You can tolerate a terrible situation for years. Have your heart broken, wake up frightened in the middle of the night, lose your voice from constant pleading, and then one day something happens and you slam the door on all of that.
I slammed the door Wednesday. I slammed the door so hard, parts of the door jamb pulled away from the wall and the glass in the little window, the pane with the old sticker that said “War is not healthy for children and other living things” shook so hard I thought it might crack.
I’d just gotten home from a long day at the Wisconsin State Capitol where I’d gone with a friend to speak against a bad piece of legislation. “I bet you didn’t hear about the shooting,” my husband said, gesturing toward the television where the CNN symbol lit the dark at the end of the day living room. CNN lives with us now, moved in over a year ago, its commentators like family members who come to dinner and never stop talking. We tune them out until some terrible piece of news snags us.
I listened but only barely. A witness to the shooting was talking into the camera. I turned my back on him and went into the kitchen. I didn’t need to hear anymore. Nothing that would be said would make any difference.
I slammed the door on heartbreak, fear, and pleading.
It wasn’t something I decided. It was visceral. Like an abused woman deciding that this morning’s black eye would be her last black eye.
The next night I went to my first Moms Demand Action meeting. Several volunteers in matching red t-shirts ushered us into a room where twenty chairs were arranged in a circle. Brochures and a poster-board display took up one table; on another, there was a stack of clipboards which we would later learn were for signing up for various tasks: attending lobby day, writing letters to the editor, welcoming new members, teaching people about gun safety.
Soon every chair was filled but people kept coming. A woman fed pieces of banana to her baby while her toddler ran up and down the hallway outside. A little girl in a dress was sprawled on the floor, a box of crayons emptied out next to her. She never looked up from her coloring book. Latecomers sat on the floor, the back of one so close to me that I had to tuck my feet under my chair. Many women were young, their arms decorated with tattoos; it made me feel like I was with some tough customers. The time was right for that, being with tough customers. It was what I had decided to be.
A tiny woman in a red Moms Demand Action t-shirt sat next to me. She seemed to be in charge. With shaking hands she told us about the Moms Demand Action agenda and as she talked I realized she wasn’t nervous, she was intense. Her intensity about gun violence was making her hands shake. I knew then I was in the right place.
I signed up for lobby day at the State Capitol. I want to do things where I will be physically present, where I will be a human being that a policymaker has to talk to, recognize, acknowledge. I want to be unavoidable. I want to be in their way. So I am going to buy a red Moms Demand Action t-shirt and I’m going to go with these people I don’t know and hope we are all in the way of people who wouldn’t care about gun control unless we were there to confront them. I bet that my hands will shake.
I left the meeting early. Some people were staying to write postcards to legislators. I wanted to be in my car with the new me, the one who’d finally slammed the door. I felt like I’d crossed over from a place where people were wringing their hands to one where their hands were shaking because of their anger and resolve. That is where I belong.