Just when I thought it was safe to shop at the Co-op again…

Just when I thought it was safe to shop at the Co-op again…

Brattleboro-Food-Coop-_color-logo-2011-white-e1339968441518For months now, I’ve been able to go into the new Co-op without Richard.

He’s always there, of course, but he’s no longer in the front of my mind like he was each time I strolled into the wine department. (It hasn’t been Richard’s department in my mind for some time, and that feels good. And right.)

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to see a whole section of The Commons devoted to what happened 2 years ago. Did you know that this was brewing? I had no clue. And I wrote something like 22 posts on the Co-op tragedy.

At first I felt left out, but as I read deeper, I knew it wasn’t for me.  For starters, I didn’t know Richard intimately, and I didn’t know Michael at all. I didn’t even recognize his name–or his face; which was odd, given how the faces at the Co-op become friends, and given how long Michael had apparently worked there.

I remember how relieved I was to find out that it wasn’t Alex. I’ve always liked Alex. I don’t know him intimately either, but I have interacted with him over the years in a number of different capacities–as an employee, as a shopper, as a member, as a blogger–and my sense of him is stable and kind and thoughtful.

But what does that matter? No one deserves to be killed. And anyone can point fingers. And find fault. In any direction.

There seems to be a lot of finger pointing in the Special Focus section of the Commons, and in the end, it left me feeling yucky inside. And dirty.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t value what they had to offer. I do. I think it was bold to share the voice of a killer, to keep him a part of the community, to humanize him and his friends and his family. I think every person deserves that. Or at least, I think it benefits the rest of us to tap that connection, whether or not it is deserved.

But overall, I think the section devoted too much time to “how” the Co-op played a part in Richard’s action. It’s not that this didn’t cross my mind as well. I was mad at the Co-op. Mad on behalf of Richard. Mad on behalf of all of us who had to endure such a devastating impact. (Not to mention what the family and friends and co-workers of Michael Martin have to endure–forever.)

Can’t the Co-op be better than this, I thought. Aren’t they supposed to be? Why didn’t they see this coming?

But as the events of August 2011 receded, those rants softened, and what was left was Richard’s culpability. (No matter what was happening at work.)

That’s my bias.

If his wife had no idea that he could act like this, if he had no idea, how was the Co-op supposed to know? Do we maybe expect too much from it? It is, after all, a grocery store.

I have friends who have stopped shopping there over the years. They don’t like its politics. “How do you like the politics of Price Chopper?” I ask.

Relationships are messy. Families are complicated. Organizations with relationships, like a family, are… Impossible? Worthy? Complex.

I worked at the Co-op, for a handful of years, part-time, and honestly didn’t love it in the end. I’d always been one of those employees with glowing reviews, typically in leadership positions, but that was before I became a parent; and this was one of my first times as an hourly employee.  In many ways, I didn’t like how I was treated, and I thought to myself, even though I’m not a professional, I deserve respect.

I went to the management because I cared about the Co-op and wanted it to be an exceptionally good place to work; and they listened. Alex listened. Another manager stepped in on my behalf, and I felt heard and supported. But ultimately, I chose to leave, because little changed in my department, and despite my writing to Human Resources, no one seemed to care. (Lots of people left before me, and lots would leave after.)

I think it’s a worthy cause to look at the work place issues that surrounded this tragedy. I really do. I think it’s okay to air the dirty laundry. But I think it’s misguided to give so much attention to explaining what led to Richard’s action–on the outside, when to me it has everything to do with what was going on inside–of him. (And I think it’s odd that a smiling photo of him highlights it all.)

As someone who wrote profusely about the tragedy, I was approached by many who wanted to confide their views (on and off the record.) I heard how terrible it was to work with Michael. I heard how terrible it was to work with Richard. I heard how terrible it was to work at the Co-op. I heard how wonderful the Co-op was.

The only thing in my mind that was definitive was: Richard’s act and Michael’s death.

The editor of the Commons asks, What can we learn?

What I learned is that we each need to be responsible for what eats us up inside.

Kelly Salasin, July 2013

A related post: Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue

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Co-op Killing Anniversary

Co-op Killing Anniversary

Photo: i Brattleboro, C. Grotke

That’s a disturbing title, I know; and I hate to bring it up, but I know it’s there inside all of us, waiting to be expressed.

Anniversaries are like that. They come whether we want them to or not. Especially first anniversaries. Especially when a loved one is lost.

August 9 is the day that Richard brought a gun to work

How apropos that the old Co-op is being demolished as this anniversary approaches. What if we each threw something into the wreckage that we no longer wanted: guns, unresolved anger, bitterness?

