Our justice system might work slowly, but it does have impeccable timing.
Today, almost three years exactly since a dozen Aurora, Colorado, moviegoers died at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, a jury found gunman James Holmes guilty on counts of 12 murders, 140 attempted murders and similar charges.
I remember finding out about the shootings the morning after I had been at a Chicago midnight showing. Mom broke it to me gently, as if she already knew what my reaction would be. I remember forcing it out of my head well into that afternoon as I refused to dwell on how if Holmes had just been 1,000 miles northwest on I-80, potentially my sister and I would have been in the theater. Once the “ifs” subsided, I took to my keyboard.
That day, I published a post about how I felt (after all, isn’t that what a blog is for?). Part of me felt like I had been victimized — a fan whose love for the Dark Knight series was tainted by a foul event that had drowned out a bittersweet finale.
On the other side, my “Catholic Guilt” side, I felt like I had been part of what enabled the tragedy. I was a member of the group that had made the franchise so popular, ergo creating a demand for a midnight showing, ergo creating a venue for Holmes to commit such an atrocity.
But upon reading my post after it had gone online, I didn’t like its tone. My explanation of the dichotomy seemed like a plea for pity, both as a victim and the accused. Although I had acknowledged the pain that the victims’ families and communities felt at their loss, I had deigned to say my sorrow was comparable to it because I had lost a loved one, too — this ability to be passionate without remembering an atrocity.
Less than 24 hours after hitting “publish,” I took the piece down.
When a friend texted me about the verdict this afternoon, I started thinking about that post. I assumed I had kept the original piece logged in my drafts folder, as I never dump any of my writing — call it paranoia, narcissism, nostalgia, whatever. I wanted to post it here tonight because I’m finally comfortable at almost-24 sharing what I felt when I was almost-21.
But I did get rid of it. It’s nowhere to be found on my hard drive or in the cloud. I feel cheap for deleting it, like the act was an effort to clean up my own history. When I deleted my Facebook account last year, I even rid my online record of the one angry thing I allowed myself to post about the shooting: a short status from last summer that fumed how in two years, nothing had changed.
And that’s partially true. Mentally ill people can still buy firearms, and Colorado has loosened its own concealed carry restrictions. I know the jury refuted Holmes’ claim of being insane, but out of court there’s no doubt he’s a lunatic. You can’t shoot up a theater and not have something wrong in your brain.
But some things have changed. Three years later, midnight shows rarely exist. I won’t entirely complain, seeing as I’m now in my early-mid 20s with a full time job and can barely stay awake to see 12:30 a.m. when a workday looms. Still, there’s a whole generation coming up who won’t get to experience the uniqueness of the midnight showing — the feeling of community that assures everyone present that they’re not alone in obsessing over triviality.
I’ve changed, too. Now I’ve written this post, and I’ve promised myself not to take it down. Call it a grown-up commitment to my convictions.
It’s been hard thinking about The Dark Knight Rises without equating it to the massacre accompanying its debut, especially when Hans Zimmer’s “Aurora,” his arrangement of the score as a tribute to the victims, plays on my iPod fairly regularly. Today’s verdict opened up the wound again, but in a way that hydrogen peroxide burns open a scab as it cleans it. A person has been named, tried and convicted, and only sentencing stands between America and closure — or so we can hope.