“I could make the jump.”
He was sitting across from me at a small bistro table sandwiched between walkway and railing.
We were sharing a pretzel, one of us more than the other, and speaking of the things that people do while shopping for shorts on a Saturday.
“I could jump to the escalator,” he reiterated against my disagreement. He mentioned his parkour training. He referenced his youth.
“There are better options,” I said.
We were in the same mall we always go to for back-to-school needs, having a new version of the same conversation we’ve had for years. The recent addition of a sporting goods store had made our previous plans all the more plausible. After all, they sell camping gear and baseball bats, not to mention food supplies and all the things required for anyone in the throes of a zombie apocalypse.
On one visit we had realized that bean bag chairs would fit perfectly in the giant iron chandeliers hanging throughout the mall, allowing enough room for our family of four to nest comfortably, assuming we could get into them.
“This mall needs a hardware store,” my oldest had said at the time, before deciding the maintenance department surely had the means of reaching such heights.
The leap to the escalator, however, was a twist, built not on the previous concept of hunkering down, but rather the fastest form of fleeing.
“It would depend where the shooter was,” he said.
When my wife worked in that mall, the shooter had been in a paper store. A man bent on murder found it in the card section, killing his former partner with a pistol like so many jilted lovers before him. Another life lost in senseless rage, just above the food court.
Meanwhile, thousands of shoppers went running.
My wife had been working in a restaurant. She had stepped up, as she is prone to do, and made sure guests and employees got out safely. The restaurant was deserted. There were bags and phones left on tables, strollers flat on their sides, the random shoe abandoned upon the tile.
The sound, she said, was stunning silence, save the distant hum of shouts and sirens, fans slowly spinning with Ed Sheeran singing in the background. She texted me that they were in lockdown.
We all know what that means.
Life in America is not needing to explain to our kids what is meant by “active shooter” or “lockdown.” Life in America is sitting in a mall, church, movie theater, school, office, restaurant, festival, concert … anywhere, and making sure you know where all the exits are should someone walk in and start shooting.
It is explaining to our children that the government cares more about money made from guns than the lives of its citizens, and it is a child’s quick “I know.”
Life in America is a stampede through Times Square over the eruption of a backfire, and it is 100 lives lost to gun violence daily.
It is publishing this piece and the comments sure to follow.
We all know what that means.