I knew him for no more than 15 minutes. Maybe 20, tops. He was a clerk at a Canton cellphone store where a friend was inquiring about changing carriers. I just waited in the corner for her, scrolling the internet on my iPhone, while my kid played with a tablet on display. All I knew about him was that he was friendly, efficient and had gloriously thick black hair swirled high in front, like a stylish modern bouffant. He laughed and thanked me when I complimented him on it. Then my friend decided to go with another carrier, so we left. That was it. I didn’t even get his name.
A week later, I not only know his name ― Fabian Alberto Sanchez-Gonzalez — but where he went to high school, that he was a wrestler and that he was 23 years old. Everything I’ve learned about him, besides that he was a good employee with great hair, has been from media stories and Facebook posts, because roughly 24 hours after I met him, he was shot in that T-Mobile store.
A day after the shooting, he died because of greed. It’s a stupid, evil and pointless thing. And I wish I hadn’t had to find out his name that way.
This is not going to be one of the columns where I try to find some poignant meaning in this tragedy or try to make sense of it, because it doesn’t make any sense. I have no answers. I have nothing poetic to say, other than that I crossed paths with a human being who was gunned down in the very place I met him the day before. And I know that if I had gone to that store on a different day, at a different time, this could have been me. Or my child.
You cannot make sense of that.
When I woke up Monday morning to the news that the Canton T-Mobile employee had been shot, I did not yet know it was the nice young man I had met, but I did what you do when this happens. You pray. You fight the wave of sadness and try not to be consumed by the anger at the people who did this terrible thing, and the people who make it easy for the terrible people to get those guns. I am getting really good at this.
Because it happens too damn much.
I was still praying on Tuesday when it was announced that the injured employee had died. Trembling, I entered the name “Fabian Alberto Sanchez-Gonzalez” into Google, and up popped that gorgeous head of hair. My son, playing in the kitchen, heard me gasp and ran to where I was on the couch. I was not planning to explain what had happened in that moment, but I would be a bad mother if I lied to him about the realities of this city that we love, in this world where we live. I don’t want him to be constantly in fear, but I need him to know that fear is sometimes necessary. So I told him.
“Are you sure that was him?” my son asked, immediately bursting into tears. The look on his face — sadness, fear, disbelief — made me scoop him into my arms. “But he was just here! We just met him,” he kept saying, because that meant violent death is not just a thing that happens to people on TV. It is close. It could be us. I wish he didn’t have to know that.
I had the desperate impulse to bolt all the doors, draw all the curtains and cocoon with my kid in the middle of our dining room, away from the windows. But I cannot do that. This does not mean that every time he leaves my presence, whether that’s to school or to ride his scooter on the sidewalk, I don’t hold my breath until he walks back in.
Some jackass on Twitter last week made a jab at me about living in the city — “Great place to raise a family,” he sneered. I still think it is — it’s a diverse, affordable place where as a single mom I can make a comfortable life for my son and me. But things like Sanchez-Gonzalez’s death make me less sure of that. Hell, it makes me less sure of everything. But don’t be smug and think we would really be any safer anywhere else. Nice kids get shot everywhere. The store where Sanchez-Gonzalez’s life was stolen from him is in a “nice” neighborhood, but it’s still a place where none of the store’s iPhones were on display ― probably because somebody had stolen them before.
None of us are safe anywhere.
The alleged killer, a teenager, was arrested on Thursday, another life lost. More senselessness. Even though Sanchez-Gonzalez was kind and a talented salesman, it wouldn’t have mattered if he was a jerk who threw a phone box at us when we didn’t buy anything. People don’t have to be kind or good athletes or headed to Harvard for their deaths to be tragic. We should mourn each and every life that is lost to the violence this country and its leaders have decided is just part of living here. We get text messaged condolences of thoughts and prayers. They don’t mean anything.
We should be angry. Aren’t you angry? Aren’t you tired of this by now?
I am tired. I am terrified. I am exhausted by the numbing grief of living, of looking over my shoulder in public, of watching my son play sports and gauging whether I could get to him if I heard gunshots. There is nowhere I can move that I will not have this fear. As I was writing this column, a friend in Atlanta hit our group text to say the city was on lockdown because some guy shot up a medical office.
I don’t know how to do this, how to not scream and cry and be sad all the time. But I have to, because I can’t stay in the house with my child forever. I can’t give into this terror. Still, every time I drive past that T-Mobile store, where somebody’s child was killed for nothing, I will have to fight that panic.
I should not have to. But it doesn’t seem there’s anything else to do.