The truth is, I never spent much time in Aurora. With the exception of a few places downtown like the Auraria campus where I got my MBA, St. Mark’s Coffeehouse where I would order a hibiscus tea and a chocolate chip cookie every time, or Coors Field watching the Rockies knocking homeruns into the outfield, my life in Colorado happened pretty exclusively west of I-25, the north/south highway that runs through Denver’s heart. I lived in Lakewood, and later on the southwestern edge of Littleton. I worked in Lakewood and Golden, with a very brief and miserable stint in DTC. My friends mostly lived near DU or just south of downtown or Boulder or in the far northern suburbs that might as well have been Boulder. My only real connection to the city of Aurora was that the guy who found my car for me at the auto auction had his office there.
But Denver is small. It’s smaller than you think a metropolitan area with a population of more than 2 and a half million people would be. In fact, Colorado is really just a very small town spread over an unusually large piece of geography where everyone knows everyone else. It wasn’t unusual to meet someone entirely new and find an unexpected connection to a friend. I met poets who were friends with Jack Kerouac. I met yuppies who had once partied with Hunter S. Thompson. I met people who had known Jewel when she was still just a busker on Pearl Street in Boulder and claimed that she still owed them money. A friend of a friend knew the girl who accused Kobe Bryant of raping her in that hotel up near Vail. I met the wonderful Girl Scout council folks who said yes to a transgender girl and made international news for it. I met people who knew the Ramseys in Boulder. I met people with personal connections to Columbine, which more than a decade later is still a deeply felt wound for the entire state. I didn’t have any particularly special connections. That’s just how Colorado is. Everyone knows everyone.
So when I woke up to the news about the shooting in Aurora, it took my breath away. All of my immediate friends and family there are safe. I checked on the news throughout the day, though, watching for familiar names. I listened to KBCO online and heard the heartbreak in Bret Saunders’ voice as he spoke with Diana DeGette. Listened to the names of familiar streets and knowing precisely where it all went down. Listened to Governor Hickenlooper, who I adore, give his statement with a certain waver in his voice that I’ve never heard before that made it clear just how close to the surface it all is for him today. I watched Brian Williams standing against a backdrop that is as familiar to me as the back of my hand, the wide streets and drought resistant landscaping and the shape and size of the street signs all so typical of Denver suburbs. I listened to President Obama declare that it was not a day for politics and asking for a moment of silence for Colorado.
My Colorado. I fell in love with Colorado during a family trip that I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to go on. I connected immediately with the mountains, with the ubiquitously friendly hippie-cowboy vibe, and stayed for nine years. I felt like I had found my tribe. I still feel that way about Colorado. I choked up several times today listening and watching so much pain and grief. Colorado is my tribe and I feel not for them, but with them. More than ten years after Columbine, a cloud of grief hangs over the state every April as the anniversary of Columbine approaches. There are somber interviews of victims families, memorial slideshows on every newscast set to Over the Rainbow. The rest of the country moved on, but Colorado never has. The rest of America will move on from the Aurora story, but Colorado won’t.
I’m dreading what comes next. There will be a list of names of the dead. Somehow, I’ll be connected to one or more of them, a friend of a friend of a friend. It seems distant, but it’s not. I’ll realize connections to survivors as they begin to tell their stories. And then it will really hit me. I already feel so close to this horrible thing, and I’ll find myself even closer.
James Holmes is clearly mentally ill. He may have planned his actions, but it was not the plan of any kind of sane human being. So I won’t say that he’s an evil person. Clearly he is a very, very smart guy. You don’t graduate with honors with a degree in neuroscience without some serious intelligence and dedication. And clearly something in him must have broken, and it led him to this horrible, tragic thing. How a single person, however well-armed he was, and however well-planned his attack was, could manage to shoot 71 people is beyond my comprehension.
I took a long walk along Lake Michigan tonight to get some fresh air. To take some deep breaths and begin to process it. It has been a hard summer in Colorado and I’m feeling something akin to survivor’s guilt because I’m not there suffering through wildfire season and the aftermath of Aurora alongside everyone else.
This is the only photo of Denver that I could round up on short notice. It’s of a church at Auraria, the Denver campus of the University of Colorado shares with two other higher ed institutions.
This is how I prefer to remember Colorado – the golden aspens of early October:
And this is me, thinking of you, Colorado. You’re a tough bunch. You’re still my tribe. I love you.
Edit: Well, that didn’t take long. Not five minutes after hitting Publish, the connection found me. Friend of a friend, killed.
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