We are a tight knit group, those of us who were there to shake Gabby's hand on January 8, 2011. Contrary to reports floating around on the interwebs, we are not a group of actors who knew one another before that morning. We didn't stage the event; we were there when it happened to us, unwilling participants in a spark that ignited the current frenzy over sensible gun control legislation. That is the public piece of it all. The private piece is much more special.
We each have a role to play in the on-going drama that is our lives, post getting-shot-on-a-sunny-Saturday-morning. Some of us talk to the media, some of us organize get-togethers, some of us lobby on Capitol Hill. Each of us acts, in some small way, as a representative of the larger group. Not everyone has the same set of skills in their toolbag; together we're a fully functioning unit.
We are gun owners and gun fearers, parents and grandparents, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. We've brought our significant others into the fold; the power of shared tragedy and the healing journey is a bond too strong to be kept from those we love. At the top of this food chain of inter-connectedness and compassion sits Randy.
Randy, always ready with a smile and a hug and a big "How ya doin', kid?" No matter the baggage I bring to the moment, just seeing him lightens my load.
He's a retired mental health professional whose experience with the system has been invaluable. He explains the ins and outs, the tangible and the unsubstantial-but-real consequences of diagnosis, treatment, incarceration, and rehabilitation. He's had first hand experience on the front lines. He's seen it from both sides - as a recipient of the horror and as a comforter of the afflicted. It makes for a very interesting package.
He's tall and fair and curly haired. He's in blue jeans and sandals most of the time, embodying the Tucson experience. He's at every hearing, every press conference, every party. He knows when a smile will suffice and when more than a hug is needed. His uncanny ability to know when "I'm fine" means "I'm on the verge of losing it entirely" has saved me on more than one occasion.
And now he's leaving.
There's a house to be fixed up in Hawaii, and a wife already there and settling in. Can he live on an island? He's not sure, but he's willing to try. He's moving on. Why do I feel as if he's leaving me behind?
I've come to count on his presence, knowing that he could put the right words to the unfathomable emotions roiling beneath my surface. He provided validation and acceptance and humor and joy and I will miss him ... terribly... totally... completely. There will be a void whenever the rest of us gather. He will be missed.
I should be glad for him, and I am. He's making a change, taking the next step, living the life he might have had had bullets not interrupted its trajectory. He's the first of our group to leave. My issues are personal; for him, I have nothing but good wishes and great expectations.
I am bereft. I've felt this way before, when friends moved far away and left me behind, holding the baggage of our relationship alongside the emptiness in my heart. This is a little bit different. The whole experience has been sui generis; I've managed to hold it together by hanging on, sometimes with only my fingertips, to the connections our little group has forged. I'm having a hard time letting go of even one piece of the puzzle.
Since I have no choice, I've begun stockpiling the memories. His steady hand on my back when being upright was just too much. His bright eyes towering over the tiny women who make up a good proportion of those of us who were there that morning. His hugs... oh, my, his hugs.... those need the reality to be fully appreciated.
I wonder if he thinks we're kidding when we tell him we're having a reunion at his house next January 8th. Hawaii after New Years sounds pretty good to me. The fact that Randy and his sweet Barb will be there is just the icing on the cake.
I know that life goes on. I just don't like it when it wrenches a stanchion from my tent.