By Dylan Doherty
I was hesitant when my fiancée, Kelsey Ronan, suggested I write for East Village Magazine. Unlike her, I was not born in Flint, Michigan, or even the Midwest. I didn’t have the fascination and dedication to the city where I spent twenty years of my youth that Kelsey displayed for Flint.
Instead I thought of my home town as a black hole, a negative space bending all surrounding architectural and cultural ideas towards itself until they disappear into a myopic oblivion. My hometown is Las Vegas, Nevada.
I received the notification at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 2. Half asleep and without my glasses, I could only make out that another mass shooting had just occurred on American soil. After blinking away the crust of too little sleep I read that this shooting, the worst in modern American history, happened in Las Vegas.
Where, this time, was my hometown. The horrible where was the site of the Route 91 Harvest music festival, south of the Luxor across Las Vegas Boulevard.
I used to see the Luxor when I drove east on Tropicana Boulevard, wedged between a medieval castle and a replica of the New York City skyline. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, a pile of flowers manifested in front of the New York New York casino. At 15, I didn’t know whether to feel disturbed or touched. I decided to feel both.
Three years later, in 2004, during my senior year at Durango High School, my friends and I stayed at the Luxor for a post-prom party. Prom itself held in the middle of nowhere at some country club, held little attraction to me. However, my circle of friends included a couple from a different school, and the girl wanted to go to the prom. Students who didn’t attend Durango High could only attend our prom if they were the date of a Durango student, so I pretended to be her date to get her in.
Unfortunately, I’d never obtained a student ID. My statistics teacher was staffing the entrance but refused to let me in because I’d never shelled out for a student ID. I had my driver’s license and she knew who I was, but rules are rules; no student ID, no prom. My date, more invested in the prom than I was, began to cry at the prospect of not being able to go in. Luckily I met another friend who went to Durango, and she was able to go in as his date. Obligation discharged, I wandered outside the country club desert until my companions were ready for the Luxor party.
Once we arrived back at the Luxor, I met my actual post-prom dates for the night: a bottle of Jim Beam and a bottle of blue-flavored Gatorade. We wandered in an adolescent daze through the hallways, staring out the windows south across Las Vegas Boulevard, the desert nothing but neon lights and empty parking lots.
So, on the morning after the shootings, I remembered and wondered: Were any of those high school friends at the festival grounds we gazed at in the past? The check-ins I had come to ignore on Facebook became suddenly relevant. I contacted who I could, but it was 4:30 a.m. in Las Vegas. I waited to see their grainy faces staring out at me on the TV news. As I scrolled through my contacts I found myself wanting to reach out to those who, in that moment, I had forgotten were already gone, if not by a gun then by opiates or the noose. My contacts list was already full of deaths. Theirs were tragedies that would never be on TV. They would never check in.
I remembered returning one evening years after high school to my Vegas apartment after work. My roommate welcolmed me from his bedroom door as I beelined for my bedroom and the sanctity of my bed. Before I fell asleep, I could hear my roommate’s friend, who was unbeknownst to me hanging out in his room, speaking quietly to my roommate. “She sounds like a ghost,” I thought.
The next morning, she was dead — 40 hydrocodones. It’s the Tylenol which kills you, I learned.
The day of the shootings I was going on two job interviews. What I had planned to do that morning was iron the clothes I was supposed to get dry cleaned the day before, but never got around to. I had planned a leisurely process of learning how to iron a wrinkled shirt from some YouTube guru. The ash of mineral deposits from the steam iron pressed onto my collar and sleeves as I ironed and stared at the screen of my phone, but it had nothing to tell me.
When I got home from the first job interview and turned on the TV, CBS was already on, replete with Las Vegas sounds, images, and information. 50+ killed. 515+ hospitalized. An exasperated brother. A person of interest out of the country. It was late enough in the day for the Facebook check-ins and Twitter reactions to populate my phone. A wave of thoughts and prayers. Then tweets using the shooting as a call for more gun control. This was followed by criticisms of politicizing a tragedy, and then calls that these criticisms were themselseves politicizing the tragedy. Amongst all this, some guffaws over ignoramuses not knowing the differences between automatics and semi-automatics.
This is all familiar by now. Mass shootings are, if anything, good for generating content. But it never felt as bloodless as at that moment. The social media barrage was an alien add on as the bodies and blood on screen brought me back to where I grew up. My country’s experience of the shooting was a traipse through virtual reality. And I realized that I had experienced the previous bombings and shootings and bludgeonings in the same way.
As I read through all this I finally got a text from my friend Forrest. He was alive, and I breathed a little lighter. Less than 12 hours after the shooting, he said he was being pelted with “evidence” claiming that the Las Vegas shooting was yet another false flag operation perpetuated by the Deep State to take away our guns or make the US ready for the UN black helicopters. The “evidence” was the same news clips I had seen throughout the day–slowed down and enhanced. Las Vegas Metro and the FBI had eye-witness testimony, blood stains, a suite full of weapons, but the private eyes of the Internet had Photoshop. Democracy was no longer just a political orientation; we now lived in a democracy of knowledge.
As the night ended, I put on a podcast to lull my eyes to sleep. Of course, it was new enough to discuss the shooting. It made many of the points I had read on social media throughout the day, but somehow it felt more human. The podcast hosts talked as though they felt something as the rat-a-tat rattled through their ears and the screams of the festival goers saturated their senses. As I laid in bed listening, I counted myself lucky that I could tell the difference between the city of my past and the re-creation of it on social media. When it came to the shootings of the future and past, I worried, I would not be able to tell the difference.
EVM Staff Writer Dylan Doherty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.