Baggage claim

It’s a new year, and one of the highlights of its nascent days will be, like last year, watching Clemson play for a national championship.

Last New Year’s Eve, I flew my Clemson graduate daddy down to South Florida, where I lived at the time, and we watched the Tigers book what would be the first of two straight title dates against Alabama by steamrolling Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.


We had the best time. We tailgated with a hairy man with a tiger tattooed on his belly. We listened to the Clemson marching band shake the Southland with Tiger Rag. We stood and cheered and spelled C-L-E-M-S-O-N so many times (with accompanying arm pumps) that my chest hurt for days afterward.

A few days, beers and poker games later, I dropped him off at the airport.

The Fort Lauderdale airport, to be specific – the same airport where I’d picked up my parents the previous June for a combined Mama’s birthday/Father’s Day trip that included Dodger games at Marlins Park. The same airport where I'd watched my stepdaughter shed her cool teenage skin and run into my husband's arms. The same airport where I’d picked up a dear friend who needed a change of scenery, another one on a business trip, another one who took her first flight to see me. 

The same airport where, yesterday, a man took a gun from his checked baggage, loaded it in the bathroom, and opened fire, killing five people and wounding six more.

To pick from among horrible things, I can’t even say I’m shocked. No one in this country can, not after we decided that the bullet-riddled bodies of 20 schoolchildren weren’t abominations that outweighed hefty political contributions. There’s nothing new to say, really, about the latest in a never-ending line of mass shootings in America – except, having stood where people most recently fell, I now feel this truth in my bones: It’s only a matter of time until it happens to you, or someone you love.

I can avoid this reality, snuggled underneath layers of blanket and cat and sampling seasonal beer while watching hours of football and college basketball as the last of the Saturday morning snow melts from stunned Southern trees.  I can avoid this reality cloistered in a house that has become a sanctuary of convenience and necessity, where my only conversations with other humans take place online, where messiness and blood are safely on the other side of the warped front door that requires a good hip check to lock.

I can avoid this reality until I am waiting eagerly to see faces I love, or in line at a restaurant, or walking around a university campus that, 21 years after I first left it, is haltingly reintroducing itself, at the same time as some fucker with a gun and a righteous grudge.

I know we think it can’t happen to us. But thoughts and prayers have just as much chance of keeping us safe as elected officials who have irrevocably abdicated that responsibility.

So I’ll have another sip and watch Jadeveon Clowney’s middle finger to those who thought he was a bust and try not see people taking cover in the Hibiscus Garage or cowering behind ticket counters or bleeding beside a baggage carousel where I’ve hugged my daddy.

It’s not that hard. Complacency is a faithful friend. But it’s also a liar.