I live in a housing village on Fort Hood. On November 4th, at approximately 1:30 PM, the emergency alarms went off. I was expecting to hear that this was a test of the “Emergency Alert System.” Instead, I heard, “Attention. Seek shelter immediately. Close all doors and windows. Turn off all ventilation systems. Seek shelter immediately. Close all doors and windows. Turn off all ventilation systems.” Then the alarms went off again. And again. Every fifteen minutes.
A great deal of confusion followed For the next two hours there were many rumors about what was happening, including a shooting at the PX and in one of the villages. My husband, who was off-post with our children (who thankfully got out of school at 1 PM that day and were with him) was unable to come on post as it was on lock down. He called me and insisted that I not only stay in the house but that I stay on the second floor and away from the windows.
Around 6:30 PM, Fort Hood lifted the lock down that had prevented anyone from entering or leaving. From CNN, I learned the details of the mass murder that had occurred less than 15 minutes away from our home at the place my husband had visited on numerous occasions in preparation for his tour to Iraq and as part of his reintegration upon his unit’s return.
As soon as the news began covering the shooting, I started receiving emails and phone calls from people who were worried about me. People I barely know have extended their thoughts and prayers to me and my family. I have not responded to 99 percent of these people, including family. I have not talked about the shooting since it occurred. I have talked about the shooter, Major Hasan, but not about the shooting itself.
Today, ten days later, I went to the shoppette with another spouse who lives about six houses down the street from me. The first thing I saw when I entered the store was two racks of this week’s TIME magazine with Major Hasan’s military photo on the cover, life-sized and large. It was like being punched in the stomach. My first reaction was disgust. Then anger. I turned to my friend and told her, “I don’t even talk about what happened! Who the hell are they to talk about it?” So naturally I had to buy the magazine and find out what they had to say.
(You know what? If no magazine was making the shooting an issue, that probably would have upset me, too. It is all very confusing.)
This got me thinking about why I don’t talk about the shooting. People keep asking me if I am okay. I don’t know how to answer that question. Yes? No? Maybe? This is a loaded question for those of us who have to answer it.
I feel a great deal of guilt. I feel guilty when concern is extended to me. I feel unworthy of that concern. I feel unworthy because of the horror experienced by the men and women in the building with that man on that day. How can anyone worry about ME or anyone else who wasn’t in the building that day? We are the blessed and fortunate ones of that day. Our scare was that of the unknown, of the wondering. Our trauma was theoretical, not experiential.
I was recently contacted by Dr. John Ryan, Professor and Chair of Sociology at Virginia Technical Institute—now known for the Cho mass murders. Dr. Ryan wanted to find a way to come to Fort Hood after the shooting. He and his team focus on helping not the immediate victims of mass shootings, but those in the larger community. Dr. Ryan explained that their “work begins from the premise that, in tightly bonded communities, such attacks are attacks on the whole community, not just the most immediate victims.”
I am trying to get Dr. Ryan and his team access to families at Fort Hood. I don’t know whether this will be granted. I know that no one I know here is talking about the shootings. Again, there is talk about the shooter, but not about the event itself. Of course, everywhere else in America, this was something worth talking about. So why aren’t we?
Part of me wonders if it is not because we live on the military post that has lost the most soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have soldiers committing suicide as well as murdering fellow soldiers (or spouses). Yes, what Major Hasan did was extraordinary in HOW MANY soldiers he killed and WHERE he killed them, but haven’t we come to expect death as part of our lives, in one place or another, one form or another? We grieve for the families who lose a soldier and we thank God that it wasn’t our soldier and the Big Green Machine keeps churning.
Besides, our leadership proudly tells the media that this messy matter was taken care of quickly and that training and missions continue. Move along, nothing more to see here. Did Hasan really change anything?
Arguably, he made military lives worse. Soldiers are unable to feel safe on post, as well as families. Children already burdened with trust and mortality issues probably lost the most that day (of those of us in the larger community). The day after the shooting, my eight-year-old son asked me why there were soldiers with guns at his school. I explained they were there to protect him. He responded, “wasn’t the bad man a soldier?”
Out of the mouths of babes oft times come gems.
Of course, the fact that we live and function under these conditions is a badge of honor; a testament to our resiliency as individuals and as a community. Yet suicides and suicide attempts continue to increase yearly. Our divorce rate increases every year while the civilian divorce rate is experiencing a 40 year low. Reports of domestic violence have gone up seventy-five percent in the last seven years.
How much more stress can we endure? How much more resilient can we be as a community? How much more can be taken from us? If someone like Dr. Ryan wants to help our families in the larger community process what happened, why wouldn’t Fort Hood let them?
Am I okay? Depends on your definition of okay, I suppose.