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

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Tuesday, again

Tuesday, again

In exactly two weeks, “BFC Tragedy” climbs its way to the top of the list of writing topics on the sidebar of this Vermont blog–from a tiny thing at the bottom, to where it sits now–boldface, beside the prominent category of “Autumn.”

In retrospect, I wish I’d tagged this collection “BFC Healing” instead of “tragedy,” but at the time I never imagined that so much compassion would flow from murder.

Two weeks.

Doesn’t it seem like a lifetime passed since the Co-op mutated from haven to hell in an instant?

Somehow I find myself back here on a Tuesday; and this time it’s definitely easier; though I’m taken aback to see a baby in the cafe.  A baby.

Earlier this afternoon I passed tourists at the corner of Elliott and Main–two moms and a young son looking for a place to eat. I recommended the Co-op; and then wondered if I’d made a mistake.  If I was visiting, would I want to take my kids there?

I’ve left my own kids at home, but my husband has accompanied me again. I watch with tenderness as he approaches one Co-op staffer after another to offer an embrace or a pat on the shoulder.

I feel too shy to do the same, and wish I could wear a button that says, “I gave at my blog.”

“At least go see Tony in the wine department,” my husband says, over a bowl of soup.

Instead I suggest that I come back with cookies or candy–something easier to share than sentiment.

Perhaps the staff has grown weary of compassion anyway, I argue internally.  Maybe they’re trying to move on.  But the truth is that my biggest concern is that they would feel that we’ve moved on–without them.

Whenever I’m faced with uncertainty around connecting with those in grief, I think back to my friend Trish whose 18 year old brother was killed in an accident the summer we all worked together at the shore.  Everyone at the Crab House was heartbroken, but they avoided talking about Tommy so as not to make it harder on Trish.

Finally I asked her. “Does it make it worse when I talk about him?”

“No,” she answered. “I couldn’t feel any worse, and he’s on my mind all the time.”

Maybe it’s that way for everyone at the Co-op. Maybe this tragedy is always on their minds whether we acknowledge it or not.

I wonder how long it will take until I walk into that store and it’s no longer on mine.

Kelly Salasin, August 23, 2011

For more on BFC Tragedy, click here.

(ps. As I was leaving the Co-op, I saw those two moms and their young son, and they thanked me for the “great recommendation.”)

Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue!

Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue!

When something as terrible as a murder occurs in a place that we least expect it, it’s no wonder that fear and vulnerability and anguish lead us to blame.

We are human after all, even in Brattleboro.

This tragedy does call into question so many things, that indeed should be questioned:

Why did we grieve the second murder but not the first?

How can we claim to have such a strong community when we kill each other?

What could we have done to make a difference?

What could the Co-op have done?

I felt compelled to write about this tragedy when I discovered that someone I knew had been taken into custody.  I continued to write each day after, trying to make sense of how this happened. As the days passed, the comments grew, and it is the readers who grapple with this question; and I watch, ever so slowly, as grace and grief are replaced with blame. It is my teenage son who labels it so.

“Did you ever see the South Park episode when a house is burning down and the community stands around asking what happened?” he said. “The kids tug on the parents, saying–Shouldn’t we help?  But the parents answer–No, the important thing is to find out who is to blame.”

I think it’s good to tell each other who we blame, for no other reason than to let it drain from our minds so that we are better prepared to help.  But our blame must be conscious in order to be healing, otherwise we will dwell in it at the expense of actually doing something to make things better.

Hindsight makes it easy to blame as is evidenced by the subtext of the readers’ comments I see:

If only Michael Martin had never been hired.

If only Richard Gagnon had been fired a long time ago.

If only the Co-op had done something to mediate sooner.

It is only natural that we want to find someway to escape this pain, and blame is a strong distraction.

Captain Hindsight, South Park

“Captain Hindsight always appears just in time,” my son says, recounting another South Park episode. “He’s the Super Hero who tells people what they did wrong and how they could have avoided it. This makes people feel better even though it doesn’t change anything.”

But the truth is that there is no escaping grief if you intend to heal; and if you don’t, you add more suffering to the world.

Kelly Salasin, August 20, 2011