At the #wearorange rally we’re laughing at the silly orange costume pieces. Susan replaces the orange tutu and funny little party hat on the table next to the band of orange hair that I was wearing. We walk away talking. Susan’s going to post a picture of us wearing the gear on social media. The volunteer who took our picture hears Susan say this and points to a poster with a list of websites we can include in our posts. We make our way back to the table and our purses.
Susan posts the picture to her Instagram and Facebook accounts. She tells me that I was tagged in the picture, and that she’s added a comment: In support of my friend Leesa and in memory of her son Jon.
I love this and decide to put the picture on my new Twitter account, my @leesarossaustin account so new that I only have four friends. As I upload, Susan calls out, “Ah, we’ve already had some people like our post.” I laugh. Not because I’m surprised by the quick responses but because I’m not sure if my four new friends will respond. Susan laughs at my novice social network. In times like these, at a rally for gun safety, it’s important to keep a sense of humor.
The afternoon sun peers through the trees and I start to feel hungry. About this time the wait-staff starts to bring out several trays, setting them on the table in front of us. Hooray, free food. There’s a tin filled with chips, another with queso — and at last, slices of BBQ sausage. We proceed to the table and as we say in Texas, “make a plate.” Tables that were once empty are now full, and people are wandering around looking for places to sit.
No one seems brave enough to ask us to share our table. The picnic table has plenty of seats. I decide to check my deodorant, making sure it hasn’t worn off. Hmmm—I smell fine. I wonder if it’s a different scent. Am I giving off the odor of someone who might not belong? Are people picking up the scent of gun owner, like a hound smells rabbit?
Finally, there’s a voice asking about an open seat. I look up from my second helping of chips and queso. It’s a woman wearing no make-up, or a bra, and her eyebrows could use a good plucking. She’s holding a lunchbox. I hate to be judgmental, but I trade a look with Susan.
Bobbie sets her lunchbox on the table. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 50-ish woman carry a kid’s lunchbox. It’s monster box, and by that I mean it’s in the shape of monster—green googly-eyes. They stare at me. This woman starts talking before she completely sits down, asking if we were here last year. We respond no. I get a strange feeling Bobbie’s about to tell us a story. Maybe it’s the way she leans in once seated or that both elbows were on the table.
Susan and I continue to stab at the slices with our eco-friendly wooden forks. We learn that last year’s rally had a small group of protesters opposing the group—all men. “They stood right over there,” she says pointing to the entrance of Schultz’s garden, “wearing their guns in holsters.”
I pretend to look shocked. I’m thinking about Lance, my gun owner. Wondering how Bobbie’s story might go if she knew my son collects guns. Susan and I share a look; she’s got a concealed carry handgun license. No need to upset the monster lunchbox, so we remain silent. Bobbie’s eyebrows jump up and down as she talks about guns. Then her brows furrow. “You know what I did to those protesters?”
I shake my head no.
“I removed my shirt and gave those men something to look at!” I did notice those breasts sag in her orange cami tank when she first walked up, but knowing she let them hang unclothed made me stare harder. I tried not to picture the old wrinkled things hanging down to her waist in the wind, but there it was. Pulling off your cami top isn’t a part of rallying, is it? College-age boys are reckless, that much I know. Jon died in a college town.
I pull the trigger on that thought. I can be a supporter like I’m a Pets Alive no-kill supporter, with my credit card. I let today be different, though. I keep my top on, but I am here in a crowd. Among some kooks, people who bring the spice in the BBQ. The meat is me, people who lost somebody and dress appropriately.
I look past her, finding distractions in the DJ and her music selections, the elderly lady with her cute little poodle, the mother strolling her toddler. But Bobbie continues to talk. “I was like those college students who handed out dildos. Were you there at that rally?”
No, but I know what she’s talking about, a protest on UT’s campus when the debate started over the campus carry law. It allowed people to carry guns into classrooms. Some students protested by handing out dildos. Their slogan was “Fight absurdity with absurdity.”
I’m filling the time before the speakers recalling my gun experience. Adults under the age of 25 are impulsive. Handguns should not be allowed on campus. I barely have time to re-load my fork with a piece of sausage when Bobbie opens up her monster and hands us some stickers. I offer pictures of them here because I’m kind of unsure if WordPress allows the saucy language from stickers representing Betsy Riot, a progressive neo-suffragist group. Even after I Google this at the table I’m not sure what that label means.
I’m gonna put it out there, the NSFW slogans: “Lick Pussy, Not Guns,” and “Fuck Your Guns.” I look over the stickers and then a “Betsy,” as they call themselves, starts to unload a full-on anti-gun message. I squirm a little and look for another slice of sausage. Betsy wouldn’t approve of my Lance.
Bobbie is compelled to get closer to the stage because the mic is not working well. I move up too, because maybe I’m moving closer to being a supporter who goes beyond a credit card. But I came to Schultz’s and its sausage slices to be heard, hoping I might share my story how a lack of gun safety took my son from me. It’s too simple to say “no guns” and shout over your monster lunchbox. I keep this to myself. That I’m here at all is my breakthough for today.
The next speaker tells us her son died only nine months earlier. Brave, daring, I say to Susan. I don’t think I could talk in front of a crowd even now. The speaker begins to cry and finishes her story. Another woman was shot herself, she tells us. All women here, so far. The tears come easily.
It’s hard to lead this kind of passion, I learn. The local Everytown organizer tells the crowd she’s stepping down, handing the reins over to another woman. The organizers prompt us into a group picture, something they assure us they’ll post to Facebook and Twitter. Where there are a lot more than four followers. After today, though, I’m among a bigger crowd.
I know how to volunteer. I extend my commitment by doing that, and the motivation has to begin somewhere. The rally day can mark the start of that. The event is also another kind of investigation for me, the next phase of my Nancy Drew work. I can discover kindred souls, getting to know people who’ll want to listen to my story.
Leesa, it takes a lot of courage for you to begin this journey. Thank you for writing your story. Keep on writing and I will keep on reading.
Thank you Linda for your support. Miss you and all those evening matches at Deer Valley. I play tennis here but afterwards there’s no cookies, dips or beer!