Monday, October 16, 2017

A stranger isn't, anymore, and I hope Stephen Paddock rots in hell for It.

I've been following the Las Vegas shooting closely, like many of us have been, looking for answers, but I'm starting to feel like that is a pipe dream.  It's only been two weeks and the last major update was three days ago. Theories, speculation, assumptions, names, photos of guns, photos of the crime scene, evidence, conflicting timelines and even witness accounts so far haven't done anything but flood my YouTube "related videos" section with conspiracy theories. I can't say I've learned nothing, though. I learned how bump stocks work to make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons. I know bump stocks exist. I now know the difference between automatic and semi-automatic guns. But I never asked those questions.

Today I learned the answer to another question I didn't ask, because I didn't want to go there; it snuck up on me when I scrolled down a page and accidentally turned a blue link purple:

I learned that Christiana Duarte was alive 16 days ago.

This morning I was reading the Reddit Las Vegas shooting megathread, because when I get frustrated with Google search results, I'll add "reddit" to my search query. The megathread came up, and that's where I spent my morning. (I should warn those who are sensitive, be aware that clicking links there could be upsetting.).

The very first post was a list of links to videos, and the third one was marked "Very NSFW/NSFL" ("Not Safe For Work"  and "Not Safe For Life" for those not familiar with social media's initialisms).

There have been a lot of questions floating around the web asking why there are no pictures or videos of dead people lying on the ground.  There's also been a lot of talk about "crisis actors". That's another thing I learned: crisis actors are - supposedly - a thing. I say "supposedly" because I've only seen that word used by conspiracy theorists.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I guess I needed proof, too, so I had something to base my disgust towards those "truthers" on, besides logic. I just don't want to actually look at it. But the fact that that video was marked NSFL meant it likely contained that proof so many are asking to see.

I can't bring myself to click that link. I don't want to actually see people lying on the ground, bloody and dead.  I'm squeamish and sensitive to that kind of visual. I'm satisfied with someone giving me the details of those videos, though; it puts a bit of distance there that gives me some protection. It's kind of like watching a horror movie between my fingers. Maybe subconsciously I read those descriptions as fiction, a coping mechanism that assures me that this isn't real and they're just words on a page. But I'm not so ignorant that I can suspend forced disbelief for long. Real life "stories" haunt me. Fiction doesn't. My imagination is not my friend, sometimes. It creates the visual for me, insists it's real and it can become so disturbing that it's distressing.  Yet... I still ask.

Far down the Reddit megathread, someone posted a link to an article in Tucson News Now, and I clicked it. In that article was a link to the Facebook page of one of the victims, Christiana Duarte. I didn't intend to, but as I tried to scroll down I inadvertently clicked the link.

I'm not a Facebook stalker. It felt weird and wrong looking at a stranger's page. It also felt disrespectful, morbid and very disconcerting. But the first thing I saw, right there above the Facebook cover, was a message from her family:

"We hope people who love Christiana will find comfort in visiting her profile to remember and celebrate her life.".

I didn't love her; I didn't even know her. But I must have seen her name lumped together with those 57 other names in online lists of the "victims who didn't make it" - the "death toll" - of that tragic and highly publicized act of violence that'd I'd been vigilantly following. But names are quickly forgotten. People are not. I didn't recognize her name.

I went to her timeline. I made it through the first two, maybe three posts, and that quickly the name I didn't remember was becoming human, and the pictures were now of a pretty, smiling face of a young woman just beginning her life. Not in my imagination, but right there on my screen.

Christiana's last posts had comments from friends saying, "I miss you", referring to her having graduated, but I first read them as referring to her passing. So to see her reply,  "I miss you too", despite the heart emoticons,  was chilling.

The next post was a photo of Christiana last spring, smiling and relaxing on the steps of a building. Her caption read, "Please don't make me leave". A friend commented, "Never leave me", to which she replied, "I'll be there in spirit.". That's when I closed out the page. Those posts were written for a happy occasion, but I couldn't read them that way. The irony was too much.

So, I know her name, now,  but in a perfect world I shouldn't have any reason to. She wasn't a celebrity or political figure. She wasn't a relative, my doctor or neighbor. I should not know there was a marketing intern named Christiana Duarte, "Chrissy" to her friends, who lived in a town I've never heard of.  Our paths would almost certainly have never crossed. And if they did it wouldn't register as anything than another face walking past me on a busy sidewalk, somewhere. It would have been unremarkable. Maybe if she was laughing or giving me a polite smile, I'd have her in my mind long enough to appreciate that,  but seconds later I'll have moved on to the next face in the crowd, because he's in my way and I'm irritated. I'd forget him, too, and it wouldn't matter.

But now I know someone I never knew. I shouldn't and at the same time, I should. The name became a person. A real person, a happy person, and it makes me sad. I almost wish I believed in crisis actors, and none of this is real. Maybe delusions are safer. They're easier to believe because they're easier to swallow. But I think that Facebook page is far better proof than that video I never will watch. If facing reality means remembering a stranger's smiling face over the haunting images my mind created, even if the former might disturb me much more than the latter would, then I'll brave it. I think it's a matter of respect.

There are 57 other blue links, now. My heart is heavy knowing they are there. I don't know if I am strong enough to turn them purple, but I do know there are also 57 questions that deserve to be answered.