tagLoving WivesThe Shooting at Our Merciful Lord

The Shooting at Our Merciful Lord


My thanks to blackrandl1958.


Chapter 1: Complacence and Discontent

Every life has physical or emotional tragedy that must be endured. Suffering is part of our condition. A birth defect, an accidental crippling, an early demise: all lives include tragedies, eventually. The great tragedy of my personal life came to light because of another tragedy, a terrorist attack that struck a small town in the middle of nowhere, our everywhere. Not a day goes by I don't give those two tragedies a thought. I'm reminded every time I try to button my collar, throw a ball, or sign my name.

I grew up in that town, Sky Grey, Ohio, attending the public schools there, playing in Little League, exploring the woods, and reading in the library. In those days, a parent sent a 7-year-old boy out to play and might not see him for hours; we were more independent before we knew there were molesters and kidnappers afoot. We kids'd pick up a game of slow pitch baseball or half-court basketball. We'd make teams of three and play fast pitch baseball with a rubber ball in Jimmy's side yard (and "run like the dickens" when we broke a window in his house). There were woods nearby and we would explore, sneaking about, climbing trees, playing army or cowboys. I played tennis for whole afternoons, knocking a ball against a wall if no one else wanted to play, or I'd find my way to the library and read for hours in the air conditioning. I didn't realize how special that time and place were. It was an idyll I only recognized many years later.

I went to Sky Grey Public High School, getting good enough grades to get into college, and in lieu of anything else or better, I went. My parents paid the way. I liked it: I liked girls, I liked sports, I liked reading, and I liked not having to pay for anything myself. My college years were good years. I dated a few girls, especially Alice, and she stuck with me the last two years of undergraduate school. I graduated with good but not great grades and a degree in something that would never pay.

I was 22 and the world was opening its arms to me; I just didn't want to be embraced. I knocked around various jobs, proofreading for a company that made how-to books, playing with kids at a daycare center, and unloading furniture at a warehouse. All of these were minimum wage jobs despite my college degree, and unconnected to it. Alice dropped out of my life and neither of us were all that sad about it. I lived at home with my parents, worried about nothing, and only bit by bit did it dawn on me that my life had to change.

I joined the Marines, spending a few years as an infantry officer in Virginia and North Carolina. No one shot at me, and our leaders avoided sending me to war or incident, so my service was a series of schools and programs with a short time assigned to a combat unit ready to go to war, which didn't happen for me. Seasickness was my most dangerous foe. In some ways, I had very good luck.

Indeed, on one of my leaves, I went home and attended an old friend's wedding. There I found Karen Ann Prynne. She was Karen or Karen Ann interchangeably, and she liked both. I'd known her in high school, but she was a year younger and we moved in different circles. At this reception we gravitated to one another. Perhaps it was my uniform; it definitely was her looks.

I didn't think I'd ever talked to her until that night, at least for any length of time. She was just a little shy, about to graduate from college with a teaching license, and things were different with her. We danced and talked and laughed, and I found myself with a girlfriend. I was convinced there had never been a more beautiful, sexy, intelligent, discreet, good person. I didn't think I could find a better woman for loving for life. I had not felt this way about Alice or any other girl.

I only saw her three times in as many months after the reception, but I was sure. She would kiss me, push that wonderful body against me, and I responded. By the fourth date, I would touch and she would touch me, but we didn't really have much time together or opportunity for more. I was serious though, and I thought she was the one for me. I noticed her pick up a child at a family gathering, talking gently and with humor to him. I saw her give change to a beggar as we walked through downtown Cincinnati. She was perfect, I thought.

I was smitten. I flew home any chance I had, or drove overnight on long weekends, and Karen Ann and I became serious as my last year of committed service began. We were engaged in September, as she began her first year teaching at Sky Grey Public Elementary. We decided to get married over Christmas with no fanfare, when I would be home for two weeks. Karen Ann contacted the church and kept everything secret. It would be an elopement with no lope.

I had duty on Thanksgiving Day, but she made an excuse, flew to Raleigh and we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving exploring our bodies and having sex in a motel. Her body was wonderful; Karen Ann's face was arresting and even striking in a way that attracted men when they saw her up close, but her body was long, shapely, curved, and drew stares across crowded rooms. She was well-built.

