The morning after James Holmes killed 12 in Aurora, I was riding on a subway in downtown Toronto. As I hung on to one of the metal poles in the train, there sat in a row of seats beside me a group of students who seemed to be visiting the city for the first time. They were all young, fashionably dressed women, and the group as a whole was ethnically diverse. I tried to glean from their conversations whether they were from an international school abroad or simply visiting from another Canadian city, but all they talked about was the shooting.
“It is really terrible,” said a brown-haired girl in a short blue dress. “You know he just came inside and people thought it was part of the show? Really scary.”
The other girls nodded solemnly.
“You never know when it can happen, you know,” she continued. Beside her, a taller girl who sat with her legs crossed snickered. Mortified, the brunette turned to her and asked sharply, “What’s so funny? It’s not funny!”
She lowered her head to avoid her friend’s gaze, but a slight smile still remained.
I got off at the King Street stop because I was meeting some friends in the food court at the Eaton’s Centre. In June, that food court had been the site of a shooting of its own, one that involved a 23-year-old man killing one and wounding six in a gang-related conflict. Later that week, I would learn that aspiring sports journalist Jessica Redfield had survived the Eaton’s Centre shooting only to be killed at the Dark Knight Rises screening less than two months later. It was a circumstance that most news reports described as “eerie,” and one that was as inexplicable as the smile on the girl in the subway.
Once my friends arrived, my mind quickly drifted away from shootings to our plans for that day. I didn’t think about what had happened only a month ago in the area where I was sitting. Even if I had, I can’t say it would have changed my mood. I was listening to my friends debate restaurant options, and the summer felt endless.
But watching the news the next day, I couldn’t help wondering, how? How it could be that one group of young people was free to walk the city streets with all the fearlessness that good fortune affords, while another suffered from a kind of trauma that most people go their entire lives without having to endure. The thought that these two truths existed in the same world made me scared, and it made me grateful.