It was a beautiful and moody Pacific North West beach day, where the waves were glassy and peeling and the fog was hiding a gun fight.
Happy day after Thanksgiving! Last week I told you how my head fell off and I needed to go get in the ocean in order to screw it back on. Well I did that, and it worked in that the stress level surrounding my holiday sale and online pop up shop has been brought down from DEFCON four to a manageable two, however, an active shooter situation on our beach brought the current "gun culture" reality in this country out of the fog, and into broad daylight.
I'm from New Orleans. The majority of my friends had been mugged, car jacked or held up before high school was over. How I escaped NOLA without ever really experiencing this is beyond me. I had a gun kind of drawn on me once by a scared kid who seemed to regret it immediately, and ran off before he had even pulled it fully out from behind him...but that's another story.
My point is that, being a native New Orleanian, perhaps I was already a bit desensitized to gun violence. Combine that with the fact that there has been a mass shooting for nearly everyday of this year and I suppose I could sadly say that it's just our new normal.
I've actually been thinking about my desensitization to guns ever since a New Orleans shooting happened in the middle of my street while I was just standing in my kitchen, sending a text. I had all the windows open and a clear POP POP POP POP seemed to happen right outside. I stopped texting and thought to myself, "If I hear another POP, I'm hitting the deck." The shots stopped and I just returned to my text. Not another thought given. That was in 2007. Now, it seems, we are in a whole new reality where we are being referred to as a "gun culture". Which leads me to my story of de-stressing in the ocean last weekend.
We paddled out early. It must have been about 8:00am. The waves were the best they had been since we arrived the day before. It was sunny, but the marine layer was closing in fast. I kind of like surfing in the fog. It's mysterious and it usually means that hardly anyone else will paddle out because they, A. can't see the waves from the beach and so have no idea if the surf is good or not or, B. decide that the air temp is 50 and the water temp is 52 and without the warmth of the sun, forget it.
It was just us out there having a blast, when a helicopter started circling above. Then another surfer paddled straight up to me and said, "Uh...I think we should all paddle in." My first thought was, "There's a big fishy out here", and my husband told me later that he thought perhaps there had been a tsunami warning. But no, it turns out a cop sent him into the water to get us because there was an active shooter situation on the beach.
Here is what apparently was unfolding as we were blissfully riding the waves: Crazy dude held up a store 60 miles South of us. Crazy dude was confronted. Crazy dude fleed the scene and proceeded to take the cops on a 60 mile high speed chase up the 101. (If you've driven on the 101, you know how cray cray that sounds on its own.) Cops deployed a spike strip about 1/2 mile from our surf spot which stopped crazy dude's car. He jumped out the car and started shooting at the cops who returned fire. Crazy dude ran into the office of the motel in front of where we're surfing, barricaded himself in and took a motel employee hostage.
So while we were in the water, unable to see the shore due to the fog, and totally oblivious to all of this drama, I was thinking, "Gosh, it's amazing out here. I wonder why no one else is in the water". In reality, the highway had been closed to traffic for about an hour both North and Southbound and so no one could even get to where we were.
Frankly, we felt safer in the water but a park ranger was waving us in from the beach. When we paddled in, he met us at the waterline and told us that there was a "guy barricaded in that building right there with a rifle" and with the fog clearing up (which it was), we needed to get out of there immediately.
So there we were, standing on a vast beach with nothing in between us and the shooter but our surf boards. Needless to say, I started walking very quickly to our van where we pretty much threw our boards in, got in while wearing full, wet, wetsuits (which if you know my husband is enough to give him moldy smelling nightmares), and got the hell out of there.
As it turned out, the shooter couldn't see us on the beach from where he was, nor did he have a rifle, but a shotgun, and I don't think he ever had a hostage, but I can't seem to get clarity on that from media outlets. Does any of that make this situation better? I'm not sure.
A few things occurred to me as we were hanging on the jetty waiting for the police to reopen the beach:
I felt inconvenienced. Our surf had been interrupted and then the wind kicked up which meant we probably weren't going back in. The fact that we were bummed about not being able to surf has been messing with my head. I mean WTF really? A guy has a gun, we thought we were in the line of fire and that he had a hostage and I was bummed about not being able to paddle back out? Something is wrong.
My default was to joke about being homesick. I know it common that many people default to humor when in horrible situations but the fact that I said, "Well, I was just feeling homesick for New Orleans so a guy running around with a gun really makes me feel right at home", is really fucked up.
I didn't feel surprised. When the surfer paddled up to me, and told me what was happening, I thought to myself, "It was only a matter of time" and then I started imagining what the water and sand would look like when struck by a bullet. Would I hear it or would I see the water splash or the sand spray first? It was all very logistical.
As my week went on, I thought more and more about it. We HAVE gotten desensitized. Guns being waved around is common place in our country. I never thought it would happen on my beach, but why wouldn't it? Why would I think for a minute that we were immune to our gun culture?
It's the week to be thankful, count our blessings and hug our loved ones, which I did with enthusiasm yesterday. But the truth is that we need to do this everyday. My passion for what I do increases daily because of the hardships that people are enduring all the time. I figure my role is to keep creating beautiful art and writing my truths because frankly, we need to be inspired right now, just to simply keep moving forward.
My truth this week, is that I'm glad I didn't get shot. I mean, we could have gotten to the beach just a bit later or had a leash break and needed to get out while a gun fight was happening. I'm sickened by this being a nearly every day occurrence and I also realize that we only really hear about the instances where people are shot and killed. Situations like this one where thankfully, no one was hurt, doesn't make the national news. How many situations like this happen every day?
Damn...I don't want to bum everybody out, but I also refuse to candy coat this shit. This was my week and so it's on my mind. I'm going back over to my parents' house tonight for a different New Orleans tradition (I mean...besides ducking bullets) of turkey gumbo the day after Thanksgiving. Plus, I just want to give and receive more hugs and eat that extra piece of leftover pie without regret. I suggest you all do the same, because in this reality, you simply never know what will happen minute to minute.
Frankly, I would have preferred the shark.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram. Join me on this crazy beautiful Artventure to receive early access to my December Pop Up Shop, where I'll be offering some paintings from my Reclaimed Hearts series, one of which is seen at top.