The Pictures


Because we do not want to see them. Because it is easier not to show them. Because we will have nightmares. Because we will cry. Because months from now we will find ourselves on the brink of sleep and we will be snapped back to consciousness by a sudden image of her fear-stricken face. Because we will toss and turn for hours haunted by impotence and frustration and a gut-chewing guilt for which we cannot quite determine a root.

Because we have tried everything else. Because photos of the smiling dead, beaming oblivious from happier times, celebrating now-moot milestones and triumphs, nestled in the bosom of friends and families and lovers who could ultimately do nothing to save them, are not enough. Because photos of the survivors, faces wrenched and wrought with despair or rage or worst of all nothingness, the blank numbness of creatures who have lost all but cannot yet comprehend how that loss will swallow them and digest them painfully for the rest of their existences, keeping them sloshing and writhing in slow-acting stomach acid that never stops burning but will not be hurried in its grim work of skeletonization, are not enough. Because photos of stoic police officers and milling crowds and chalk outlines and shattered glass and scattered school books and yellow tape and teddy bear memorials and crosses and flowers and crimson smears on dishwater grey pavement are not enough.

Because she is young and pretty and thin and blonde and white and in our all-enveloping nihilism these are some of the few values we have proven ourselves to hold dear. Because we look harder when people like her go missing. Because we have commodified her long before this became her legacy, built for her an archetype and wedged her into it without her consent, forced her into an unspoken contract that we would assign her value and elevate her above the others so long as she agreed to remain young and pretty and thin and blonde and white. Because we have always looked at her even when she did not want to be looked at and to look away now would be the basest of hypocrisies, a disservice both to her and to those who we have told ourselves are not worthy of being looked at in life or death or memory because they did us the discourtesy of not being young or pretty or thin or blonde or white enough. Because she was she. Because she is she. Because we would not save her. Because we would not help her.

Because it is not merely a headline or a screen capture or even an image. Because it is a dual portrait of all of us. Because we are all the assailed, content and calm until the moment we are not, until the instant of hideous realization, of our faces contorting in grotesque masks of fear that reveal both our searing disbelief and our complete comprehension of where we are, what we are, how we end. Because we cannot shield ourselves behind the pretense of respecting the families, as though there was any possible disrespect we could visit upon them greater than allowing this, facilitating this.

Because we are all also the assailant, stalking insensate through the quiet corners of the day-to-day, armed with tools of ultimate judgment bestowed upon us not by any deity or authority but by ourselves. Because upon receiving these self-granted fragments of omnipotence we did not recoil at our hubris but instead devised means to make their power uncontainable and our possession of them unassailable, convinced ourselves that this was a noble and just and worthy cause for which we would die and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill. Because we thrust that tool into his hand. Because we pulled that trigger. Because it is no accident that we see these images from a first-person perspective. Because we would not stop him. Because we would not help him.

Because we must do something. Because there is nothing left to do. Because we cannot accept that this will never stop, that this battle is over, that this is our reality. Because we need to believe that maybe this is the thing at long last that shocks our senses and is not discarded in our rancid pit of rotting memories atop the corpses of black teens and white schoolchildren and churchgoers and movie-lovers and mall-shoppers and highway drivers and noisy neighbors and good samaritans and co-workers and wives and husbands and lovers and brothers and sisters and strangers and cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians and innocents and heroes and stars and nobodys and somebodies somebodies somebodies somebodies.

Because we know before we try that we have failed. Because even those who have worked and sacrificed and suffered tirelessly for it have nothing to show but bruises where their heads have banged against the same walls over and over. Because we are numb. Because we know we will see it again soon and shed the same tears and move along and forget until we remember and call it a shame and sigh and continue. Because we are tacit, complicit, sinful by omission, comission and inaction, a parade of impotent generations shaking our heads in unison, tsk-tsking our way toward oblivion.

Because we are doomed.

Because we are damned.

Because any sane God would laugh if we asked him to have mercy on the souls we long since sold to someone or something dreadful whose shape we no longer remember.

Because it will never change.

Because we will never change.


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