In the wake of your untimely and altogether regrettable death by firearm in the United States of America, the question must certainly occur to you, as it does to your mother and I, whether this tragic ending was preventable. Was there a set of circumstances whose convergence could have altered your ultimate path from birth to violent death? Could you have, in some alternate timeline, come to a more timely and somehow less confounding end? The answer, inevitably, my dearest child, is yes.
I must apologize. The responsibility, of course, is mine.
If you are wondering, dear sweet child, whether it occurred to your mother and I to leave the United States of America, either before or after your birth, at some point before this occasion of your shooting death, I have an answer for you. Every day. We considered leaving every day. As you too well know, we never did.
I yearn for a good explanation for this decision. The decision which, single-handedly, placed us on a one-way train to the hospital in which I, only yesterday, shook in knowing grief as they peeled back the white sheet to reveal your somehow still recognizable face. To think it was in a hospital in the same nation in which you finally emerged to greet us, a face familiar but not yet recognizable, a body destined to contain the bullets of a young man whose sanity and predictability now comprise the bulk of online and televised debate across the land. They warned me that it might be a bit of a shock, to see the changes enacted by those bullets, to say nothing of the vain attempts by the surgeons to extract them. But somehow I knew before I saw. They say you always do.
I wish I could tell you that we were bound inextricably to the United States of America in some way. That we were not permitted to leave by law, restrained under threat of the same weapon which prematurely ended your life. Or that we were constrained by duty, the deepest of patriots who could not consider forsaking the beloved homeland. Or that we blithely maintained a buoyant certainty that your future would best be provisioned in this, the so-called greatest country in history. Alas, none of these are true. It was some combination of inertia, attachment, and misplaced hope. We desired to be close to friends and family, yes, to raise you with reminiscent experiences, to take you to old haunts and hangouts. Now, everywhere is haunted and we will never again hang out. Naive, foolish, willfully ignorant. These are just words that fall somewhere between hollow and insufficient. The truth, the real core of it, is far too human. We thought it wouldn’t be us. Nay, we knew. Only humans, perhaps only Americans, dare to know the future before it happens. For if we only thought it wouldn’t be us, only presumed, how could that be enough? How could any man who falls upon the mangled corpse of his child, torn asunder once by mortal ammunition and twice by frantic scalpel, look in retrospect to find calculated risk of this event? One in a million is twenty times too high a chance.
And yet, years before you were conceived, the chance was better than one in 29,000. Each year. Just one in 370 in a lifetime. Better than a quarter of a percent.
We took no heed.
We knew it would have to be us to change. It would never be the country. For all my preaching and ranting about the power of swift change, some patterns are too entrenched to be questioned. After Sandy Hook, they said, there could be no horror too great to shift the inevitable tide of bodies. Maybe after Columbine. The nation was too violent, too in love with violence as a solution. The guns were too available, too many in love with guns as a lifestyle. A country founded in blood, demanding the right to proliferate firearms to all, in an era when refusing to wear a regular uniform and form up as a regular unit was the height of treachery. It was a nation whose cities were transformed into tombstones, one at a time, as the gun-toters competed to place their city name higher on the grim leaderboard. Orlando. San Bernardino. Las Vegas. Parkland.
It was your nation, too. You might well ask if it even would have been you had you come to us in France or Finland, India or Indonesia, Russia or Rwanda. Grown up with foreign friends and phrases, mannerisms and expectations altogether Unamerican. Could you take some small sick solace from the notion that the only you who ever could really have existed could only have died as you did that day? Perhaps, perhaps. After all, your mother and I prefer nurture to nature, raised you to believe the same. What would we have discussed in Vantaa, Varanasi, or Vladivostok? At what point does the Ship of Theseus transform, does the American child become unrecognizable in some far-flung port? My kingdom for another night to discuss this with you in our trademark late hours when you will awake no more.
Instead, I am left to write you this letter. A letter you will never read, will never see, in the pathetic hope that it can somehow bend its way backwards in time to a moment before you were born, maybe even before you were conceived, when there was still a chance to throw the trolley lever and avert this disaster. What would I do differently if I knew? Everything, everything. How could I not?
Oh, the counter-arguments. There were many who said stay and make change happen, stay to influence the course of history in the way that only a talented privileged white male born therein could. Don’t use your ability to get out to make it that much worse for those stuck behind. Maybe the loudest voice for that argument was me, dear dead child. I had always known, always spouted, that had I been born in any other country, I would have spent my life jealous of the influential power of native-born Americans.
There is no power known to humans to raise the dead, though. Nor to propel one to fix irreversible mistakes before they happen. I am left with the regret that only the living can feel about the past. Do not mistake this tone for bitterness at our relative states, young sweet child. Only that I would switch our status in a heartbeat if I could, as would every parent who leaves after their offspring.
A heartbeat. I was not there at your last, at the moment you had time to wonder what could have been done, how you could have ended up anywhere else on the last day. How you could have instead been the person reading about another’s horror and tragedy, with your beloved empathy and compassion, yes, but also with that secret security of knowing, knowing, that it will not be you.
I did not know. We do not know. I do not know.
I am sorry.