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He had been coming to the law library for six months (though I work at a private university, our law library is open to the public). He was tall and lanky, with wrinkly, weathered skin, a bad comb-over and thick glasses. He walked so slowly it was painful to watch, his shuffling steps only inches apart, his feet hardly coming off the ground. Sometimes his shoes didn't match. He wore the same beaten-up brown jacket over his untucked shirt and dirty pants.

He came to the library almost daily. He was there often enough that the staff took notice when he was not more than when he was. During the summer, when the students were gone, he had his run of the place and the attention of the circulation and reference staff. He was not an attorney, and he asked a lot of questions at first. He was clearly a bitter man, beaten down by the system, his voice gruff. But he was never impolite or inappropriate. He would ask his questions and then take the books he wanted to look at and sit, taking copious notes and not bothering anyone. When school resumed, he still showed up. He never bothered any of the students. He just took his books and sat at an unoccupied table in our reading room, conspicuous in the openness.

In short, he was creepy, but never inappropriate. The staff joked about him, but he was never a problem.

Last week, the police showed up. Two uniformed men came to me at the reference desk while a third man in street clothes approached the patron. The uniforms told me he was being escorted from the building and would not be permitted to return. He was a convicted felon, they said. He had served ten years. A famous speaker would be coming in a couple of weeks and the police felt he posed a threat.

The patron cooperated, packing up his belongings and leaving without a word. Outside, I'm told, he said he planned to sue.

We at the library never reported him to the police or even to our supervisors as a problem. Someone else in the building had scouted him out and reported him. The police then found his record and decided he had to go. Rumors abound now. I can't fill in more details without relying on speculation. It was exciting in a morbid, scary way. As I said to someone today, an exciting day in the library is a bad thing.

You can't work in an academic environment these days and not be haunted by the ghosts of Virginia Tech. And Columbine. And the Appalachian School of Law. And far too many others. Today, in fact, there was an incident in Western Kentucky.

I know it's unlikely. I tell myself that as I come to work everyday.

Those shootings, as horrific as they are, are rare. Nonetheless, we try to follow the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” We train for it like it's another emergency, like a fire or a tornado. It's called “Active Shooter” in our manual. We have drills, practice evacuations. In the bright sunshine of awareness, knowing it's only a drill, it's easy to act the hero, telling everyone where to go and what to do.

But in the real thing, in the midst of that ultimate dark day at work, could I really be prepared? If someone came through here with a gun drawn, would I be able to lead people away? Would I not freeze at the sound of a shot, deafening as it echoes off the walls? Panic in the screaming? Faint at the sight of blood?

I hope I never have to find out.

[Posted for LJ Idol - Week 5 - Open Topic]


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 23rd, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)
I wonder why people thought he posed a threat. I like the way how you ended this.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
Thank you and thanks for reading.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 01:19 am (UTC)
Wow .... very heavy.

We had to prepare for similar when I worked at the diamond company. It's always a hard subject to work through your mind.

Good post.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
very well written... and a scary thought
Oct. 23rd, 2008 02:50 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
Duuuuuude... I don't envy you having to worry about that. They recently removed the security guards from our offices, and we sometimes get upset clientele in our buildings, any one of whom could be pissed off enough to have a gun... blargh.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:52 am (UTC)
It's rough. We've never had a problem, thank God, but we have to think about it.

Thanks for reading.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:54 am (UTC)
I hope it never happens to me, since I am "employed" as a casual emploiyee at my college where I graduated from. I haven't been called into work--yet. The thoughts of school-shootings do scare me, considering we had the Dawson College shooting, and a close friend of mine went to that school... she uses a guide dog, and she was *NOT* far from the shooter when it happened!
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
That's horrible. I can't even imagine.

Thanks for reading.
(no subject) - jenandbronze - Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 23rd, 2008 06:31 am (UTC)
I actually feel sorry for the man for being judged by someone in the building as a threat, but maybe it was for a good reason rather than a, "he gives me the creeps," reason. I loved the way you twisted the story into your own thoughts and examined some tough questions. Very good entry!
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading. I feel bad for the guy, too.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
This is terrifying, sweetheart. I don't know what I would do if something happened to you. :(
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)
I didn't mean to worry you, snugglepants. It's just something I have to consider, even if the likelihood is small.
(no subject) - rosepurr - Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 23rd, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
well written!
Oct. 23rd, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
I hope you never have to find out either. That would be a horrible position to be in.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)

Thanks for reading.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
This entry is haunting....I just thought this morning (I'm not sure why) about the fact that you work on a campus and the risk involved....it's odd that I thought it and you wrote about it.
I do feel bad for that man, he did nothing other than educate himself and fail to bathe, apparently. Sad.
I remember mock robbery training at the bank....so real even though you knew it was fake...scary.
Great entry.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
Oct. 23rd, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
It seems like a lot of trouble to have gone to for one man who already served his time, a miscarriage of justice. An overreaction. I would think, had he posed a threat, the library staff would have noted something in his manner or in his reading materials.

I hope you never have to find out if you're a hero either. The fact that you even have to think about it at all is a travesty.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
It's all true. I wrote about it because both situations bother me very much.

Thanks for reading.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 09:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I hate that some people feel the need to carry out such senseless acts of violence. Now being at a university is becoming like being on a battlefield, and that makes me very sad.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
Me, too. :(

Thanks for reading.
Oct. 25th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Great entry! I feel bad for the man, though. He appeared to just be minding his own business. When I was in law school, we had a man who would come to the library 2-3 times a week as well. Ours was in jail, though, so he was always escorted by an officer which made us feel a little more safe.
Oct. 26th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
I hope you (and my friends that work at universities) never have to find out, either.

Good post.
Oct. 26th, 2008 04:35 am (UTC)
Wow! What a scary thought! I wonder if the guy was researching his options for his inevitable arrest? Interesting and somewhat unnerving entry!
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