Her breasts were perfect and a little large, and I had a wonderful time pressing them, squeezing them, and sucking them. She would sigh and hold my head to her whispering, "yes, lover" or "harder" or "pinch it." I would push a hard dick in her, loving the wet warmth around me, and she'd put her hands behind my neck and say, "I'm yours now, John" or "I'm yours, all yours," and "I'm no one else's." Usually, she pointed out my possession of her, her willing state as chattel, a metaphor I dismissed. Each time, it would heighten my excitement and hasten my climax, but I wondered at that most illiberal idea that a man possesses a woman. I decided it was a bedroom turn-on for her and we never discussed it. I left her at the airport in Raleigh Monday morning about 3:30 a.m., and I then swooped back to Lejeune. I made it by 6:30. I told the captain my girlfriend was in town and he said, "I knew there was a reason for that smile."

Five weeks later was Christmas, and I had leave until January 3. My duties were winding down in the Corps, so I flew home and we were married at the Episcopal Church because it would make our parents happy. Neither of us really held much belief in spirits or God or Jesus. We told them the week before Christmas we had the wedding set up, but we only wanted them and a few friends to attend, and that was how we did it. Christmas was on a Wednesday, we married on Thursday with perhaps 20 people there, and by 7 in the evening we were having sex in a motel in Cincinnati. I still remember that anniversary date.

We were naked and embracing, my hand on her marvelous right breast, when she said, "I'm pregnant, John. Since Thanksgiving." It made for a loving and then almost violent sexual event. This time, Karen was on all fours on the bed, and I was slowly, very slowly, sliding my dick into that marvelous, trimmed pussy, when she turned her head and said, breathlessly at times, "UH, that feels so good. You own this cunt...you own me...now you own my womb." She had this most marvelous expression to her countenance, part happy to tell me such wonderful news (I'd never made a secret of my desire for kids) and the mild distress or pleasure a woman feels as a man's dickhead is first captured by her pussy. I rammed it into her then, and she yelled "Yes!" as loud as she could. I fucked her that time for thirty minutes, milking it to stop the beginning of climax. She was shuddering and writhing as I mounted her from behind; she was sometimes up on her hands, other times resting with her head on a pillow. I was on both knees, sometimes one knee, sometimes crouching so my cock went into her from different angles. She talked when she could, "fuck me" or "give it to me" or "I love your dick." We only did it that one long episode on that wonderful occasion, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, is there anything better in life?

I felt lucky. Karen Ann was beyond my dreams sexy and good. I had married the best of women. I won the lottery.

We stayed in that motel, ate in its restaurant, and shopped in some shops there, but mainly made love or fucked; it was the same for us, day or night. Even hard sex was loving. But nothing is perfect, and that last day of the year she started to cramp and then bleed, and she said, "John, this shouldn't be happening," and we lost that child then. We spent the day and night at a hospital in the Clifton area of the city, and it was a sad, close moment. The D and C followed. The doctors had no reason to give; sometimes these things happen, more than you know, they said, nodding sadly at us. They told us to wait a while and try again. Still, the world was no longer only right. Bad things happened for no reason, and we couldn't avoid all of them. We didn't tell our parents, at least right away; they still pretended our first night together was the day of the wedding, but they really all knew. There was no reason to tell them of the miscarriage since Karen Ann was okay. It was ours, only ours, I thought, one of those sad secrets that make a marriage stronger.

I called the duty officer of my battalion and requested some extra days because of my wife's condition, which was granted after he notified the XO. I was a liaison officer with only routine duties that were easily redistributed. I headed back to Camp Lejeune on the fourth day of the new year. Karen Ann would wait for me in Sky Grey. We would live with her parents once I left the Marines in July, until we could buy a house or rent an apartment. I was soon reassigned and so spent the last six months of my commitment running one of the rifle ranges on base, an assignment often given to a soon-to-depart first lieutenant.

