Nick's parents were here last week. They stayed with me because I have more room. It was really fun, getting to know them. They left Monday morning to spend some time at the Oregon coast before heading back to Colorado, but they called yesterday and wanted Nick and I to meet them at one of our local restaurants for a final visit over lunch.
So, mid-morning I was out in the back garden watering before the rendezvous--because yes, it's still hot here--when out of the blue, like someone flipped a switch, every siren in town began to wail. I was startled, and worried. What in the world would make fire, ambulance and police all ignite at once? My first thought was the lumber mill outside town had caught fire, or exploded, though I hadn't heard any booms.
About an hour later, I drove down the mountain to Nick's. He took the wheel, his face grim. I asked him what was wrong as he merged onto the freeway. He looked at me and said, "You haven't heard?"
"I heard the sirens going all over town earlier, was it the mill?"
"There was a terrible shooting at the college," he said. "There were several people killed."
I stared at him for a minute, not comprehending. "Was it Oregon State or the University of Oregon? It must have been bad if they needed our help." (Both schools are in towns about an hour north of me).
Nick glanced at me again. "Our college,"
"What are you talking about? Umpqua? That can't be right." As the words were spilling out and my stomach was beginning to roil, a LifeFlight helicopter roared over our heads toward the local hospital and two ambulances blew past followed by two State Police cars.
It was true. In my little corner of the world, an inexplicably tragic act of horror had just taken place. I've watched this scenario play out many times on the television; I've felt for the victims, the communities, the families and friends. But never, not ever, did I imagine it happening where I live, in the back of beyond small town America.
Our lunch with Nick's parents was fraught, the whup-whup of helicopters and sirens erasing appetites as we watched the story unfold on the big screen televisions at the restaurant. We parted with extra tight hugs and promises to keep in touch.
Last night there was a candlelight vigil in the park--a place usually filled with kids and picnics, summer music and art festivals. In the middle of town, the park meanders, following the bends in the river. It seemed like most of the town was there.
There's a strange sense of solidarity when people come together in disbelief, sadness, shock. I've seen this time and again on the news, but never understood it until now. You want that little candle to somehow light the darkness, keep the evil at bay. You stand next to strangers that aren't strangers after all and you wonder how this happened...why does it continue to happen?
Homeland Security, ATF, the FBI and every major news network have taken over the town. I had to grocery shop this morning and a store that is usually bustling with noise and clatter, was almost silent. Afterwards I went to my local coffee kiosk to check on the barista girls as I know several of them go to UCC. Thankfully, only one was in class yesterday. This morning she told me the images in her head will be with her forever. We cried.
I have always felt safe here, in Roseburg. It's off the beaten track, quiet, unassuming and small. The ground has shifted under my feet, peeps, and I don't know how to find my balance.