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We mourn, but we also celebrate. We stand alone, and then we stand together, holding hands with strangers. Holding strangers who are now friends

I’ve had swollen saucer eyes for days. Lashes that would normally be coated with mascara remain naked because the tears come all the time.

When I see a flag at half mast.

When someone recounts their story of survival.

When Anderson Cooper interviews a victim meeting their hero for the first time.

Stories of how our city has come together in its greatest time of need. A city I used to refer to as “apathetic at best.”

Nothing stops those tears from flowing.

And, at the same time, nothing stops those connections from forming.

Since the attack, I’ve been going full-steam, letting that therapist gene that has grown in me since my first session on a cozy, blanket-draped couch in sixth grade fuel me.

I listen, wide-eyed, sad, silent, as survivors tell me their stories. I’m not qualified to listen, but I do, because I’m learning we all need to talk. To make eye contact. To silence our voices and actually make space for other people in this world.

I choke back tears. I try to keep my voice from cracking as I speak my love for this city—a city I have always loved and called home most of my adult life, but it suddenly gives me butterflies in the most tragic way.

As tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace.

Mourners grieve at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. John Locher/AP Photo

It’s been a hell of a week.

The first evening—my birthday and the night of the shooting—I was out of town. Today, it feels like a distant memory. The terror. The horror. The frantic scanning of social media as events unfolded and we chased after our loved ones to make sure they were okay.

The second night, the uncertainty that pulsed through me as I returned home. Anxiety and panic that enveloped me as I walked through security and to the Las Vegas gate at San Francisco International Airport. The tears flowed freely as others sat, stoic, waiting for their planes. I listened to people talk softly, not making eye contact with me, the woman in tears with a glass of wine, mourning the city I had only left two days earlier now experiencing such great pain. Recognition bubbling in the pit of my stomach that I was returning to a home far different from the one I had departed.

When I arrived late Monday night, a friend greeted me at the airport after I told her to park, because the hug I needed couldn’t wait.

She runs out of her car when she sees me, and between the terminal and the drive, we burst into heavy, heaving sobs as the Strip stands tall and silent in the background.

We decide to drive down Las Vegas Boulevard, the part that isn’t shuttered off and part of an ongoing investigation. #VegasStrong, messages of prayer and information for those impacted glow from resort marquees normally flashing enticing videos to lure in visitors.

Not tonight.

As we turn to head home, there’s a small vigil on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, across the street from the glow of souvenir shops and under the beacon of the North Strip and Stratosphere.

We U-turn and park, hands tucked into our pockets and, once again, tears escape our eyes. We take in this moment of peace with flickering candles and a few police officers who stand quietly, showing the smallest signs of fatigue and sadness.

The third night, 48 hours after the attack, I find myself at a local bar packed with survivors. The crowd, a few hundred strong, were all staff at Route 91, witnesses to the atrocities one man (whose motive we may never know) inflicted on our world. They talk to us, but don’t seem human anymore. Their eyes are vacant, their voices flat, as they recount moments of heroism, and moments of tragedy, holding victims as they left this world.

The fourth and fifth nights, we come together and try not to cry. Although, let’s be real, we mostly do. Little moments still conjure acute feelings of loss. The topics of conversation aren’t about the trivial in our lives; they are about our pain. The “where were you when you heard” conversations. The sharing of how we are coping in our own ways to overcome what’s happened. The talk about how much we love our city. How proud we are.

Thursday night, Velveteen Rabbit features a local music showcase in the backyard. A space packed with people standing together under little lights, letting music help heal their hurt. We mourn, but we also celebrate. We stand alone, and then we stand together, holding hands with strangers. Holding strangers. We go from smiles to tears as performers call upon Elvis, The Beatles and finally Coldplay to relay our feelings of grief.

“If it wasn’t for the other night, we wouldn’t be talking,” I confess to a stranger at the bar, because now we are all friends. No matter the person next to me, now I always ask how they are. I connect. I want to make sure that in that moment, someone else cares about how they’re doing. It’s a new feeling, this need to nurture and remind people we aren’t alone, and it’s contagious in this venue.

At the end of the night, in the wee hours of the morning, Avalon Landing closes with “Fix You,” a Coldplay song that always evokes feelings of love and healing. Tonight, it’s intense.

I stand next to two strangers, swaying to the music, fighting tears.

“Lights will guide you home …”

An arm wraps around my waist from the left. I lean my head on the person’s shoulder and drape my other arm to the person on my right. He holds my hand and I squeeze his. Hard.

“I will try to fix you …”

And then, I let the tears flow. I let the sobs come and it feels good. Freeing. In the moment, it doesn’t matter that I am intertwined with people who most likely would never have been in my life a week ago. In this moment, it’s a connection. A powerful one.

We embrace, holding each other tight as the song ends.

Strangers forever united in a city forever changed.

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