I wonder how the Co-op will mark the anniversary? I know it will be a day full of anguish for the family of Michael Martin. I know that the days leading up to the anniversary will be particularly hard. I can already feel it in my own body.

What about Richard? What will his body relive of that day? What choices might he wish differently?

Would he do it all over again?

Would he get “help”?

What about the rest of us?

If you haven’t experienced the anniversary of a deep loss, then know that it takes its toll. Drink lots of water. Get a massage. Talk to a friend. Plant something beautiful–in the ground, in your life, in a relationship. Breath.

Breath.

Breath.

With love,

Kelly

Even the Potatoes Are Sad

Petty Thoughts

Petty Thoughts

petty |ˈpetē|
adjective
1 of little importance; trivial
• characterized by an undue concern for trivial matters, especially in a small-minded or spiteful way

I have to admit that I feel satisfied that Richard isn’t a part of the new Co-op.

I like strolling the new wine department–in all its expansion–knowing he doesn’t get to be there.

These are petty thoughts, of course, given the weight of what happened; but the feeling is my own personal vengeance for what was stolen.

Good riddance, Richard.

You don’t belong here no more.

Kelly Salasin, July 2012

ps. but what’s up with the cheese department?

Richard at The River Garden

Richard at The River Garden

Note: This post was written in the year following the murder at the Co-op. In the comments that ensued below, readers suggest the naivete of–Richard at the River Garden–saying that I do not understand the magnitude of his act.  What about the Rwandans? 

Finally, there is news of Richard Gagnon, and the trial that we have been dreading–and waiting for–so that we might put this nightmare behind us.

But alas, the news is that the trial is tentatively set for: fall–more than a year after Richard shot and killed a fellow co-worker in our community co-op.

The new store will be open by then, and perhaps the old one will be demolished; but of course, there is no demolishing the loss we have suffered.

It’s true that we can now walk into the Co-op, and just for a moment, forget that it ever happened. We can almost step foot into the wine department without thinking of Richard. We might be able to complete an entire round in the store without a thought of the back office where blood was shed. (Who can imagine having to work back there?  Wouldn’t we be the first to volunteer to begin the demolition? With a vengeance.)

My heart aches when I think of this trial and all it represents; and all it avoids.

Of course, Richard was mentally ill when he shot his boss. Anyone who shoots another human being must be mentally impaired. The level of guilt assigned by the courts is irrelevant to Michael Martin who is dead. Forever. Michael’s sentence can never be shortened, and neither can his family’s. There is no compensation for a life that makes any sense. Not years or a lifetime or even another death.

My idea is this: place Richard in the center of the River Garden each day where the rest of us, one by one, can come to meet him. Each will share his loss. Some may cry, some may scream, some may sit in the silence of unspeakable pain.

Richard’s “sentence” will be to receive–as long as people keep coming.

When he is not scheduled at the River Garden, Richard will report to the family from whom he has stolen a loved one. He will stack the wood, and clean the car and fix the fences like Michael would have done. Afterwards, he will make rounds at the homes of fellow staff members-to offset the time they lost to grief and outrage and despair. He’ll help with the laundry. He’ll take out the trash. He’ll do the dishes. He’ll clean up after the dog.

The next day, Richard will return to the River Garden for his scheduled appointments. Children will send pictures they drew after the murder. Mothers will share how they held their children through the nights afterward. Lovers will tell of sweetness lost. Colleagues will share the heartbreak of loosing both Michael and Richard.

Richard will continue to show up each day until no one comes. And then he will sit with his own pain. He will teach others how to listen. How to be conscious. How to take responsibility for anger or resentment or even depression.

He will bless our community in humble service until we have healed.

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous posts: BFC Tragedy.

Retrospective Reluctance

Retrospective Reluctance

Now that 2011 is behind us, I’d like to skip the retrospective and forget that there ever was a fire or a murder  or a flood; But the stores are still closed on Main Street, and Michael Martin’s sister just posted on my blog, and MacArthur is not the road it once was.

I search on the internet and the find that the only thing new about Richard is my own writing on this blog. What’s happening? It’s been almost half a year. Wouldn’t it be convenient to imagine Richard never existed?

But then I think about the Martins. How are they moving forward? How important is the trial to them? When is the trial?

(I was just called for jury duty; but not for a criminal case–Thank God.)

Yesterday, I came upon a poem about being in prison. My son was home sick and asked if I’d read to him while he ate his soup. I picked up the book that I found at the Marlboro Book Swap last year, and blew off the dust. I had intended to read excerpts from A Call to Character on a regular basis, but the practice died long ago.