As July came to a close, I drove home to a wonderful welcome and stifled sex in my in-laws' home. A few weeks later, I found an acceptable job in a rural growing regional hospital, organizing volunteers and eventually scheduling professional events and educational enrichment for doctors, nurses, and other professionals. Officially, I was the Professional Careers Enhancement Coordinator at the Hospital of Our Merciful Lord. (The hospital was actually incorporated, but they avoided putting Inc. at the end of the title.) The hospital served a very large rural area with no large city, a rare niche that it filled well. It was growing rapidly as the communities nearby came to rely on it. I would help professionals maintain their certificates and licenses or upgrade when possible. Eventually, as I learned the demands, I'd coordinate with medical colleges and other hospitals when a doctor asked for help. I worked with schools and programs to organize lectures for new or advancing professionals, especially for some of our more prominent doctors. Merciful Lord lacked a standard personnel department that other larger hospitals had. It needed one, according to some department heads, and I hoped my position would grow if it were organized.

We found a small house in town, only two bedrooms, but there was a small utility room that could be converted to a small third bedroom; we would be in one and any kid who came along could be in the other until we could convert the back room or afford a bigger place. It had one bath, a small laundry room, and no basement. The backyard was small, but large enough to toss baseballs, so what else was the purpose of a backyard? Actually, there was a small patio with an oak shade tree. There was a dying ash tree over to one side, magnificent at one time but now dying from borers. I think Karen Ann was disappointed in the house we could afford, but it was that or an apartment. We closed on September 20 with immediate occupancy, so we were only with her parents for two months or so, and happily, that had not been onerous.

The day after I was hired there was a reception for all the new hires, doctors, and administrators, as well as some sort of hospital benefit. Karen Ann and I attended, meeting this nurse and that doctor and the main administrators. I was introduced to the staff, along with others. Karen Ann was fetching in a grey dress that was a little too sexy, showing a bit much of her great breasts for a Catholic hospital, but she enjoyed the attention of doctors and others she seemed to attract (I didn't say men because one woman was definitely hoping she was in the game.). Karen Ann was demure in behavior, if not attire, and I was proud to be her husband. She enjoyed the evening.

I have regretted not paying more attention to Karen Ann at that gathering.

We were pregnant with Dylan by the beginning of October, and we discovered it in November. As the pregnancy progressed that month, Karen Ann complained that her back was hurting so we bought a firmer mattress that she said helped. Karen Ann said she had names ready for our first child: Dylan for a boy and Hanley if a girl. Dylan was born in June, happy, healthy, and long. He was bright-eyed, moved a lot and soon smiled; I think he was happy from birth. I played with that kid every moment, and Karen Ann enjoyed watching us play on a blanket on the floor. Dylan was a wonderful joy. Dylan.

In December, with Dylan now 7 months old, Karen Ann said she was pregnant again, but like our first pregnancy this child was doomed. Christmas with Dylan was wonderful as he started crawling and the positive prospect of another in August was warming, but for some reason we lost this one in January when the cramping started. Karen Ann called for me to hold her, we called my parents to take Dylan, and I took my poor wife to the hospital for another D and C. This time it was my hospital. I never left her side.

Again, the doctors shook their heads at our bad luck. There was nothing to do, they said, two miscarriages were not that unusual, and you have one healthy child. If it happens again, we'll do some tests. Take some time, heal and gain strength. We did, and our patience was rewarded.

I was convinced of the strength of our marriage, and never more convinced than after the two miscarriages. I held Karen, kissed her as she wept, more at the loss of expected happiness than the pain itself. The great tragedy of our miscarriages was the loss of a joyous dream. After our first, Karen had clung to me, literally and emotionally. My arm would be gripped in public, her body would push into mine as we walked on the sidewalk or in a mall. After the second, she accepted my condolence, but her eyes looked distant at times, as if she needed to speak but didn't want to say it. It was as if she were looking for something that was not there. I wondered if the pain of miscarriage diminished her desire for children. I assumed it had to do with the wear and tear of work and pregnancies, dual miscarriages and raising a child.

By August, we were pregnant again and knew it a month later, and this one was our Hanley, the little girl we prayed to have. She was dark-haired and chubby and again a taller child, wonderful to tease and cuddle. She was born April 1. Her older brother wondered at this sudden increase, toddling about and trying to talk and suddenly competing for attention and hugs.

As every parent knows, work goes on despite midnight cryings and three-o'clock feedings, and we were exhausted many days dressing for work. I was accustomed to my job and did it well, I thought, and Father seemed pleased. But Karen Ann was slowly running down after she went back to teach in May, so we decided to have no more children for a bit. We had our hands full, breastfeeding the one and gradually teaching Dylan to take only one step at a time. The house was suddenly full and we needed to decide what to do.

