September 16, 2005

One Month Later: Living With the Memories Following the Shooting of Armando Lazos

By Heriberto Escamilla

A couple of days ago, I was sitting at my desk in my office downstairs, lost in reflection and not focusing on the task at hand as much as I should have been. That seems to be happening a lot these days. From the cemetery that lies beyond the bamboo wall behind our house, I heard the sudden explosion of gunfire. With last month’s shooting still fresh on my mind, I impulsively rushed up the circular metal staircase to my immediate left. Halfway up, I heard a second series of pops and immediately realized that I was hearing a 21-gun salute. Isn’t it something how the same exact sounds sometimes provoke fear and seconds later, a sigh of relief?

In the two and half-years that we’ve lived in the cinder block house on the corner of Wilma and Granger, we’ve heard a few of these traditional military salutes. We have grown accustomed to these reminders that as we go about our business here in Lincoln Acres, young men and women are still fighting and falling in the Middle East.

I reached the top of the stairs in time to see my 18-month old granddaughter Lily walking toward the sliding glass door at the south end of our living room. Lily and I have stood out on the wooden porch a few times now, silently watching the puffs of white smoke that follow the rifle’s report. Sometimes, we hear the bugle playing Taps and at other times, it’s the faint notes of Amazing Grace.

At a year and half, Lily registers everything that she sees, hears and feels, but doesn’t have much of a vocabulary. She can’t tell us what she sees and how it affects her. She reminds me of her mother, our daughter who for the longest time used different intonations of the same syllable to express just about everything that she needed to say. In her world, “vevay” was grandmother, “vaveen” meant ice cream, and “vavee” was either the television or radio, boxes that made entertaining sounds.

Lily likes the sound “boo.” By changing the intonation and adding the appropriate facial expression, she let’s us know when she’s hungry, wants to go outside or if she is upset about not going outside. So while she’s far from mastering either Spanish or English, she let’s us know what she feels as best as she is able.

So as the third and final string of pops rang out, Lily came to a pause and pointing toward the door, did the best she could to tell me how she felt. “booo…..booo.” The expression on her face was unmistakable distress; her crying as she pointed at the cemetery told me that she was frightened. Who knows what was going through her mind. I can only guess that she remembered the shots that rang out on August 14th and she associated the sounds with the fear that went through our bodies as we held her. But unlike me, she was not able to put these sounds and feelings into context. She couldn’t understand and soothe herself. At that point, all we can do is pick her up and hold our children, reassuring them that what they feel eventually goes away. And some of the time, it does.

In her 18 months, Lily has been fortunate. Unlike a third of the little children in the United States, she still has the love of both biological parents. And even though we are accused of “spoiling” her, she sees all four of her doting grandparents on a daily basis. Blessed to live in an unincorporated area of the county, Lily has had the opportunity to feed Quickie the chicken, Tex the rooster and their half dozen constantly clucking chicks. She’s had the good fortune of petting the South African Boer baby goats that we bottle fed for 6 weeks. This past summer, she would race out the back door; reach for ripe nectarines or figs, and happily stuff handfuls into her little mouth. Most of the time, Lily is making lot of good memories for herself. Hopefully, we can help her build on them.

But I really don’t know about the other children that heard the August 14th shooting of Armando Lazos. A few of us were at the site a few days later, when a Spanish-speaking woman walked up to join us, a little boy cradled in her arms. As we shared our experiences, she expressed concern that one of her other children was still afraid to come outdoors. Evidently he had seen the converging police officers and was now afraid to come out for fear of running into the “soldados,” the soldiers that were outside. Who knows what associations he was making in his fertile little imagination and how he would remember the event.

Another neighbor told us that her small grandchildren, who lived in one of the houses that border the cemetery exit, had been terrified. They had been forced to remain inside the house, even closer to the furious sounds that accompanied Armando’s departure that day. Those children are also surrounded by loving parents and relatives, but who knows how the sounds and emotions will be embroidered into the fabric of their lives. And who knows of the other children we don’t know about, what they heard, what they felt, how they made sense of that frantic, tragic afternoon.

While we would like to believe that we as adults are better able to soothe ourselves, the truth is that fear and anger are powerful forces of nature. During the community forum that took place a few days after the shooting, our faces clearly showed that fear and anger and the pain we felt as we struggled to control those feelings. Think about it. It’s probably a terrible analogy, but one that rings true for me. As adults we build strong concrete levees and dams that give us a feeling of security, but that are ultimately helpless in the face of nature’s raw power. Viejitos, we need something to soothe us as well.

They say that right before our death, our life flashes before us, which we re-experience the memories we have stored away. We’ve known this for a long time; it’s in our culture, our myths, our stories and our music: lo que pasó en este mundo nomás los recuerdos quedan...

Through those words, Cornelio Reyna is expressing that respect for death, for Mikitsli that as Mexicanos we’ve always known about. The people of ancient Mexico taught us that we should respect death, that we should use it as our advisor. Death visited us on August 14th in a tragic disrespectful way. Let’s make whatever changes we need to make, both as people and as public servants that support that community so that death does not visit us in such a terrifying manner; that it doesn’t frighten our children and poison their memories, their spirit. Instead, let’s help our children remember that tragic event in a way that soothes and helps them protect themselves in the future. Let’s help them make good memories. Buenos recuerdos.

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