Moments of Silence

Life in America is made up of so many “moments of silence” at this juncture, that one would think the entire nation wouldn’t be such a cacophonous swell of white noise 24/7. And yet, that’s precisely what it is the more that it offers “thoughts and prayers” meant to serve as so-called “moments of silence” that only add to the noise. The sound and fury, signifying nothing. Certainly not “change.” Not even a conciliatory measure like background checks before a gun purchase. And why would government officials bother with something like that anyway? Knowing full well that the attention span the public has is so warped at this point, they’re bound to be outraged by something new in another month or so—maximum. 

And the idea, clearly, is to keep horrific events on a perpetual loop within the news cycle, in turn, creating the effect that we’re all watching some kind of “reality show” rooted in carnage. And the more, the better. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as news media conglomerates had made apparent long ago. It ensures one thing and one thing only: that everyone loses track. It’s impossible to keep pace with all the brutalities that go on in the country, day in and day out. A country that pretends it isn’t fighting its own internal war, one bordering on “Civil.” And all while it focuses on the wars of other countries for the sole purpose of more political clout. It has nothing to do with something like genuine empathy or concern. If it did, there would be more focus on “lost cause” nations—a.k.a. the nations without any political influence in the “global sphere” (that includes just about every country in Africa, which the U.S. rarely, if ever, mentions unless it’s to talk about an infectious disease that might have arisen there). 

For Mattia, who had just moved to the U.S. for a job in tech, it was fast becoming too much to bear. And he was starting to understand why his entire family had warned him against taking the alleged “opportunity” just because it paid well. The reason things tend to pay “well” in America is either because 1) that’s simply how much it requires to match the cost of living in the “greatest country in the world” and/or 2) it’s totally soul-sucking/mind-numbing work. In fact, “soul-sucking” and “mind-numbing” were the true ultimate buzzwords of the nation. Ones that Mattia chose to overlook in his blind commitment to moving from his quaint town of Framura, “just southeast of Genoa”—as he felt obliged to tell anyone who asked him where he was from. Not that the majority of Americans had even heard of Genoa either. But in Palo Alto, where he was to reside, there was a greater likelihood, what with rich people being obsessed with traveling to Portofino.

The very first week he started work, two major national shootings had occurred, both racially motivated (and who knows how many other unpublicized ones went on in between). By Friday, he was convinced that the carnage could rest. At least for another day. But not so. He heard the news on his way to work. In between songs, it was casually announced that a high school student walked into an elementary school classroom and opened fire on every single child inside, as well as the teacher. The body count was thirty. Because the shooter had used an AK-47, the corpses of the children were so obliterated that parents had to line up to be swabbed for DNA samples that could then be matched to their children. That was the only way to “claim” them. Mattia was aware this was a hazard of living in the country, but he didn’t think he would be met with the full force of the savagery so early on in his stay. 

And after that week, Mattia was shattered. Trying to “relax” over the weekend in the lavish home the company had helped pay for (it was like hush money for him to say nothing about the U.S. being an undercover “Third World” country), he thought back to something his own mother said before he left for America. “Quel paese è la terra di nessuno.” It belongs to no one, is the land of the lawless. Where you can be cut down in your prime at a moment’s notice just because of someone’s “whimsy.” So often rooted in the mental illness that comes from being part of the most pro-capitalist system on Earth. Where worth is solely measured in the wealth you have and your ability to flaunt it. If you can’t get rich, why not get “famous” through ignominy? No wonder everyone is going batshit all the time. And batshit people love to pick up a gun and make everyone else feel the same. Unleashing their pain so that those in their wake can feel it as intensely. 

Despite the daily carnage broadcast to the masses, Mattia, too, gradually grew accustomed and desensitized to the ways of the true American. Every time something horrific like that elementary school shooting happened, it was the same cycle: express outrage over the one hundred senators in control of making noticeable change that refused to do so because of the gun lobby, grieve by sending “thoughts and prayers” and having a “moment of silence,” then rinse and repeat when it happened again. What else could be done? It’s not as though people weren’t voting. But no matter who you voted for, the fact remained that politicians were always looking out for number one—no matter how “beneficent” they might have seemed on the campaign trail. Those who do possess a shred of decency often end up getting gunned down themselves. 

After two years of American life, Mattia didn’t even think that much of it anymore when a shooting happened. It was something to remark upon for a few days, and maybe even enjoy a particular song a celebrity decided to release in honor of the victims. He didn’t notice the extent of what he had become—a shrugging monster himself—until his mother finally visited him for that Christmas in the second year of his Palo Alto stint. They were out shopping for some last-minute gifts in Union Square on December 23rd when, out of nowhere, Mattia’s innocent matriarch—the woman who was afraid to visit him for so long precisely because of this reason—was hit with a stray bullet, right above her heart. A disgruntled employee had been fired from Neiman Marcus the day prior and decided to get his revenge on the entire nexus in which the store rested. 

In the ambulance, Mattia noticed that one of the EMTs had a tattoo of two crisscrossed guns atop a bed of roses with a banner across the leaves that read in a gothic font, “Guns and Glory.” Mattia wondered if the person who decided to hire him had noticed that beforehand and went ahead and decided to hire him anyway. It wouldn’t be incomprehensible. Americans “secretly” loved guns—“gun culture”—until a shooting happened. The entire civilization had long been indoctrinated to worship gun-toting heroes such as Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis. The secret love of guns that the culture harbored was only mitigated when a particularly egregious tragedy happened. After that, it was back to business as usual. 

For Mattia, there would be no such “going back.” His mother died on the morning of Christmas Eve. He accompanied the casket back to Italy in a private jet. He didn’t care about the fossil fuel emissions. He didn’t care about anything. But he was going to again. He had been shaken from a two-year coma in which he had almost fully crossed over into being “one of them.” He vowed that his days attempting to live and work in the “Land of the Free” (Home of the Gun Violence) were over. Instead, he remained in Framura, taking over his mother’s household and enjoying the company of his younger two sisters and their children whenever they decided to come by. 

He lived a life of simplicity, using his tech savvy for less profitable endeavors like creating a civic website to help the community keep track of and access its public records. He filled his days with meditation, reading, exercise. And yet, none of it ever seemed enough to fully block out that haunting image of his mother splayed out on the cement floor of Union Square. It would come to him when he least expected it, like a bad acid flashback. It got to the point sometimes when he himself wanted to pick up a gun, go back to America and shoot all 535 members of Congress. But that was an American way of thinking. They who never seem to learn their lesson that violence begets violence. Then he acknowledged his country’s own predilection for the same pattern via its criminal underworld. 

But it wasn’t the same. The language of violence was far more sinisterly embedded into the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. Not just among criminal organizations, but the common people. You want to express yourself? Use a gun. And that’s what they would do, again and again. Perhaps until they all ended up wiping each other off the map and the Europeans could go in again and recolonize. As for Mattia, he would refuse to be part of any such attempts to start another failed European project in America. 

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