I’ve been overdue for a new blog post for awhile now. I was going to write about my excitement about the fact that I’ve begun submitting my writing for publication, at last, but that will have to be a post for another day. I’ve got something a little more pressing to talk about now.
Someone I know was shot and killed yesterday. I have to say it like that. I can’t say the “m” word. Not yet.
I didn’t know him well, so you needn’t spare me any sympathy condolences. I met him in March in Lawrence, Kansas, for a business meeting. It was my first time in Lawrence, Kansas. It was also my first time being flown interstate to attend a high-powered business meeting.
Initially, I didn’t know what I thought about him. But we had drinks at the hotel bar after that first crazy day of meetings, and before long I felt a kind of a kinship. He wasn’t “from the Co-op world,” he’d worked in other fields, very different fields, and I appreciated his slightly outsider-ish point of view. I admire anyone who isn’t afraid to admit when they don’t fit a certain mold. We sat next to one another at dinner at the Free State Brewery. I had a cheddar ale soup that was to die for. He told me about his homebrew projects back home.
My email was down yesterday so I found out the way everyone finds everything out these days: on facebook. The recommended page suggested to me after I logged on the morning was “Brattleboro Food Co-op,” and remembering my business acquaintance from the Lawrence meeting, back in March, I took facebook’s advice and “Liked” Brattleboro. By this time, the store had posted on the facebook page that they would not be opening today, or tomorrow, and that a prayer vigil was being organized to help the community to begin to heal. Comments of condolences and sympathy in the face of the tragedy, without acknowledging what the tragedy had been, followed the “sorry for the inconvenience but the store will be closed” messages. I knew from the conversations in Lawrence that Brattleboro was building a new store, and feared a construction accident might have taken a life, or lives.
I googled “Brattleboro Food Co-op” and clicked on the “News” option for my search results and there was the news. A 59-year old man (unconfirmed reports said an employee of the Co-op) walked into the store and shot another 59-year old man (also an employee) in the head. The first man was pronounced dead on the scene, and the second was taken into custody.
Periodically throughout the day I repeated the search, to see if there were any new details. My business acquaintance would have been about 59, I remembered, and with a sick feeling wondered, hoped, that he wasn’t involved. Couldn’t relax until I knew for sure. I went home for lunch and when I got back to the office, repeated the search. The names had been released.
The deceased was Michael Martin, 59, of Dummerston, Store Manager of Brattleboro Food Co-op. In custody and suspected of the crime was Richard Gagnon, 59, of Marlboro, who worked in the wine department.
Oh no, I thought, and because we’d been largely on a first-name basis in Lawrence, I had to double-check my email archive regarding the trip and yes, Michael Martin was the guy I met there. Neither he nor I knew it at the time, or ever would have suspected it, that he had less than 5 months left to live.
He was an interesting guy. He spoke of having made and lost fortunes. His drink was Canadian Club (CC). I want to say he had a young daughter, I feel like that’s one of the things we talked about at the hotel bar, but these are the details that fade after 5 months have passed and Lawrence is no longer fresh in your mind.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever see Michael again after Lawrence. Vermont’s a long way away and he was a store manager, an ops guy, while I’m in Marketing. But who could have fathomed a tragedy like that could befall a Co-op. On a Tuesday morning, just like that. I get sad and sick thinking about it and don’t know what to do with these feelings. Would the incident have been less of a tragedy, in my eyes, if the victim was someone I’d never met? If my prayer “please let it be no one I know” had been answered, would I still feel this shock?
I didn’t know him well, and we weren’t geographically proximate, but “business acquaintance” doesn’t quite capture what it is. Because ours is not business as usual in America, it’s Co-op business, and Co-op stands for something. For a safer and saner world. We knew each other fewer than 36 hours, but Michael and I sat on the same side of a table, broke bread, shared cocktails and bar talk. We recognized one another as members of a common tribe, different as we were. The fact of his death saddens me; its circumstances break my heart.
Friends, if you’re the praying sort, please say a prayer of peace for the people of Brattleboro, and to all of us in the Co-op universe who feel shock and grief at this enormous loss. A prayer for healing, peace, and an entire community’s recovery from this trauma.