Bye-lo, Kalamazoo

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If we were having coffee this morning, I wouldn’t be very good company. I keep crying. I’ve been crying off and on since I first heard the news when I got home from work at midnight, and all I can say is “no.”

No.

That’s it. Over and over. No, no, nonononono. Not here.

The sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson

I should be thinking about the people, wondering if I know their names or if I’ll recognize their faces on the news. I should be wondering about their families and loved ones and thanking God that my daughter is home this weekend and not in Kalamazoo.

Instead, I am glued to the TV and internet, watching for updates.

Kalamazoo is my hometown. I grew up in one of its suburbs, and I used to work in the downtown area. Even now, I live less than an hour away. I can’t even begin to count the number of people I know in the area.

It’s been almost twenty years since I lived there, but it’s still my home. I should be frantically trying to contact people, but I don’t know where to start. Instead, I’m sitting here with the words of a Carl Sandburg poem running through my mind. And the people who sin the sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson.

Last night, one of the people of Kalamazoo sinned a sin that was both scarlet and crimson. A man named Jason Dalton went on a killing spree and shot eight people in Kalamazoo, killing six of them. One of the victims, a fourteen year-old girl, is being described as “gravely injured”.

As far as the police can tell, Dalton didn’t know his victims. He shot a woman in the parking lot of a townhome. A father and son at a car dealership. Four women and the teenager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Some reports say he was an Uber driver, calmly picking up and dropping off passengers between shootings.

Why?

If you are nuts America is nuts

Dalton’s neighbors have been interviewed on the news, saying that they never saw this coming. He seemed like such a normal guy, they say.  They also say that they are “concerned” about his wife and children, who haven’t been seen recently.

Police are looking for more crime scenes because four hours went by between the first and second shooting.

More crime scenes. More? God, please, no more.

And when they have looked the world over they come back saying it is all like Kalamazoo.

There it is. That’s the part that hurts. We are no longer immune. Every other time there has been a mass shooting or killing spree on the news, I’ve been able to stifle just a tiny bit of my horror with the inner reassurance that it hasn’t happened here yet. And now I can’t say that anymore.

I bought my last car at that dealership. I’ve eaten at that Cracker Barrel. Chances are good that I am going to recognize the names and faces when more information about the victims is released.

The wishing heart of you I loved, Kalamazoo.

I sang bye-lo, bye-lo to your dreams.

I sang bye-lo to your hopes and songs.

We are not strangers to death and tragedy in Kalamazoo. We were never any more or less innocent than any other town in America. We were just the people who lived a town whose name means “bubbling water” or “mirage of reflecting river”. Normal, ordinary people living in a normal, ordinary town with a memorable name.

Glenn Miller had a gal in Kalamazoo. Hoyt Axton had a cat named Kalamazoo and even Johnny Cash had been everywhere, man, including Kalamazoo. We have a hockey team and sometimes a baseball team. We had the first outdoor pedestrian mall in America.There are t-shirts and mugs and posters that declare “Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo!”

When an F-4 tornado levelled parts of our downtown on May 13, 1980, there were t-shirts available less than twenty-four hours later that said “Yes, there still is a Kalamazoo!”

We are a resilient town, just like any other town in America, and now, we have been hit by random, unthinkable violence, just like so many other towns in America. I don’t know what to say. What to think. How to feel. I guess I should be angry, but I am just sad and old and tired. For me, the sins of Kalamazoo no longer run to drabs and grays.

People are already using this as an excuse to start issuing grand proclamations about gun control, but this is not the time time to argue politics or Second Amendment rights. It is not the time to jump on a political bandwagon and turn this into an opportunity to climb on a soapbox. It is a time to open our arms to each other and find comfort in the closeness of our neighbors.  And mourn.

I sing bye-lo, Kalamazoo. To your hopes and songs, and to your people.

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6 thoughts on “Bye-lo, Kalamazoo

    • Thank you. I know it will never make sense, but I want it to make sense. I want to be able to figure it out, and knowing that we never will . . . well, that’s the part that truly hurts. If it doesn’t make sense, if we can’t figure it out, then we can never make it stop.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My brother and his family live there and I was in a panic when I heard the news! It’s so scarey what our world has become. You’re right, it’s always been far away from me..and now it’s happened an hour or so away from me and where my brother lives. Makes me so sad!

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