the concert, had gotten back up to his room right before the hotel went on lockdown, and was begging me to tell him where he could rent a car to drive back to Texas. When I told him unfortunately both the hotel and the airport were on lockdown and that no rental car agencies would be open, he asked me if any car lots would be open 24 hours so that he might pay cash for a used car to drive back home. The fear and trembling in his voice was of someone who–as he calmly told me–had just seen people shot to death right before his eyes.

Ninety minutes after I clocked out at midnight, we were told the lockdown was over and that we could come and go, “if you feel safe to do so” (big quotes). My manager at the time had been in an active shooter situation before and was both stoic and nonchalant about the current scenario. Even when we (falsely, as it thankfully turned out) got word around 12:30 AM that there was another shooter at Bellagio and that this was potentially a terrorist situation moving north up the Strip towards up, he was very calm and reassured us that we were in the safest casino on the Strip. While statistically true due to our top-notch Security and Special Investigations teams, it was not calming to think about being trapped in the building. As I walked out to the parking garage at 1:30 AM, sirens blared from all directions in an otherwise somber atmosphere. I turned on my truck radio to hear the start of the sheriff’s news conference, at which point only 20 people were confirmed dead. Once I got home I made sure all the doors were locked, but I once again felt like a caged animal. I decided to take my nightly walk to calm my mind and release some of the built-up pressure. As I finally went to bed around 5 AM, word was coming in about the accurate death toll of 58 confirmed dead. Having already taken twice my nightly herbal sleeping pill dosage to no avail, I popped an Ativan to calm my mind.

In the week since, I’ve heard and read many harrowing and heartwarming stories. (I’ve not watched any videos of footage after the event.) One of the college girls I’m close to at work has a sorority sister who was shot in the back at the concert and has a collapsed lung. She’s finally up and walking after being in critical condition. One of my friends normally catches a ride home from her friend who works at the casino where the event happened. My friend told me a couple of days ago that her friend witnessed bike cops riding through the casino as the event unfolded and that the tire marks are still on the casino carpet there. (I can neither confirm nor deny this.) Positive stories I’ve heard are about the Vegas community coming together for such events as blood drives, floral deliveries to the victims and families, and even a remembrance park being built downtown in a mere four days (a link to that *here* ).

The overwhelming numbness I initially felt has worn off a bit, but for whatever reason it’s still very hard for me to pray for my community and the people hurt by what happened. I make myself pray, of course, but who knows why it’s so hard and why I nearly have to force myself to make the words come out. Work has been very good about offering trauma counselling, both in person and via phone. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve gone to the library and the grocery store on my days off that I’ve wondered out of nowhere what I’d do if a shooter was in the building once I walked in. Or what we’d do if someone came in with a gun; I wondered this especially as I was enjoying the art gallery in the library near my house on Friday afternoon. The interactive sculpture exhibit was child-friendly and several mothers were in the gallery with their children, snapping photos of them crawling in and out of the tunnels made of tiny rubber snakes. (I couldn’t make this up…the artist is some acclaimed guy from Burning Man.) We would’ve been completely powerless to defend ourselves, just as these concert attendees were last Sunday night. The overshadowing takeaway I’ve had from all of this is that events like this will continue to happen across this country as long as mentally unstable people have such free access to weapons of any kind, which can even include vehicles these days. (Google any of the examples of unstable people running their cars into crowds.) And as long as mental health and the discussion of mental health is still such a taboo, we’ll continue to have people neglecting their own mental health. I’m not sure what the solution is, but surely by the grace of God there is one. As I also typed in the text I sent out early last Monday morning, “This is not the America I grew up in.”

“This time last week,” even more of my innocence was lost forever.


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