(My bro and me back in the day, living the dream on Greenbriar in Boulder)
In my nightmares it is always a different one of my children.
Sometimes it is my 11-year-old daughter, just finished with middle school and on her bike. Up to King Soopers she rides with her friends to get some Bubble Yum and a Starbucks drink, just as she does most Mondays at 2 pm once school finishes down the street.
Does she see him outside? Or is it inside where for a split second she meets his hollow stare?
Sometimes it is my first son, my nine-year-old, who has no school on Mondays because of the pandemic. We are at the store together. He, too cool to hold my hand, and loosely wandering the aisles with his newfound independence.
When shots break out, we are apart. I’m checking out, and he is nowhere to be found amid the chaos. I wake up with the image of his primal terror etched into my brain. Him frozen in headlights, me, not able to get to him.
And sometimes it’s my youngest, my six-year-old, a kindergartener. The only one to still hold my hand. We check out together after grabbing a few things for dinner. When shots ring out, I tackle him and he screams “Mommy, Mommy!” It’s his shrieks that startle me awake.
Had it not been Spring Break for our small, South Boulder community, each of these nightmares are probable. We just happened to be the lucky ones that Monday, out of sync with our typical weekly rhythm.
I am a child of Boulder. South Boulder to be exact. I was raised on these trails and with these mountains as my messengers. “Dream big!” they taunted in the backdrop, “climb the highest peaks. Anything is possible here.”
On summer nights, we’d stay up late playing Kick-the-Can with neighbors. After school we'd spend hours finding crawdads in the creek beds that run up Table Mesa Drive. Walking to King Soopers with friends to buy Bubble Tape and baseball cards was my first expression of freedom.
I am not a “native” as my younger brothers get to claim. My parents moved here when I was two-weeks-old from Houston. In the hottest week on record in Texas, they drove cross-country and settled at the base of Boulder’s beautiful Foothills. I picture their journey here like the days of the Dust Bowl, with just a baby and a dream. Hopeful and ready to start their lives anew.
(Baby me at Viele Lake -- FHS in the backdrop)
I often say that my parents raised me first, and Boulder raised me second. Like all kids who grow up in Boulder, I am a product of her values – love of the outdoors, health conscious, liberal in thought and spirit. Being from Boulder is a part of my identity.
(My parents and brother, Jeremy -- Boulder fam)
I have such nostalgic memories of my childhood, that when I had kids, my husband and I followed my parents’ lead. We left our cushy jobs in NYC to come back to Boulder and settle in the very same South Boulder neighborhood where I grew up. There was no better place we could picture ourselves with children.
“Mommy, are we safe?” My daughter asks me as we unload the car after arriving home from Spring Break. For the first time since the incident, we drive by our King Soopers, mouths agape and eyes wide. Our friendly neighborhood grocery store is now fenced off with signs and flowers, surrounded by visitors and mourners, and lit up with the flash of security lights.
“Yes,” I say grabbing her shoulders and looking at her directly. She is somber and I absorb it, trying to stay bright. All she hears is the pause before my yes. She looks away. I imagine her visualizing the broken windows and blinking police car lights we just drove by to get home in front of her King Soopers. I tell my kids they are safe, but it’s as if I’m saying, “the Boogie man was in your house, but just try and forget about him.”
“Okay, mom,” she says more for me than her. None of my kids wants to sleep alone that first night after. My 6 year old still doesn't want me to go to a store.
My fellow childhood Boulderite, friend, and writer, Melissa Wiley, says in her recent article, Golden Repair, that “tragedy in childhood is a spiritual offering.” No doubt, heroes and advocates will come out of our community as a result of what’s happened here.
But we are a ways off from beauty here in Boulder, CO. The wound is still raw and pulsating. The names and faces – Denny, Neven, Rikki, Tralona, Suzanne, Eric, Teri, Kevin, Lynn, and Jody, still more alive than dead.
Teri has helped me bag my groceries hundreds of times throughout my life here. Rikki helped me with a special order of flowers at the store not one month ago. And I sent all my clients to Lonna’s store, Umba, down on Pearl Street to buy comfy and sexy clothes for my retreats.
We are a tight-knit community in South Boulder, the place we lovingly call SoBo. Most of us know at least one person who was murdered 3 weeks ago. Texts flood my phone and messages crowd my Facebook page from friends old and new, many of whom I don’t see regularly but are in some extended way, community.
For those of us who live here now, we now share an unspeakable bond with too many other families across our state and country who’ve been through the same. We know now with painful certainty that no matter how safe you think your town is, this kind of atrocity can happen anywhere.
I want to scream from the rooftops about the need for gun control, and how we must teach mental and emotional health in schools. But I can’t wait for these slow moving, political and social shifts to take action.
I am a mom. And there is no presence or urgency like parenthood. “Are we safe here, Mommy?” I hear it daily now.
As national news teams and grievers from far away regions visit what was once our sleepy Table Mesa neighborhood, I still have to coax my children to bed each night despite their fears, get groceries, and pick them up from school.
So much has changed from when I grew up here as a kid. But so much has stayed the same, too. Despite the monstrous actions of one, our community is strong. No singular person can take away what Boulder inherently is to those of us who love her. It is still the idyllic and cozy place of my past, and of our future. No matter what happens here, Boulder is the same town of hope that it was for my parents, for me, and for countless other families.
As the buds pop through on aspen trees and the spring flowers start to show their colors, we are reminded that no matter what devastation befalls us, we will grow and thrive again. And if these mountains could speak, they would tell us to stand tall. Strength, endurance and healing require patience. And if we Boulderites know anything, it’s to listen to, and learn from the natural world around us.
“Yes, my darling,” I will say again and again, “you are safe here.”
Brie Doyle is the author of the forthcoming book You Should Leave Now. She is the founder of She Glows Retreats, LLC. She specializes in developing mental and emotional wellness curriculum. But most thankfully, she’s a loving wife and mom to 3 safe children. @WellBeingByBrie