Mass murders don't happen in Seal Beach, this sleepy little beachside community. I live in Los Alamitos, the next town over, but the two are intertwined by shared schools, shops, restaurants, hair salons. It's a place people come to raise their children, a place known for it's peaceful, friendly atmosphere. It's where many of my friends live, many of my children's friends grew up. It's where our favorite barbecue place is, the sushi place we love. It's the place where a few kids from the high school could organize, in just 24 hours, a memorial to the victims that was attended by over 1000 people.
Not in my salon.
These things happen in other places...that's what they thought in Tucson, while they were grocery shopping. They believed they were safe at Columbine High School, going from class to class, getting an education. I believed, every five weeks for the past ten years, that I was safe sitting in Gordon's chair, laughing with him and the other stylists, 5 of whom were murdered. In fact, it never occured to me that I wasn't safe - it was such a nice place to be. By the grace of God, Gordon is ok. For some reason, I scheduled my appointment this week for Thursday instead of Wednesday...a random decision. It's just by chance, by luck, that none of my many friends who go to Gordon to get their hair cut and colored were there that afternoon. How lucky are we, and how unfortunate are the 9 victims of this man, only one of whom survived, this man whose vengeance and anger fueled the insane massacre of 8 innocent people, including the mother of his son.
Not to my friends.
Each person I knew that was murdered was someone I liked. They were part of the big picture of my little life - people with whom I laughed, chatted, gossiped. It's impossible for me to understand how Michelle Fournier, who did my daughter's makeup for her Bat Mitzvah and her prom, could possibly be dead. How could Victoria, the ball of fire who cut hair in the chair next to Gordon's and was his dearest friend, be gone? How could sweet, adorable Laura, who not only cut hair but did manicures, as solicitous of her elderly clients as she was of the young ones, have been shot by this angry man? Christy, the nail technician, who always looked so chic and incredibly youthful and made beautiful jewelry - how could he have shot her? And Randy, the salon's owner and calm at the center of the busy craziness that was Salon Meritage, the unofficial dad of the place, how could he have been murdered?
Salon Meritage was a really fun place to be every five weeks. It was the kind of place where everyone chatted with everyone...and everyone knew everyone. In a very real sense, it was a microcosm of Seal Beach. Mention a name and someone knew that person. Talk about a restaurant and someone had been there recently. It was warm and cozy and welcoming - everyone said hi when you walked in. They all watched my children grow up, and Victoria liked to say about my daughter - "She's gotten so stinkin' cute" (though she said this about everyone's kids!). When my son played varsity football at Los Alamitos High, they asked about his games and his performance each time I was there. Just a few weeks ago, when Gordon cut bangs for me, they all hooted and hollered about how good it looked. Salon Meritage had that kind of atmosphere - it wasn't "the salon," it was "my salon" - not just to me but to many, many people.
There's been a lot of chatter on the internet about this terrible tragedy. A few comments have implied that those of us that live in this neighborhood were delusional to think that we were safe here. I suppose there's some truth to that - certainly violent people are everywhere, as we see day after day after day in the news. But feeling safe is a big part of living where we do - raising our children in a place where we can feel reasonably confident violence won't occur. I used to tell both of my children, after Columbine, to be nice to the lonely kids, the outcasts - because we never really know what's going to push someone over the edge, do we. Well, now we do, here in Seal Beach, at Salon Meritage.
Not in my life.
These kinds of things don't happen to us, any of us...until they do. Violence occurs in other places, to other poor, tragic victims...until it comes to our neighborhoods and homes, touches our lives so profoundly, so intensely. The shock of the murder of 8 people, right down the street, right around the corner, in my salon...to have known five of the victims, and now sense the empty space where they once were, and to feel so badly for the other three - it has turned me inside out, filled me with pain and fear and a deep, heavy sadness. There have been constant phone calls, so many phone calls..."can you believe...I'm in shock...what can we do...how could this happen..." We need to remind each other that we are all still here, still safe - and mourn together.