Saturday Diary / Silent phone lines

When a gunman opened fire in Santa Barbara, I didn't call to check on friends, and I'm not sure why ...


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When students at Seattle Pacific University heard gunshots on June 5, I heard the back end of a dial tone.

About two weeks before, a gunman had opened fire in Isla Vista, near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. I called to check on my parents, nearly five hours away from the scene in Mission Viejo, but, of course, nothing could be done.

I was embarrassed to contact my friends in Santa Barbara. It was out of the question to send a text or a Facebook message. There were levels of sensitivity to worry about. A text could seem a mere check-in, an afterthought, something that might be ignored. A Facebook message could be lengthy and heartfelt, but still seem too easy, too convenient for me.

I was nervous to call and have an awkward phone conversation — one that might, falsely, portray that I cared about my friends only when I thought they might die. Or worse, call and learn that I would never be able to have that awkward conversation.

We hadn’t spoken in ages. I was far away at school in Ohio. We had all been so busy with new friends, new classes, new lives. I made the trek home to California only for the holidays and, even then, I spent more time with family than attending our “Tesoro High School, Class of 2012, Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.” The guilt of not keeping in touch rode high in my mind.

So I waited to hear names in the news. I read articles online, dreading the moment when names I recognized would suddenly appear at the touch of a button. I waited as some friends posted reassuring Facebook statuses. I called friends of friends, people I had at least spoken to a couple of times since leaving home.

After extensive research that avoided all forms of direct communication, I learned that all was well for everyone I knew at the UCSB. Everyone was safe. And I still couldn’t bring myself to call.

Our senior year of high school was full of chatter about where we would all be going in the fall. I was eager to leave southern California, gain a new experience somewhere far off, but many friends wanted to stay on the West Coast.

Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco were high on the lists. Santa Barbara, the gem of coastal towns, captured the attention of hard workers who wanted to study on the beach.

Santa Barbara seemed a bold place. We had taken a trip up through Santa Barbara and over to Reno, Nevada, for a choral conference one spring and had spent some time in the woods beside the mission and more time in the heart of the old town.

The red adobe against the bright blue of the sky and ocean pronounced Santa Barbara as one of the most colorful places in the state. UCSB sprawled along 1,055 acres of coastline, and students were taken by the opportunity to live by the sea.

I was drawn more to the rain and chill of Seattle. I saw Seattle as a clouded, perfect destination of books and coffee, slightly colder than home, yet still on the same side of the country — a city with all my best interests at heart. I fell in love.

But I nevertheless chose Denison University, a school in the middle of Ohio, one surrounded by woods and fields and with a campus full of trees. It was nothing like anywhere I’d lived. I could wait to move to the beautiful city in the Northwest.

So, I and my fellow graduates committed to our colleges, donned our robes, moved away and, for the most part, stopped talking.

New schools meant new friends. It was not any single person’s fault — the blame for no longer speaking could be dealt out to all of us and all of our college preoccupations.

After the first Thanksgiving trip home, with all of us focused on family, we realized that reunions would involve short blasts of information and that our long-distance friendships would have to pick up where we’d left them every time we got back together.

The glowing town of Santa Barbara was shaken the night a boy drove through town, shooting. Phone lines no doubt buzzed with the voices of California high school graduates, now strewn across states and countries, worried about their old friends.

Mine was not among them. I never was given the affirmation of a voice of a friend on the line.

Two weeks later, I dialed. This time four people had been shot at Seattle Pacific University, where I had friends that I hadn’t spoken to in about two years.

The awkward conversation that followed resonated with apologies and “I wish we spoke more” on both ends.

The friendship had remained, even in the silence.

Golzar Meamar is a social media/​website/​reporting intern at the Post-Gazette this summer. She will return to Denison as a junior in the fall, majoring in creative writing and political science with a minor in vocal performance (gmeamar@post-gazette.com).


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