A Small Death in Maine
The blog you didn't read here this week was about a meeting at the local schoolhouse Thursday night. It would have been, had all gone to plan, mildly amusing and mildly exasperating. Here's the capsule version (make sure to swallow with plenty of liquid): 75 Lincolnvillians schlep out on a winter's evening to discuss the future of our town. Depiction of representative local characters. Background: Gateway 1 project, ambitious effort co-sponsored by MDOT to foresee and accommodate future development along an 80-mile stretch of the Midcoast. Wry twist: tea party types discover shadowy UN plot. Secret plans unveiled to surrender local sovereignty, conduct "rural cleansing." Jesus weeps.
So there it was, half drafted on my iPad, almost ready to post. And then the phone rang.
"The phone rang" doesn't mean what it used to. At some point in the last few years — I may have been napping that afternoon — the idea of a household telephone, centrally placed on a table or mounted on the wall, became as quaint as those wonderful 40s pictures of the whole family, Ma and Pop and the kids, gathered smiling around a big wooden radio. Every part of this short sentence is obsolete. "The phone" is now "the landline," which in the hipper sort of pad no longer exists, while "rang" is legacy syntax, like "dialed."
You gain some, you lose some. Instant accessibility comes at the price of a certain inherent drama. It took no time at all — no time in which suspense or anxiety might have mounted — to know the call was for Jay, and the news was that his friend Tyler had just been killed by a gunshot wound to the neck.
I didn't know Tyler, who was just 19. I've met his younger brother, an acquaintance of my son Tristan. I don't know the other young man involved — the one who lived alone in the apartment where Tyler died, and who may or may not have shot him. As I write, an investigation by the state police is under way; detectives are being tight-lipped, saying only that an autopsy was performed Monday and that the weapon used in the shooting is being tested.
From my perspective, at the outer edge of this terrible event, the key player is my friend Jay, a solidly good young man who has become something of an adjunct member of the family. He and my daughter Callie were hanging out, ignoring a video I was trying to watch, chatting merrily on the sofa, before the phone call came in. Now I'm trying to understand how this kind of news must affect him, what I can possibly do to make anything better. It's hard to get my head around.
I have learned a couple things, though. The other young man involved — the one who may or may not have been an innocent bystander — has a Myspace page. And it's pretty much all about guns. On the morning after the fatal shooting (and still as I type this), he introduces himself as follows:
"Hello my name is [X] and well I am 17 and I have just graduated high school!! And as you can tell from my profile I like guns... and therefore I don't like that dumb [___] for brains called Oboma or something like that, if you really want to know why then just ask... Now in 2012 I choose PALIN FOR PRESIDENT!! ... Any way.. I love music and my friends and being with them they are the most awesome people in the world... uhhh lets see... I leave in early September for Boot Camp for The USMC... uhh that's it any questions just message me and ask..."
There are pictures. Pictures of friends, pictures of guns, and one picture taken by a friend in which X is aiming a pistol right into the lens of the camera. His black t-shirt reads, "I don't discriminate: I hate everyone."
Jay tells me that Tyler, the dead boy, was an artist. I'm far enough removed from political reality to think that it's better to make the world safe for artists than to defend at all costs the right of unevolved people to own semiautomatic weapons. I realize this notion is, in its way, as quaint as the happy family gathered around the old radio — or for that matter, my own little household gathered around a video, blithely feeling that we are somehow protected, that we live in Maine where terrible things don't happen. Or at least, not very often, and not to us.
Quaint or not, and against all evidence to the contrary, I'm going to believe that anyway.