I’m standing in line at the Post Office on Hoyt Street, along with at least fifty other people waiting to mail Christmas packages. It’s been two years since I wrote the post, Miracle On Hoyt Street, describing a similar experience.
Things have changed since then. Not gradually over two years, but abruptly. On Tuesday, December 11, 2012, we Oregonians experienced our first, and hopefully last, mass shooting at the Clackamas Town Center. One of the two dead, Cindy Yuille was a hospice nurse. I did not know her.
On Friday, December 14, 2012, twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down mercilessly in Newtown, Connecticut by a twenty-year old attacker we still don’t know very much about.
What is the differential diagnosis dividing the mentally ill from the criminally insane?
Today, standing in line while waiting my turn to mail packages, Christmas songs play on the same scratchy speakers as two years ago, but this time I feel unexpectedly anxious. I realize I am uncomfortable being in a crowded public place. I look around for my old nemesis, the postal clerk who was the Newman to my Seinfeld. She is not here. Perhaps she has retired, that lucky bitch (insert smiley-face emoticon here). Then suddenly, in my imagination, the remaining clerks behind the counter resemble ducks in a shooting gallery. It occurs to me that they risk their lives daily, standing behind that counter in a large, freely accessed lobby without security. That thought causes me to look around and find available exits, which are scant. Would my best chance of survival be to race towards one, or hit the ground and pray I’m missed? I shake my head to clear it, and glance at the booklets of stamps available for purchase. One features a picture of the cartoon character Nemo with his father. I chomp down hard on the gum in my mouth to prevent the tears from coming back as I think of fathers swimming the vast seas, searching for children who no longer exist.
When I finally reach the counter, I thank the clerk for her good work, and wish her a Merry Christmas.
Home again, I make a special dinner to share with David when he returns from work. I say a silent prayer of gratitude when he walks safely through the door.
Over a glass a wine, I tell him about my anxiety at the Post Office. He understands, says everyone is feeling it too. He puts his arm around me, and pulls me close, while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the glow of Christmas tree lights.