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Warning: Strong language, grief and rage.

When you grow up in as large an extended family as mine (my mom was one of 12 children), tragedy and premature death is fairly commonplace. In no particular order:

  • A three-year-old cousin dies in an accident on the family farm.
  • A cousin and two of his friends drown in a canoeing accident; another cousin in the canoe (only about 10 years old) survives because a bystander was able to fish him out of the river. The collateral damage from this accident extends far and wide among my family and beyond.
  • An aunt dies of a heart attack while driving. She’s the first of the 12 siblings to die, but she was only in her 50s.
  • An elderly aunt is killed by a train as she crossed the tracks after picking up her mail.
  • A relative contracts rheumatic fever which weakens her heart. She’s told she should never have children when all she ever wanted was to have children.
  • Colon cancer ran amok through various aunts, uncles, and cousins for a time. Some survived, some didn’t.

With all these tragedies, guns were never involved.

I grew up in an area where guns were and still are plentiful because people like to hunt. I don’t like guns, never have, and they scare me because of their power to maim and kill. Yet, while I was growing up, it seemed that guns were only used for hunting or target practice or killing rats. They weren’t carried around like accessories. They weren’t valued for how many rounds they could fire off at a time. You can’t eat deer that’s riddled with bullets. My stepfather who liked to recall his hunting days before he became disabled scoffed at the idea that anyone would use an assault weapon to hunt deer. Simply put, he thought it was cheating. If you were a true hunter, he’d say, you’d try and level the playing field as best as you could. Of course, he was the kind of guy who would track deer for hours in the dark and cold and snow. And he would eat the deer because why else would you hunt?

Why am I writing all this?

Because for the first time in my life, I personally know someone who is dead because someone else took a gun and shot her.

Her name is Dr. Nancy Van Vessem. She was my primary physician from about 1994 to 2001. She was practicing yoga at a studio when she was shot and killed. She was only 61. I am only 61. Maura Binkley was also killed and she was only 21. Only. Twenty. One. Let that sink in.

Several others at the yoga studio were wounded.

Last night (Friday) we decided to watch the local news before going to bed. The first news story was of a shooting at a yoga studio. I practice at a yoga studio. The film footage showed a building with a long balcony. It looked similar to the building where I practice. It was several minutes before the reporters finally announced the studio name and location.

It wasn’t my studio. Of course, I was relieved. I had been sitting all those fucking long minutes running through the names of instructors who might have been teaching that night. But the relief wasn’t enough to keep me from shaking, from feeling shock settle in because the yoga community is a small one, and Tallahassee isn’t as big of a city as it likes to think, and I knew that somehow I was going to be connected to the dead and the wounded. I wasn’t going to be several degrees removed.

But when I saw the names in the paper this morning, when I saw Dr. Van Vessem’s name, when the memories of her treating me came flooding back …

I don’t want to get any closer than this. I don’t want the next cycle of violence to include one of my relatives or coworkers or close friends.



Damn it, people! Where do we draw the fucking line? I still don’t understand why the massacre of little children at Sandy Hook wasn’t a game changer. I still don’t understand why we didn’t rise up like Australia and say enough is enough. We’re better than this!

Sure, the shooting in Tallahassee last night was possibly a domestic issue (don’t you just love how violence against women is trivialized by the word “domestic”?). No doubt some will argue that we shouldn’t conflate a domestic shooting with shootings at the Tree of Life or Parkland or Sandy Hook.

Why the fuck not??

Tell me how one is worse than the other? People are dead. People who were just going about their business, going to pray, going to practice, going to school, for fuck’s sake.

How is it that a domestic incident is something we’re supposed to shrug off as if “that’s life. Just a crazy guy with a gun. Nothing you can do about that. Just move on and forget.”

We shouldn’t forget. We won’t forget.

What if we chose to not shrug it off? What if we, as a nation, said we were fucking sick and tired of anyone dying senselessly, prematurely, violently? What if we, as a nation, said we were fucking sick and tired of anyone who survives a shooting having to spend the rest of their lives possibly disabled, with PTSD, survivor’s guilt.

I want to have joy in my life. But, you know, it’s really hard when every day someone’s joy is ripped away from them because of gun violence. Yeah, gun violence. Some say guns don’t kill people. Guns are designed to kill people. That’s what they do. I’m not talking about the kind of guns that are used for the sole purpose of shooting game.

I’m talking about the kinds of guns that people buy for the sole purpose of shooting people. The people who claim it’s for self-defense. Right. So how do I protect myself from you?

How does a toddler protect himself when he finds his daddy’s gun in the glove compartment?

How does a 13-year-old sister protect herself when her 9-year-old brother shoots her dead because of a video game?

How much you wanna bet this lowlife obtained his gun legally? Florida is not a model state for gun laws. Our laws are too lax, have too many loopholes. People obtain guns in Florida and then use them to commit violence in other states that have stronger gun laws.

It’s supposed to feel good blowing off some steam, giving in to a rant. But I don’t feel good or even better than I did when I started writing. This post won’t bring people back to life.

That’s another aspect of our gun-loving nation that I don’t understand. When you shoot someone dead, that’s it. They’re gone and you can’t get them back, can’t turn back the clock, say it was all a misunderstanding, you didn’t really mean to kill them. The damage is done and it’s permanent. I’m not saying people aren’t killed by knives or other weapons. But there is a surety with guns, a confidence that guns will kill the most people most of the time. And that’s why they are used.

I want this to stop. I don’t want to live my life in constant fear because some people think their ownership of guns is more important than the lives lost because of guns.

Outside of my house, my yoga studio has been a sanctuary, a safe place for me and others. There, no one is judged and all are welcome. We honor the light we see in others as they honor the light they see in us.



Comments are closed because I want to grieve and not have to defend or reiterate what I’ve written here.

Categories: Gun Control

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Marie A Bailey

Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.

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