10:00 p.m., first of October. A shadow looms over the Vegas strip. Stephen Paddock, age sixty-four, carefully wraps a rag around his knuckles before breaking a pair of windows in his decadent Mandalay Bay suite. An armory lies tossed across the cream carpet, wind whipping in hisses. He sets his made-to-order LMT rifle against its tripod facing the broken window and the dazzling array of lights across the street. He checks a note he scrawled upon the hotel stationary indicating the drop of his bullet, the elevation of his shooting position, and the distance the bullet must travel to fulfill its purpose. He rests his eye upon the expensive scope of his rifle. At this moment Jesus de Campos, twenty-five, is anxious. He awaits the end of his shift as an alarm goes off on the thirty-second floor. Guests complain of drilling. Drilling, he wonders, who’s drilling this late? As he approaches the staircase, De Campos notices the jammed stairwell door. Paddock eyes him from a concealed camera. He needs to take care of this, to take care of that. Paddock, straddling a puma suitcase full of muzzled rifles, had spotted De Campos earlier in the lobby. Paddock had thought to himself that the man looked fragile, plump, and puzzled with his half-hearted sideburns. De Campos had seen him too no doubt. He wouldn’t have ever recalled Paddock’s unremarkable face, his scruffy face, eyes set too wide apart with heavy discolored bags under them. Paddock could have been any other gambler in the whole fucking world, operating on valium, gin, and misguided priorities, but there wasn’t anything particular on the surface. There wasn’t anything to see there, just another white, rich old man waiting to die. Meanwhile, I’m stirring a bowl of miso soup, the liquid crystal display of my television stretches through the darkness and reflects on the skin of my face. I’m sighing heavy, my eyes heavier as my mind turns towards sleep. It overcomes me. De Campos overcomes the door. Paddock overcome with fear, overcomes his fear. “Get it together Steve, it’s the last play.” He waits for De Campos to inch closer. He’s close enough. “Jackpot,” he says. He starts firing.
My eyes are open. I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa again and stained the tan leather with a bit of miso. Fire truck sirens blare out past my windows. Squeals of laughter and strident scream echo from the throngs gathered thick in Union Square. There’s a loose piece of tofu on the white polar bear carpet my mother bought me. Fifty-six people are dead.
Fifty-six people is an eye popping number. Fifty-six people seems like carnage. If I had seen fourteen, I’d have been a little less shocked, but fifty-six has got to be some sort of record. I cross the street to Le Café Coffee, a quaint place on Fourth Ave. I tell Jimmy the Barista I’d like a medium cappuccino and some avocado toast. I always have the same thing, not because I’m a man of routine or structure but because I’m far too attracted to convenience. Jimmy has flaxen hair and he always wears a cap turned backwards and he has gauged earrings, like he cried himself to sleep listening to Linkin Park during the late nineties.
“Fifty-six people got shot up on the Vegas Strip, I think like five hundred folks are injured or something,” I tell him.
“Wow, doesn’t even shock me, these shootings don’t shock me at all, there’s a new one every day,” he says.
“But fifty-six is a damn big number, and five hundred injured, that’s like bomb numbers, Man,” I retort.
“That isn’t even the thing that happened yesterday, Man,” Jimmy says.
“What happened?” I ask, seated in the stool, mushing up avocado and whole-wheat toast in my salivating mouth, drowning it all back with cream foam and the warm acidity of coffee.
“Tom Petty died, Man, fucking Tom Petty,” Jimmy says.
“Tom Petty?” I say. Petty indeed.
Soon Jimmy’s showing me the newest teaser for The Last Jedi. The movie looks great. I rush out to interpolate my coffee buzz with the cigarette in order to “potentialize,” as my friend Ale would say, every single inch of each hit. The smoke pleasantly damages my esophagus, numbs my tingling tongue, and cools as it digs deep into my chest. I exhale. Fifty-six people are dead.
