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Kathy Bradley

Is there a way to put deep loss into words?

The sky was a blue glass bottle pouring out the white light of the sun. It puddled in the grass of what was once the Wesleyan Botanical Garden and what has been for probably 75 years Washington Park. It was a perfect spring Saturday in Macon, like so many perfect spring Saturdays I’d spent there, anesthetized by youth and privilege and oblivious to the gifts of freedom and promise.
    A group of about a dozen high school students had gathered for the taking of prom photos. The girls were dressed in bright orange and deep turquoise, jonquil yellow and cobalt blue, their skirts all full and showy like peonies, fluttering in the breeze around their ankles. Their arms and shoulders glowed with the faux bronze of tanning beds. Their hair, pulled up off their necks, couldn’t withstand the teasing breeze and came loose in soft tendrils around their carefully lined and shadowed and mascara’ed eyes.
    The boys stood awkwardly, hands in the pockets of their rented tuxedos, saying little, following the instructions of the mothers dressed in blue jeans and loose cotton blouses and wondering how exactly they had ended up here, in front of God and everybody, wearing pastel cummerbunds and pin-tucked shirts.
    I sat on the grass next to a narrow creek that flowed with just enough water to shimmer like a million tiny mirrors or — better simile — the sequins on the red dress of the tall girl with dark hair and I listened to the giggles, watched from a safe distance the eye rolling and head tossing. I couldn’t help being mesmerized by the drawing room drama played out as the group moved from the bridge to the stone steps to the iron benches, posing and preening, smiling and leaning into each other with the right combination of timidity and sophistication.
    Then I looked at my cell phone to check the time and realized I’d missed a call. Probably not anything important. No one was expecting me anywhere. No one should be needing me for anything on my out-of-town Saturday.
    I was wrong. The call was from law enforcement, my job, the work that I didn’t want to follow me to Macon, and I knew before I dialed the number that something horrible had happened.
    My friend, Tom, who was born to serve and protect, outlined the facts. One child was dead; another child was arrested. The former now a victim, the latter now what the law calls a juvenile offender. And because he was a juvenile, the people back home had questions for me because I am what the law calls a juvenile prosecutor.
    I listened to the story, as much as anyone knew at that point, and felt the light dim, the warmth cool, the musical sound of laughing teenagers transformed into dissonant cackling.
    I closed my eyes and accessed that part of my brain that speaks the vocabulary of criminal procedure. I answered questions, asked a few of my own. And then I hung up.
    There are moments when one can’t help being aware of how big the world is and how isolated we all are from the rest of the people living in it. Most of the time that happens, for me at least, when I’m stuck in Atlanta traffic, experiencing sensory overload and absently wondering where all the people in the cars are going, where they live, how much trash they produce each day and where that goes.
    And then there are moments when the world contracts into one small square of earth. Moments when the connectedness of every human being to every other human being is as palpable as spring sunshine on bare arms. Moments when every face is the face of someone you love, every hurt a bruise on your heart, every loss your own sacrifice.
    Sitting on the grass in Washington Park last Saturday, it was that kind of moment.
    There is no way to make sense of what happened. Here or at Virginia Tech or, eight years ago, at Columbine. But there has to be a way to redeem those moments. A way to translate the language of loss into something speakable.
    There has to be.
    There just has to be.

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