Sunday, October 11, 2015
I woke up to several missed texts and messages coming in from Roseburg numbers. The one and only Roseburg, where I grew up and lived most of my life, until recently. As all of us locals know, "Roseburg" is not the answer we give when someone asks where we live or where we are from. "Oh, just a small town on Interstate 5, three hours south of Portland, or one hour south of Eugene", is what we all used to say to people when they asked where we were from. That has changed.
The missed texts I received during the night were not making any sense to me that morning. Was I having a nightmare? Surely the texts didn't say "UCC" and "Mass shooting" in the same sentence? I immediately googled a major news network and saw the Breaking News. I turned on the local news and there was my hometown, thousands of miles across the ocean, making headline news here where I now live.
Ever since I moved to Roseburg as a child, I would fantasize about getting out of it when I became an adult. However, my husband and I married there and started our family. Actually, we had our first dance as a married couple at Umpqua Community College, where our wedding reception was held. I gave birth to all three of our children in Roseburg and there we lived our Roseburg life. Raising kids in Roseburg meant summertime swimming lessons at the UCC pool, where I also learned to swim as a child---a right of passage for all kids in Douglas County. It meant my daughter's dance recitals at UCC's Jacoby Auditorium. It meant countless drives down Umpqua College Road, where my in-laws lived for several years, right across the parking lot from the Science Building and Snyder Hall. Many walks were taken on the pathways through the trees of the beautiful UCC campus, snapping photos of the kids running around, trying to convince us to let them play in the fountains. I think of all the weddings we attended over the years at UCC, the anniversary and graduation parties, even a funeral. Yes, the UCC was not only a Community College for higher learning, but a place any local could come take classes, see a theater production, host an event, swim, play tennis and even learn about wine. This is why the UCC is so close to the locals' hearts, we all have memories of something we've acheived or celebrated there.
After living overseas for nearly two years, this summer we went back to Roseburg to see our family and friends, to see home. We stayed the whole month of August. It was odd being back. It was weird that it wasn't weird. Nothing in Roseburg changes, I said again and again. We drove around, eating at our old favorite spots, doing drive-bys of all the houses we used to live in over the years. We did picnics at River Forks, wine tasting at the wineries, people watching at Walmart, and of course, craft beer drinking at the tap house. We posted gratuitous photos on Instagram and Facebook of life in Roseburg, Oregon so that our new friends from Down Under (where we live now) could see what we loved and hated about the town we came from.
One such post was something my husband thought his Aussie mates would get a kick out of, a photo of the gun display case at Fred Meyer. His caption went along the lines of, "I can buy a gun and a gallon of milk at the same time!" We posted pictures of "bottomless" fries at Red Robin. Both of these concepts, never ending fries and guns at the grocery store, was mind boggling for our foreign friends. And I found myself posting things like pine trees, which I always took for granted. I was posting from the Douglas County Fair, which I had always dreaded. I was seeing Roseburg from a totally different point of view for the first time in my life and I was embracing it! I could even smell the Douglas Fir, something I had never noticed in my 35 years of living in Roseburg. I noticed and appreciated how outgoing, chatty and friendly almost everyone is when you go anywhere in town. I had forgotten about those things. . Everything was so familiar and comfortable. I wasn't a foreigner in Roseburg.
But, as our month came to an end, the same ol' same ol' had set in. I felt content and ready to go back to our other life, on the other side of the planet, knowing everyone in Roseburg was saying goodbye to summer vacation and gearing up for the new school year. Yes, the same ol' same ol' as every other September I remember my entire life. Nothing changes in Roseburg, I said again. I cringed as I saw a few of the leaves starting to turn orange, the true sign that summer is nearly over. So, before we left, we did "one last" of everything: one last Oregon brew, one last lunch at our favorite restaurants, one last Costco trip, one last Dutch Bros coffee, one last look at Roseburg our hometown, where we were from. We even passed the UCC one last time on our way out of town...
....One last time before Roseburg changed forever. Before it became infamous for the type of tragedy that just "doesn't happen in our town."
In the past after such tragedies, we always asked, "What if it happened here, in Roseburg?" Each time we saw a mass school shooting, we imagined it happening in our sleepy little town. We sobbed and smothered our children with hugs and kisses the day those 20 first graders and their teachers were gunned down in cold blood at Sandy Hook Elementary. We all asked ourselves, "What if it happened here?! What if it was my baby?!" Lock down drills at the schools became normal, but we still cried thinking about our children even having to prepare for such violence.
I'm filled with so many emotions as I now see my hometown splashed all over international news. Roseburg is mentioned by name. How can Roseburg be the town the world is watching and discussing and arguing about? Even celebrities are talking about Roseburg. As I see the reports and watch the faces of the locals on the TV, the terror and grief on their faces is unfamiliar to me, for the people of Roseburg. Aren't those people from Sandy Hook or Columbine or Aurora? Certainly these are not my old neighbors in Roseburg?! I can't recognize this massive suffering , the crowds and the vigils, the tears that I see on the news reports. Is that really happening back home?! I can't wrap my head around it. I see famous news anchors reporting from above Winchester Dam and the intersection I've passed through thousands of times in my life. From next to the Umpqua River, where everyone either fishes, floats the river or picnics all summer long. I can't fathom that they are actually there, reporting that something so hideous has taken place, there. I can't understand why they are there, in little old Roseburg, so boring and plain and small. The Roseburg that I said never changes.
So here I sit, thousands of miles of ocean between me and Roseburg, feeling shocked and helpless. I want to help. I want to take the pain and grief away, erase the tragedy, everyone there does. But I do know why bad things happen to good people. I do know that it is going to be rectified. I do have hope. I do have comfort in my beliefs. I am not lost, just so very sad. Sad for the victims, sad for the families, sad for the survivors who will need so much comfort and help. And I am sad that I'm not there to help comfort the ones suffering in my hometown.
The reporters and the cameras will all be gone soon. Oh, yes, they'll come back every anniversary of the shootings. They'll make emotional tributes that will make everyone weep. They will reference it each and every time certain political issues come up. They'll talk about it when the next mass shooting happens. They wrap up their story in a nice little package, with a pretty little bow, by saying this tragedy has brought a beautiful town closer together as a community, as if they actually know us all intimately. And the truth is, when the reporters have all gone home, when the celebrities forget about it and Roseburg is left alone in the middle of Interstate-5, everyone in town will grieve....all over again. There is no red ribbon to wrap around a tragedy. Everything is different now. Everything has changed with the loss those nine innocent people. Nothing will ever be the same for any of the survivors. There will not be anything positive to gain from this brutal massacre, regardless of the beautiful things people did for one another in the wake of it. Because nine people are missing. And countless others are suffering.
So for the record, I was wrong. Roseburg did change. Though it wasn't the kind of change I had ever hoped for.
Writing is how I work through emotions. My daughter writes too, but hers are lyrics. She knew one of the victims, Quinn Cooper, who she had Drama class with in High School. She wrote a tribute to the #UmpquaNine for their families and loved ones. I would love to share it with you now.