They say the killer, Paddock, was vanilla. They say he played video poker and that he was sixty-four. They mention he is a millionaire. That fact alone should bring shudders to half the country. To say a millionaire may be a murderer, in America, is akin to saying a soldier can be a coward. The idea is an oxymoron. Millionaires are fucking winners. They don’t commit crimes. They don’t need virgins in heaven because they can just fuckin’ pay “em here,” in hell. Paddock’s brother tells us, “Steve took care of everyone, that’s the type of guy he was.” He rambles, swinging his coffee mug around in exaggerated gesticulations. His top three shirt buttons are loosened, his aviator glasses and his brown beard are aging reminders that he is a baby boomer, that he isn’t of our time. “He could have done anything he wanted to do,” Eric says of his younger brother, “and he did.” His words are escaping him, and he’s saying things he won’t like when he sees himself on tape. “I’m just hoping they find some tumor when they do the autopsy,” his voice quivers into a strident high note, “something that drove him to the absolute pit of hell.”1 How his brother could have done this, he must wonder. How can anyone have done this, I think. The news keeps telling me it doesn’t make sense. Well, I guess a gambler is always ready to fucking die, that’s what my grandma always told me. Paddock’s dad had robbed banks. Had been labelled a super-criminal, a dangerous, suicidal psychopath. I wonder if young Steve had the devil in him too, if he locked him up for decades until he knew he had twenty more years of increasing health problems and then he said, “fuck it,” and just let it loose. It’s really easy to clear your conscience when you’re able to put a bullet straight through it. That’s exactly how the dirty Jihadi clerics get a bunch of young illiterate boys who never actually read a Qur’an to blow themselves to bits. That’s what I shout back to the news when they talk about “senseless brutality.” It doesn’t make any sense for us who want to stay alive. It’s very hard to value the life of others when one cannot even value one’s own life. Fifty-six people are dead, and I cannot stop thinking of them.
Bullet one. Hannah Ahlers is thirty-five. In the past she’s felt most alive leaping out of a plane to float back home to the ground in Murrieta. She is dancing next to her husband, Bryan. She is dancing and a bullet tunnels through her skull. The bullet digs itself past the occipital, leaving three orphans.
I’m seven years old. As is customary, I’ve arrived to school late. My classmates crowd inside the brown padded walls of the central auditorium. They’re sedated watching Shrek, unaware of anything happening outside the auditorium. I am barred at the gate. Two bank robbers had broken into the school walls, their caper long foiled. One is bleeding out and readying himself to die on the lawn. It all escapes him in that moment, as his pupils spread over the nimbus clouds, absorbing them for one final congested second. I like to lie on that same patch of grass. I spread out like an angel just smiling and staring at the clouds. The forms they take are beautiful. The guard sends me home. It’s good to be late sometimes. I think the robber must have had a beautiful death. Kids at school would never stop talking about this day, and how much of a cool day it was, and forever and ever we’re telling the same story of how it affected us.
Bullet two. Denise Burditus is fifty and a mother of two. Soon she will be a grandmother to five. Her husband, Tony, loves her dearly. He’s never seen anyone so accepting, so gregarious and precious in that singular sense which makes it all worthwhile. She found the world in his ruddy cheeks and swarming smile and he found the world in the openness of her soul. Tony holds Denise in his arms as they sway around tenderly in the rain. The pop of fireworks can be heard in the distance, alongside the twangy guitar of Aldean’s set, the plodding drizzle can be felt in their skin. Denise feels a burning sensation in her back. Tony holds on to Denise and as he feels her arms grow meek, his arms too are frail. His cries just whimper amid the endless rattle of the whizzing rounds, among all the other shrill crying. Denise won’t be a grandmother of five. Five won’t have a grandmother.
It’s the first semester in New York City, and I’ve done about a fourth of a tab of acid. Just a microdose to make the juices flow different and make the day endlessly long. Yet it’s late now, and I’m feeling this electric sensation jolting through my spine that’s got me a little bit antsy. So I start conversing with the green-cab driver that’s taking me to Henry’s house. I don’t know a thing about him.
“Brooklyn didn’t used to be this gentrified bullshit,” he says. “This avo-toast shit, beanie wearing shit, shitty beer drinking shit isn’t Brooklyn, isn’t Bed-Stuy or Flatbush, what the fuck is this?”