We kept Hanley with us in a bassinet and Dylan had a room to himself, so close I could hear him turn over in bed on a quiet night. Not many were quiet; Hanley needed feeding or wanted to wiggle at 3:15 a.m., or wanted to see if we'd get up for her. Usually we were cheerful, or at least we faked it. We watched an old Humphrey Bogart movie after one wake up that denied further sleep; Karen Ann and I cuddled in front of the TV, watching a plane in Casablanca take off in heavy fog. I thought it a touching, weary moment. I felt loved and valued, and Karen snuggled. Perhaps we needed more such nights.

We were still young, and young families are cramped as they save for that bigger house or prepare for that better job, so I didn't fret. It was the way of life: youthful struggle and middle aged success. There was reason to believe our situation would improve.

Merciful Lord was a good place to work, but my job was a hodge-podge of duties that frequently went unnoticed by more than one or two doctors or nurses. Father stopped in to talk with me shortly after Hanley was born, to ask my plans and what I wanted out of working at Merciful Lord. I explained that I saw the job as a dead end for me unless there was an increase in responsibility, and he nodded. I could make more money selling suits in a mall. I said that with two kids, I had more need of a career and needed to be more ambitious. He nodded again and said he was thinking along those lines, too. Once he left, I wondered if he was hinting I should leave.

Hanley was just over a month old. Dylan would turn two in a few months. My wife had lovingly borne two children, suffered two miscarriages, and quietly accepted my easy contentment with our life. For me, life was a lot of joy. I had just the normal insecurities of a man in his late 20s.

It all went away with the massacre, not because of it, but because it never was. It was always a chimera, in several senses of the word.

I had been at Our Merciful Lord for two years and nine months on the awful morning that made us famous.

Chapter 2: The Shooting at Our Merciful Lord

The Merciful Lord Shooting occurred at my hospital on June 3, early in the morning. You may have heard of it. Some people call it a massacre, a terrorist attack, or Jihad. By any term, a lot of people died. It was a sunny day, not too hot, and I was checking on a lecture I'd scheduled for beginning surgeons in Classroom 2 at 8:30 a.m. and a demonstration dissection of cancerous liver tissue in Classroom 1a at 8:45. My watch said 8:28.

I walked to two (which was on my end of the hallway) where there were people milling about just as shots sounded behind me. If you have not heard M16 fire, it is not particularly booming but it is penetrating and arrests your attention, especially indoors; it is more of a sharp cracking sound if it is fired in rhythmic, short patterns, and that was what I heard coming from the main entrance behind me. It was so much louder than I remembered from the shooting range. Everyone first thought it must be firecrackers, but somehow I knew it was not. It went on, a cadenced series of pops. It turned out they had plenty of targets.

There were young doctors standing about the hall near the doorway to two, and they looked startled, wondering what the sound could be; I said, "That's gunfire, get in the room, in the room!" They looked as if they didn't believe me, and I had to push them to get them moving. "You can get out the rear window if it's safe. Look first. I'm gonna lock the door here. Pile up some stuff in front of the door if you have to!" I heard "oh my God" and "what is this" and then they moved. "I'm locking the door now, be careful," I said, as one little woman doctor stared at me. I closed the door and locked it. There were a lot, a LOT, of pops.

I turned back to the hall. There was the popping sound in little groups of three. Pop pop pop. Pop pop pop. Not automatic, but three rounds as fast as the finger could comfortably move the trigger, and repeated. It was disciplined, cadenced. As it went on, it became paired shots. They were in a target-rich environment and didn't need to use so much ammunition. Disciplined killers were usually trained somewhere, I thought. I moved carefully beyond my little office. I heard shooting and screaming; then I heard some shots, probably from a security guard because they were lower and deeper; there were three or four of these and the pistol shots stopped. A moment later I peeked around the bend in the hall and saw a security guard on the floor in a pool of his blood; he was behind a counter that had holes through it and I assumed he'd been shot while ducking behind. I still didn't see the shooter or shooters. There were screams and voices and it was disconcerting. Farther down the hall, I could see several bodies on the floor, none moving. Pop pop. Pop pop. As I got closer, the sound was more like a cracks piercing my eardrums.

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