There is a scream. Someone shouts, “He has gun!” Then, the thunderous herd. A stampede of flesh, mouths in perfect Os, legs churning. Palpable pandemonium. I’ve never seen anything like it, but there isn’t time to think. It’s run or be crushed.
We’re in a bathroom. My husband shoves me into a stall and envelopes me with his body. I am grateful for our quick thinking. We held hands. Didn’t get separated. Found a hiding place. Now we’re away from the gun.
A fight erupts at the entrance of the ladies room, just a few feet away from us. Men, heated. Screaming at one another about what to do. We thought we were safe. Now we’re trapped like stupid little rats. I feel dumb. Why did we think this cage was a good idea? It’s too late now.
My hands are vibrating, my phone skids across my palm. I send a short email to my family. I love you. The men are still shouting. Their rage is ringing in my ears. I want to rip out my own eardrums. Anything. Anything to make it stop.
Along with their anger is my own. That I’m about to die. That my life is going to end here, in a fucking bathroom. That they’ll blow us to bits and my flesh and brains will end up in a toilet. That I have no choice. It’s all going to be taken away. My rage is white hot, but nothing can eclipse the fear. The sickening fear. I focus on my husband’s sweet eyes. His breathe. His hands, still holding me. He’ll not only die with me, he’ll die for me. I don’t have to test these wedding vows. I know.
The ringing must be what tinnitus feels like. An endless punishing squeal. Finally, I realize the voices have stopped. I don’t know how long they’ve been gone. I’ve been clamping my hands over my ears so hard, for so long, I can feel welts on my cheeks from my pressing palms. A fruitless exercise in a bid for silence. Now that it’s here, the staticky cheap speakers emerge. Music, playing over the casino’s sound system. Meant to be the backdrop for a nonstop party. It’s eerie now.
My husband says, “I’ll go see what’s going on. Stay put. No matter what you hear, do not come out of this stall.” We give each other a teary kiss. My fingers quake as I bolt the door after him. I hold my breath. I’ve never felt so alone.
And that’s the night. Running and hiding. Running and hiding. Running and hiding until we’re finally able to return to our hotel room, well after dawn. Meanwhile, down the street, 867 people have been injured, 411 from gunshots. Fifty-eight of those souls are dead. It turns out ours was a mere fire drill; theirs was the devastating, scorching blaze.
We’re finally back at the Tropicana. There is a line at Starbucks. Someone shouts, “They’re giving away free coffee!” Jubilant. This is the prize. I pass a woman applying pink lipstick. She says, “You know, I wasn’t going to go to the pool today. But then I thought, ‘No, they can’t take this from me. Why should this ruin my vacation?’”
I think to myself, “You should. You should let this ruin your vacation.”
Instead, she inoculates herself with a latte. She squares her shoulders, tells herself her indifference is bravery. She can already justify feeling desensitized. These dead people would want her to have fun! The injured still waiting for care at the ER would simply hate it if she missed a pool day! After all, they’d be here too if they could!
We’re sweaty, tired; terror still reverberating through our bones. My makeup is smeared, wet from tears I can’t stop shedding. Alice Cooper has nothing on me. I don’t bother fixing it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, except for getting on that plane. We pack hastily. Miraculously get a ride to the airport. I’m in the middle seat on a sold-out Southwest flight. I don’t care, as long as I never have to go back to Vegas. We cut our trip short by two days. I guess I let it ruin my vacation.