“How did it use to be, all grimy and dangerous, Biggie shit, or it was nice, and people are just making up shit” I say. “What’s the absolute worst thing you’ve seen?”
“There was this time that we was at some party and these two dudes were just picking fights and getting into problems and shit at the party,” he began, turning the wheel of the car as he glanced to his side mirror. “And the party sorta fizzled, so everyone just moved to another party, but this party wasn’t like that first party,” he paused, establishing a sense of rising tension to his tale, “nah, this was like a real gangster party, like hood shit and those guys messing around came to this party too and started messing around again,” he said.
“So what happened, they beat them up?” I asked.
“Yeah, they beat ‘em up with a knife,” he said, “and they start fucking this guy up, cutting him and shit and then they took him out back and pulled out a pistol and boom and he’s shot right in the dome, in front of everyone man.”
“Jeez,” I say.
“Fucking crazy cause the top of his head straight bounced off the ceiling, “ says the cabbie.
My stomach churns. I see it quite clearly in my mind’s eye, a dangling hovering scalp hoisted high from the ceiling fan. The cap driver’s onomatopoeia, his enthusiastic BOOM rings in my ears and the thought of this man’s conscious experience being finished forever begins to distress me. To die on a party night, just because you picked a fight. Like a bloodstain, the thought doesn’t leave my mind. I scrub and scrub but the stain won’t wash away.
Bullet three. Officer Charles Hartfield of LVPD coached a youth football team. He was a husband and a father. He wanted to record his life in detail, to detail his experience and by sharing it understand it. He sought to recount his thoughts and his trajectory so folks wouldn’t satisfy themselves with simplistic representations of the complicated characters who opt for a law enforcement career. As a black man, he felt he owed the world that. He died where he felt least afraid in his life, in a concert, in the desert which he always loved.
I’m thirteen, and I can’t remember, but I probably got kicked out of class or something and I was ambling the corridor with my baggy sweats, rocking Marty McFly’s Nikes. Boys always used to kid me about my Marty McFly’s, and they’d just crack up as soon as they saw me moving with them on. The hallways open to little green lawns where sunlight pours in, and warms you a little because the school, located in the crisp-aired hills of Morumbi, is quite chilly. And you could just sit there and eat a tawny pastry with creamy chicken filling. So it didn’t bother me getting kicked out so much. I got my coxinha and I sat down in a bench in the green lawn and I caught sight of something. A girl, older, crying in the arms of a boy, Phillip. They were the prettiest people in the school, but they weren’t crying with trivial cries. The cries seemed to strain their diaphragms, strip them of their strength, seep them of their hope, and the weeping didn’t seem to wash away the stain either. I didn’t find out anything from lingering there and watching; it was just something I saw and didn’t understand.
Until the lunchroom chatter around the table, “have you heard,” little bowl-cut, gap-toothed Alejandro whispered.
“Phillip’s mother, she . . .”
“She was found in some pipes, Man.”
“In some pipes . . .”
“She was like mugged on the road or something and they shot her and beat her and . . . and . . .”
“Let’s just not talk about this, Ale.”
“Yeah, that’s easier.”
I don’t know if it was easier not talking about it. Yet that’s what we do when we face any kind of death. Car wreck on the highway means cast a glance and look away, staring for too long just makes us realize we’re also these physical things. That this lump of matter was just like ourselves. It’s hard to process that. And we don’t want to process that, so we look away. So we lie to ourselves that others are the only people dying. The only people who die.
Bullet four. Austin Meyers had just recently moved to Reno. He had dreamed of opening an auto-repair shop someday. He had hoped to celebrate his birthday. He and his fiancé strove to enjoy their anniversary. Soon all that remained of his aspirations was a cup of beer tumbled over, no longer frothy but stuck like resin to blades of grass ready to be chipped away at alongside all the clumps of blood Paddock cast on the grass.
