I got sick on Monday, the sort of sickness where my brain drifted off into delusion as I lay groaning on the bathroom floor, and I thought, Sure, I don’t need any help, I’ll be just fine.
My wife kept emailing me to ask, ‘Do you need me? It sounds bad, should I come home?’ But I replied that I was okay. This latest bout was obviously my ticket to feeling great for the rest of the day.
Of course what actually happened was I wound up in the ER in Springfield, sitting limply in a wheelchair, trying not to pass out while I waited to be seen. While I was there, the news started trickling through the haze and into my distracted consciousness; the Boston Marathon had been bombed. My wife read Twitter while we waited. People were freaking out, worried, angry. There was a fearful undercurrent to what they were saying; Boston will never be the same. No one will run next year’s race. This is some kind of turning point.
I closed my eyes and said something about how horrible it was. The afternoon stretched on while we waited. One wing of the ER went into lockdown; the rumor rustled through the waiting room that a man had been shot in the city, they were worried it was gang-related somehow. Cops came and went. The nurses on duty looked tired. Just another day.
Eventually they wheeled me in and pumped me full of fluids. I began to come back to life. My kind nurse asked if I’d heard about the bombing. I had. She shook her head and said she couldn’t understand why someone would “come over here” and do such a thing. I learned later that a Saudi man had been tackled as he’d tried to run away from the bombing, and at the time everyone thought he’d done it.
I recovered and left the hospital, and came home to convalesce for a few days. I followed the news. The Saudi man turned out to be innocent. The hyperactive media whiffed on whether a suspect had been caught (one hadn’t). The Internet’s less reputable corners started a vigilante hunt for the bomber, combing through photos and video, hatching one conspiracy theory after another. The shooting victim in Springfield was expected to survive. I learned later he’d been shot about a block away from where I work. There wasn’t much news about why it had happened. Another shooting in the city the next day took everybody’s mind off it.
Then, on Wednesday, as I sipped gingerly on a concoction of half-Gatorade, half-water and munched a cracker or two, a minority of the Senate voted to kill a compromise that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. It was weak sauce — a half-hearted, last-minute attempt to do anything at all in response to the Newtown shootings, but it was the last hope of gun control having teeth. Apparently it was too big a step for Republicans and red-state Democrats, and the bill died. Newtown families, now accused by smug faces on the right of being nothing more than political props, cried. Furious, the president stormed onto TV to denounce Congress. I didn’t — couldn’t — watch.
After Newtown I wrote that I thought this time we’d change, and I think we still will. But the sort of change we need isn’t just a bill. It’s not just expanding background checks, or banning assault weapons; it’s the shifting of a whole mindset.
This week it seems like the whole country is drowning in violence and fear. There were so many wonderful responses to Boston, but so many awful and unhealthy ones as well. When someone’s first impulse following a tragedy is to tackle a foreign-looking man or set up an Internet vigilante squad, something is wrong. When a young man on his way to play basketball gets shot and the news media sighs and forgets, something is wrong. When the right to buy a terrifying weapon at a gun show without a background check is more important than the right of children to live, something is very, very wrong.
This culture of violence and fear is a sickness we’ve had for a long, long time. Right now we’re lying on the floor, groaning, willing ourselves to believe that we’re perfectly fine. But violence and fear feed on one another, and we need to be rushed to the hospital. But we can’t do that until we’re willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, we need the help.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.