Highland Park shooting memorial
Jennie Vang/Daily

The morning after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I awoke to the sound of rain. Instead of getting up to begin my day, I stayed in bed — a move foreign to my routine. I was sad and dejected, I lacked the motivation to leave the cocoon of my covers. So I lay and listened to the rain. I knew the universe was sad, too; its tears were rolling off my window. 

That night, I attended a Grateful Dead concert for the first time. I went with my friend and her dad, a Deadhead who was going to Wrigley Field, rain or shine, to hear them play. Music is one of my favorite things. I don’t listen to the Grateful Dead, but I appreciate all talented musicians. I was excited. I threw on some overalls and, of course, a raincoat, as it was projected to pour. 

On the ride to Wrigleyville, my friend’s dad passionately prepared me for the experience that awaited. He reviewed set lists from their recent shows. He narrated the Drums and Space section that would take place three-quarters through the concert so I’d know to take my seat for this part, and this part only. He described the myriad of people who’d line the streets outside of the stadium, tripping on molly and any other hallucinogen ever discovered or created.

While his prepping helped me step into the right headspace and look like an old pro three-quarters through as I took my seat with the rest of the stadium, nothing could have prepared me for the moment the music started playing. I was transported to an alternate universe, a dimension I did not know. Conversations halted, reunions of Deadheads ceased, picture-taking ended. As if a spell had been cast over the stadium, everyone stood, singing and swaying in the rawest and purest expression of joy and contentment I had ever witnessed. Reality was on pause, and we were existing in a vacuum where only the sound produced by a few old guys and John Mayer could penetrate our brains.

I, too, swayed with myself, confused at how quickly I had succumbed to this bizarre and cultish experience, but also at how natural and soothing it felt. I reeled in the genius of Mayer’s fingers plucking his guitar, Jeff Chimenti’s fingers pounding his keys and Bob Weir’s voice echoing through the stadium. Pure art. I watched the swaying sea of 50- and 60-year-olds in tie-dye. No fashion statements here — just pride in cotton rainbows cloaked over adult bodies. No phones in the air, either, videoing or taking pictures. As I listened, I pretended I was in the ’80s. I wondered if everyone around me was pretending this, too. That’s where we had been catapulted: the height of the Grateful Dead’s popularity, many of these people’s youths.

I pretended there were no social media feeds to check or contribute to, no crushing news alerts to be attuned to. I pretended that Donald Trump had not been president. I pretended we were free to be you and me; that fringe was in and violence was out. I pretended there was no pandemic. No resulting market tanks. I pretended mass shootings weren’t something to fear in a crowd like this one. I pretended that we all had the right to an abortion. Swaying in the music, surrounded by the old ivied walls of Wrigley Field, smiles, lyrics, tie-dye and weed, the pretending worked.

My raincoat went unused that night. Maybe the universe was pretending, too. It was joyous for the night, like I was, its sadness temporarily dissipating, creating a dome of safety and freedom and happy reminisce. I wondered if the band members who had passed away, such as original lead vocalist Jerry Garcia staring down at this little haven they had left behind, were grateful they were dead. That they had gotten to exist in the era that they did, not the one now. I wondered if the 50- and 60-year-olds swaying in their tie-dye were grateful that their youth had died in the ’70s and ’80s. That their glory days took place in an era before mine. If I was them, I would be.

Nine days later, my heart palpitated and my legs went weak as I opened the “Find My Friends” app to check my parents’ location to see if they were at the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade. They walk my dog there every year. To my relief, their location read as home. When I texted my mom in a frenzy, asking what she was doing, she told me she was riding her Peloton. I told her to get off — there was an active shooter on Central.

I was at Dartmouth, visiting my twin sister. We sat on her bed, watching from her computer as the abandoned main street of our little hometown appeared on NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox. As the anchors I watch every day narrated the live events of the shooting and manhunt unfolding on the roads that I could drive on with my eyes closed. As the name of the town where I grew up was coming out of President Joe Biden’s mouth and being projected across my lock screen by the New York Times and Apple News alerts. I watched videos of gunshots banging through the Highland Park air, of people I grew up with sprinting for their lives, leaving their chairs, their trust and their security behind forever, strewn in front of the store where last week, I bought the tank top I now wore. The mom of a girl on my old dance team got shot in the foot. My friend’s 2-year-old neighbor was suddenly an orphan. The brother of the boy in my Spanish class took a bullet to the spine. And the suspected shooter was being searched for in the house down the street from my best friend’s home.

As I watched the FBI surround Robert E. Crimo III at the highway exit I use every day, the Highland Park sky broke into a thunderstorm. I knew the universe was breaking down, and I broke with it. We cried together — we sobbed. We continue to cry a day later as I sat on the bus ride home from New Hampshire, teardrops sliding down my cheeks and raindrops sliding down the window next to me. 

To those who celebrated the Fourth of July: Which American values were you celebrating if life, liberty and equality were not among them? To the politician fighting against gun reform and supporting pro-life: Do you fail to see the irony in fighting for an un-started life while our country loses millions of lives underway to the weapons your policies unwaveringly promote? 

If you do see the irony, deep down in a place where the public or maybe even your own conscience will never observe, do you ignore it just to maintain the National Rifle Association of America’s funding and secure your re-election? If the answer is yes, then I ask, can’t you fulfill your egotistical hunt for power somewhere else, in a position away from politics where you don’t risk bringing down others or perhaps the nation while you “rise?” Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, might you choose to lead a team to space, be the first man on Mars instead? I hear they pay a lot. You’d advance us as a nation and a world, rather than dragging us backward in time.

There are a lot of answers I fear I’ll never have. But I do know that I’m grateful my friends and family are alive. I’m grateful I’m not dead. I’m grateful I can research, I’m grateful I can donate, I’m grateful I can vote, I’m grateful I can write. I’m grateful I have supportive friends who have constantly checked in on me and followed the unfolding of my town’s events as if it was their own. 

It’s easy to be grateful, and it’s easy to be sad — both feelings are valid when processing a traumatic event. Now, on the airplane to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, more gentle, periodic tears float down my cheeks, just as a gentle drizzle patters the circular pane on my left and I prepare to re-enter the town where I grew up, the town now on the list with Parkland and Uvalde that seems to grow and grow. I’ll edit this when I get home and send it to The Michigan Daily as fast as I can with an ironic, yet realistic fear that the topic will be irrelevant, dead to the past, if I wait but a week. And I’ll hope that maybe, just maybe, my words will help slow the growth of that list or at least cause some growth in one other person’s mind. Until then, I’m gonna put in my AirPods, look out the window and listen to the Grateful Dead.


Please consider utilizing this master document with fundraising links, donation opportunities and other ways to aid and support the Highland Park community: Highland Park Parade Shooting Resource Doc.

Statement Associate Editor Lilly Dickman can be reached at ldickman@umich.edu.