Bullet five. John Pippen’s son struggled as he urged his father to remain strong. He ran his hand down Pippen’s body until he felt the cotton of his father’s shirt soaked. He plugged his finger deep down one of the bullet holes trying to hold back the bleeding. A bullet had stung his arm too and yet he strained to carry his father, pressure mounting at his fingertips. Then it came, the stillness. His father no longer wrestled and moaned, he was simply a weight to carry forward. Forever.
Years later, I’m hearing my classmate present his paper. I scratch Chinese cuss words on the underside of the circular opaque table. On the backside of our black chairs is a golden reproduction of our school’s seal, a rising sun. The afternoon sun seeps in through the blinds, the air reeks of balsam, and the room is overcome with the sound of swallowed saliva or the brush of a foot against the floor. Mrs. Leary warns of the meditation to follow: “Some people might find the contents of this meditation triggering.” I shrug off the suggestion. Triggered. What the fuck is that? I hate this triggered shit. My meditation is about how I bit a mugger’s face off to fend off being mugged, how I was hounded and prodded by bullies. What could be worse? Jake, my classmate, begins his meditation. He has a very faint smile on his face, like the smile a pastor might give on the pulpit of his church. Jake just always seemed like just a hockey fuck-boi in my mind. He’s got the long flowing mane and the Timberlands and the simple syntactic expressions and worst of all, he’s Canadian. We always talk about Jake, and Jake’s girlfriend, Desiree, back in my dorm. Jake lives with her for some reason. We know Jake. Jake starts telling us what we don’t know about him. He starts telling us about how his parents had a divorce. He starts mentioning how difficult the divorce and the ensuing custody dispute was and how his mother got guard of the kids. His meditation is a letter to his father asking him ,”why”, why he had to do what he did. Jake questioned why his parents had gotten divorced. I struggled with that too, with the constant fighting and the strident voices, baiting each other, waiting to be tangled together expressing very little.
Yet Jake continues his narrative. He asks his dad why he thought to do so many lines of coke that same day and what feeling drove him to cruise down to the house while the kids were asleep. What drove him to take the mother outside, dragging her by the hair, her heels getting tangled upon the brush? What drove him to batter her? What drove him to that swamp? What could have possibly led him to strangle her? What led him to take his two parents from him, Jake asks? In his eyes are the careful hints of tears, but they never come and I think Jake y has pondered this for a very long time. A smile pulls outwards from the deepest pits of his soul summoned from only a fleeting thought of his buried mother. He tells his dad, his bastard dad, “I won’t condemn you forever, because I cannot, yet I imagine I don’t need to because I believe you must condemn yourself.”
I’ve seen blue bodies and black opaque bags back in Brazil. It’s not an everyday thing, but in twenty years you’ll catch sight of a bunch of bodies. Motorcyclists splattered over by dog-tired rivers. They’re remembered as lively spots of red slow cooked by noon sunlight. You can just track what happened to them by the skids marks on the road. Then they’re the occasional blue bodies dredged up by drug traffickers or the police. I remember talking to my driver, Edson, to ask if he’s ever seen any violence.
“My brother was killed by some drug dealers,” he said.
“Daaaamn, really, how? Why? Was he involved,” I ask.
“The son of a bitch was sleeping with the Dono do Morro’s wife,” he says chuckling.
“That’s definitely not something to try, I’d say. Was it very hard on you?”
“Yeah, a great deal,” he says, a silence momentarily interrupts him, “but some of our people found the son of a bitch too. Got tips on him from some crackheads. That’s what’s always happening in the Northeast, that’s why we Northeastern are always running down, fleeing this vendetta stuff that never ends.”
Bullet Six. Christopher Roybal survived two shootings on the frontlines, to fight for freedom for this country. He died embattled in this country. In Vegas, some maniac and fate claimed his life. “What’s it like to be shot at?” Roybal is asked, “It’s a nightmare no amount of drugs, no amount of therapy and no amount of drunk talks with your war veteran buddies will ever be able to escape,” he wrote.2
Bullet seven. Neysa Tonk, forty-six and a mother of three, had dreams and ambitions for herself and her three daughters. She conceived of, and made plans for, a future. She remembered cherished and simultaneously derided her past. She worked as a beloved member of an IT firm. She was someone who meant much to many people. And she is gone.
