Uh oh. A serious post. If you came for the fashion commentary, well, sorry.
Yesterday there was a shooting at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh’s largest mental health facility. I was (am) pretty significantly rattled, more than I’ve ever been watching other tragedies unfold, regardless of how sad I found them.
Is it physical proximity? Maybe. I work one neighborhood over, and more than that, I was waiting for the bus about 300 feet from Western Psych when the shooting was starting, completely oblivious to anything unusual except an increased number of sirens, even for a neighborhood like Oakland, so packed with hospitals.
When I returned to my office, I popped my head into my boss’ office to say I’d come back from my meeting, which had ended early, and generally chattered on about meeting related nonsense. He seemed off-kilter. I left, and immediately returned, realizing he hadn’t asked after the questions he’d specifically wanted answered. Nodding, he half absorbed the information I was sharing. I figured it was the last few hours before his three day vacation started so he was a little checked out. When I sat down to my desk, I started to see bits of news and ran over to share with my boss, who was already in the middle of a conversation regarding the shooting. Eventually, he emailed that I could stop working and follow the news, and then came over to watch the live news feed with me.
Looking at the coverage, piecing together the timeline, I pointed at a spot on Fifth Avenue, now taped off and surrounded by reporters and cops, and said, “Huh. I think I was probably right…there when it started.”
“I know,” he said. “I didn’t want to break the news as soon as you got in because I didn’t want to freak you out.”
Long before I put two and two together and realized that I’d been anywhere near the event, something about this shooting had wriggled its roots into me and I was already extra unsettled. I can’t 100% articulate why, but I think it has to do with the symbolism of happening at a mental health facility.
Whether a product of popular opinion or fact, the profile of this kind of shooter is one of a profoundly tortured individual. We like easy villains in our narratives, and rarely do these shooters fit neatly into that role. Their actions are indefensible, unforgivable, but they are worthy of compassion nevertheless.
The state of mental health care is horrifying. We, the larger societal “we”, are unequipped to handle the overwhelming, aching need of the community. Full of hard working, dedicated, passionate people, the hospitals and clinics do what they can, but the system is broken. I am not so naive to believe that all horrors in the world can be avoided, but I do believe it must be possible to prevent this, to reach the person in crisis before that pain turns outward.
How do I say that this all makes me sad without sounding trite? So, so fucking sad. Watching the coverage at my desk, my chest was tight and I guess my boss could see my eyes were red.
It was sweet how concerned he was. I think my boss thought I was retroactively scared, but I was never in any danger. What shook me so particularly, in addition to the inherent heartache to begin with, was blithely standing by when a real tragedy was happening in spitting distance. It made me feel oblivious and self-involved. (So I thought I would write a long blog post detailing my feelings on an event that had real and lasting consequences on other people’s lives. If I’m self-aware about navel gazing, does it make it better?)
I went home and let myself sit in a snit for a little while, schlumping on the couch, still in my coat, listening to a gloomily curated playlist and having the good, big sob that had been trickling out all day. Eventually, I met friends for a few much needed beers. However shitty my day felt, ultimately, I had more reason to feel lucky than morose.