Life comes at you fast.
Saturday evening I was in Los Angeles watching Hamilton having the time of my life. Watching the play I had heard so much about, whose soundtrack I know very nearly by heart and to which I had grown attached was perfection and the best early birthday present I can remember. The play was amazing and it was on that high that my partner and I went to Las Vegas, to finish our joint birthday celebrations.
As we drove into town, my partner commented on Route 91. That he had a coworker going and that it was like Stagecoach, but in Vegas (he is more the country music fan of the two of us). I frankly was too excited to finally be in Vegas, unpack, relax and have fun. And that is precisely what we did, until the events at the Mandalay Bay changed that.
By cosmic coincidence or divine intervention (I lean toward the former) we were a few miles off the strip at the time of the shooting. We were already staying off the strip and had decided to check out some of the LGBTQ+ friendly venues off the strip. Sunday would be the first time I was selfishly glad that there wasn’t a gay bar on the strip, otherwise we might have been in a much more dangerous situation.
As it turned out, we were in a rather sparsely populated bar when the news alerts came over our phone. The bartender, a wonderfully enchanting woman, cautioned us against another part of town, but strongly recommended that we go to another bat, just down the road.
It was at this bar that my partner and I got to watch the news. I was far too concerned and afraid. Thoughts of the Pulse Nightclub shooting echoed in my head and I fervently wanted to get back to the casino which was undoubtedly on lockdown and therefore to me seemed a lot safer.
I wasted no time in putting on social media that we were safe and later in the evening had the dubious honor of being able to use Facebook to mark myself safe in the incident. I got a lot of well wishes when I posted and after. But it wasn’t until we had returned home to our hotel (under lockdown) and had woken up the next day (after my having an anxiety attack. It isn’t lost on me the irony that my anxiety kicked in shortly after we got into a safer location).
The next morning, my cellphone was awash with messages from friends and family thankful that I was ok. This included the fact that my partner’s coworker was safe. She had had to hop a fence and hide for over an hour until they could be safely evacuated.
However, one message stood out. I had some connection to one of the victims. She was a friend of a friend in a way. I had known her boyfriend and his family. We weren’t close, but knowing that I had known someone so deeply impacted by this made things clearer. The tragedy was personal. This was someone who was also an alumnus of my high school. This was someone who in the prime of their life was sadly taken from her friends and families.
My partner and I had to face what to do next. Do we go home or stay?
We stayed. We stayed because we honestly felt safe. The police were all over the strip.
We stayed because we knew others wouldn’t. We stayed because we can’t let evil win.
I don’t say this to insult anyone that left. Each person must make their own decision. You must consider your own mental and physical health. But I say this to simply state that it I cannot let acts of people like this gunman (who I will not name simply because I refuse to dignify his presence.) from stopping me from totally living my life. We can’t stop being ourselves in order to assume safety. Safety is never purely guaranteed.
So what is the point of me telling you this? It is because we must do three things
First, we must agitate for change. This could be gun reform, this could be mental health screenings, this could be more research on the sources of gun violence. I would advocate for all three. We cannot make ourselves completely safe, but we can do more to increase our safety.
Two, we must continue to move forward. This weekend was a tragedy, but it is also important that we not retreat. the actions of evil people cannot and should not stop us from enjoying music, enjoying concerts, enjoying Las Vegas or anywhere else.
Lastly, we need to remember those who lost their lives. Keep their memories alive.