Bullet eight. Brian Fraser. Bullet nine. Angela Gomez. Bullet ten. Rocio Rocha. Bullet fifty-five. Chris Hazencomb. Bullet fifty-six. Stephen Paddock.
When I was in seventh grade my friends grabbed my legs and my arms while I wiggled helplessly and screamed. The crowd hounded me down and pressed at my body, stretching me out so all my movement became restricted. Then Ale, my friend, unzipped his pants and wearing only his underwear started to drop his crotch against my face like he was dipping a bag of tea in hot water. Humiliation overtook me. Returning home in the backseat of my silver Volkswagen Santana, I just wanted to hurt them all, because they had hurt me and worse, they robbed me of dignity. Yet the next day when I arrived back to school I saw something in their eyes which told me they were just like me and that any fear or humiliation I felt, they would feel too. And no one deserved to feel that same way. Paddock probably always had his violent desire, which he subdued until the firing of that machine gun allayed it, until the final few seconds when he likely realized for what he had done there was no return, no forgiveness from himself or anyone. The SWAT were posted at the door waiting to ascertain the possibility of danger, yet he was certain that for him the danger was done. So he rested the cold of his barrel around his mouth and he made sure the pistol had a loaded round and he squeezed that trigger. I knew exactly why he squeezed the trigger, come to think of it. He squeezed it because at some earlier point, he must have come to the conclusion that he was better than all the other bastards he had met. A conclusion that likely only seemed untrue the moment he realized he had just murdered scores of humans and he had to be put down himself. And he must have wondered how he got there and how sad it was that all his life had ever been was the prelude to a bad nightmare. Fifty-six people died today.
When I think of the dead, I think of hymns. I think of the hymns we sang at the beautiful baroque chapel during my grandmother’s wake. The ornaments of the chapel were all gilded and pretty. The day had been particularly humid. My grandmother’s face was swollen and caked in makeup. Everything seemed so fitting and strange. An army officer marched down the aisle in his khakis to deliver a beautiful bouquet with wonderful solemnity. All the people and moments of my grandmother’s life seemed to have congregated in that church. I think of the fifty-six wakes that followed this shooting. I think of the strain of my shoulders to carry that black coffin and the ache in my heart as I saw the coffin lowered and the plates of cement dropped with camellias and chrysanthemums and roses to seal her off. I think of the confusion of all these people realizing that these deaths on the peripheries will keep happening until there is no periphery and the fact of death, postponed forever like an unwanted alarm, finally encircles us.
I’m talking to my friend about the shooting again, because it can’t leave my mind. Because it happens again and again and again and it seems so frightfully normal. “Fifty-six people died,” I tell my friend, urgent in tone.
“Fifty-six people die every day, Man, many more in fact,” he says, dismissing my point.
“And we don’t care about any of those, right?” I ask Mateo.
“Well we care about a few, but it really matters only when it finally involves that one person it would always involve.”
“You,” we both say in unison, laughing, but laughing cynical, laughing at ourselves, at our broken selves, broken into bits like most of the people of this world.
Bacon, John, and Mike James. “Las Vegas Shooting: At Least 59 Dead, Gunman Was ‘Crazed Lunatic Full of Hate’.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 2 Oct. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/10/02/las-vegas-shooting/722191001/.
Belson, Ken, et al. A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause, Then Carnage in Las Vegas That Would Not Stop. 2 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting-live-updates.html.
- Caroline Glenn, “Las Vegas shooting: Brother says something drove Paddock into ‘the pit of hell’,” USA TODAY, October 3, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/10/03/las-vegas-shooting-gunmans-family-horror-story/729706001/
- Chris Graham, “‘What’s It like Being Shot at?’ The Poignant Last Facebook Post of Las Vegas Shooting Victim Chris Roybal.” The Telegraph 3 Oct. 2017: < www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/03/like-shot-poignant-last-facebook-post-las-vegas-shooting-victimchris/ >