“Let’s find something about kindness,”I say.

My son smirks with embarrassment.  Just a moment earlier he snapped at me in that sardonic “tween-age” fashion.  In my best NVC, I let him know it stung. With his big heart, it pains him to know that he’s hurt me, even if he can’t help himself.

“Darn, there’s no section on Kindness, only Compassion” I say. “But you’ve got plenty of that.”

“Read anything,” he says, delighted to have me seated beside him all day.

I flip through the stories and plays and fables, and a poem catches my eye in the Self-discipline category. I begin reading… to myself.

“Read aloud,” my son begs.

“This one is about being in jail; I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“Read it,” he says; and so I proceed:

Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison

...To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
                              is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
                       and for spring nights,
       and always remember
              to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
                                             to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
        ten or fifteen years inside
                                       and more--
               you can,
               as long as the jewel
               on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!

(Nazim Hikmet)

Kelly Salasin, January 2012

ps. My apologies to those of you who clicked the link to MacArthur Rd above. I couldn’t help myself. That song won’t leave my mind today, especially as it rains on top of our long-awaited snow.

Should Richard Smile?

Should Richard Smile?

A friend comments that Richard isn’t a danger to anyone else, suggesting that–theoretically–he could be set free until the trial; but, of course, that would be wrong. VERY wrong. You can’t kill a man and rob a family of their loved one and keep going on with your life. You have to suffer as much as possible. It’s only fair.

Actually, it’s not even fair. There is no fairness in this situation. There never will be.

This makes me ponder the point of prison. It’s punishment right? No doubt Richard deserves punishment.

On the other hand, as a parent and lifelong educator, I know that punishment isn’t very effective in terms of changing behavior. It actually exacerbates it. Then again, the threat of punishment, can serve as a deterrent.

It’s too late for deterrents for Richard.

Do people, who feel murderous, really not kill someone because of the consequences?

What about the death penalty?

Have any lives been saved because someone thinks to herself, “Hey, I’m in Texas, and they have the death penalty, so I better drop this gun and walk away.”

What about Norway?

They don’t have the death penalty, and apparently killers there serve an average of 14 years jail time. Anders Behring Breivik, the good-looking man who massacred all those students in July, will serve the longest sentence available–21 years. Even so, those with the maximum sentence can be released after serving two-thirds, and many are given weekend parole after one third.

Despite being “soft on crime” however, Norway has a lower crime rate than us, and their incarceration rates are among the lowest in Europe.

I’m inspired by the thought that how we respond to criminals says much more about us than it does about the acts they commit.

Are we a murderous, vengeful, punishing people?

In the case of Richard, what do want?

Is death really fair?

Wouldn’t having to live a long life in the face of his horrid act be more in line with justice?

Given the irrevocable loss of Michael Martin, it’s hard to imagine Richard doing anything nice. Visiting with his wife. Reading. Meditating. Working out.

That’s when I have to turn my thoughts away from what he did to what I want or what I don’t want. I don’t want a world filled with any more murder, vengeance or hatred; and I don’t want to support the idea of “us” and “them” because within that separation is permission to do all manner of things which have terrorized humanity forever.

When I enlarge the context like this, I know that Richard’s “time” must be more than punishment; and I know that I must find my way to allowing him his smile.

Kelly Salasin, October 2011

For more posts on the BFC Tragedy, click here.

What is Richard doing?

What is Richard doing?

In the days and weeks following the Co-op tragedy, I’ve wondered, What is Richard doing?

I’ve never been imprisoned or even spent a night in jail so I have a hard time imagining how Richard’s hours are shaped–beyond the stark horror of his act.

How does he sit there, day after day, staring at such devastation? How does he read a book or write a letter or take a breath–apart from it?

Does the murder hit him like icy water when he wakes each morning?

Is the pain as sharp as it is for Michael Martin’s wife?

How does Richard find permission to move on?

What does he say to his wife when she visits?

How about his mother?

His best friend?

His co-workers?

Other prisoners?

“I shot my boss in the head.”

What do they say in return?

Does he make friends? Does he try something new? Does he begin to heal despite the never-ending pain of his crime?

Over two months have passed since Richard entered the Co-op that Tuesday morning with a gun.

How is everyone else doing now that the shock has worn off?

Does the icy water of remembrance hit you in the face from time to time too? Like when you’re standing outside of  Sam’s flood sale on Flat Street and glance across the brook to see the Co-op’s loading dock? Or when you’re pushing your cart toward the yogurt and have to pass the opening for the back offices?

Two months.

What is Richard doing?

Should I care?

Do I have a right to?

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT

to read more about the BFC Tragedy, click here