A madman on a rampage killed five people, injured others. I read it the next morning on my phone. How could this touch me, except in an abstract way, the way all these crazy shootings do? This country is so riddled with gun violence, we are inured now to senseless deaths delivered by mostly white men who want to die and take as many with them as they can.
Like many such shooters, this one broadcast alarms, in his case, by self-published writings. He must have needed mental health help long ago. If only we had adequate funding for that. Thanks, Reagan. Now it was too late. He was 47, saturated with hate. Colorado has a red flag law, but no one heeded the signs. No one read those self-published digital books. People are reading them now. Barn door shut. Horse long gone.
How often do I fire up the news feed and see such a story? So how could this one touch me? A few exclamations of outrage and grief, ask God to help the victims and I am ready to swipe the page, move on. Then I see her name.
Somewhere deep inside, in the far, far past when I was Pat Herrera, then Pat Urioste, that name, Alicia Cardenas, works like a barnacled anchor, pulls loose a muddy seabed of memory. In the late 60s, I was a youth counselor in a war on poverty program—thanks, LBJ—and so was Bev de Olivera who married Al Cardenas. I remember her children being born, daughter and son. Their house on the Northside, back when it was the Northside, was a few blocks from mine. She seemed to always have a pot of beans on the stove, had a firecracker temper, quick wit. She wrapped those babies in her arms and said, with love in her voice, “little shits.” I got a divorce, moved to Virginia, lost track of them, came back, got another divorce. She got one too. We never reconnected after I returned from Virginia. I heard she’d become a teacher.
In the early 80s, Bev came to see my play, “Volver, Volver,” and said to our mutual friend Toni, “you can’t say anything in front of her: she remembers everything.” I wrote a fine monologue in that play using a fight she had described to me a decade earlier. Bev told us about all her fights, including the ones in which dishes were broken. I myself once threw plates across the room and credit her example for doing so. I heard she made a lesson of her diagnosis for her students before she died of cancer.
In the 80s, one of my CHAC duties was editing the newsletter and Al Cardenas was our graphic designer, professional, easy to work with. That newsletter never looked so good again as it did when Al and I did it. I still see him from time to time: art openings, KUVO events, Facebook, but never got reacquainted with his kids. In the many striking photos of Alicia I see glimmers of her mother’s face. Bev, who I have not recalled for eons, who surfaced in that muddy seabed of memories. Alicia was just 44, daughter of friends from my youth. Because of Alicia’s death I’ve learned about her art, her celebration of indigenous heritage, her importance to a diverse community of body modification and mural artists.
Phil had coffee with Martin—they taught together at Rocky Mt. Institute of Arts in the 90s—and found out that Sarah Steck, the young woman killed in the Hyatt Hotel, was Martin’s student at Metro, delightful and talented. Sara—who I taught with at Denver School of the Arts—got a piercing done by Alicia, who was the good friend of a friend. Three degrees of separation.
I thought it was because I worked at DSA, a school with a regional array of students, that my students had friends who died at Columbine, that one of them learned her godparents and their children were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, that the father of three lovely girls who were my students died in the Aurora theatre shooting. Each of those events is inked indelibly in my memory. But I’ve been retired from DSA long enough for twelve cohorts of high school graduates to have come and gone. It’s not that this time.
Friend and poet Kathleen Cain posted her poem about this, “Everyone Knows Someone,” on her Facebook page. Thirty years ago when her son was murdered, the victim’s advocate told her the average was ten, “the number of people ‘attached’ to a murder victim.” The list Kathleen made for her son was over a hundred. The rippling connections from these five people—good, innocent, talented, loved people—have reached many hundreds by now, have sent their concentric circles far enough to wash over me and go on to seep their sadness into us all.
Kathleen ends her poem:
Couldn’t we stand and hold hands
by now, and stretch ourselves across
the country? Everyone who knows someone?