When I tell people I’m from Colorado they normally say, “Oh like Boulder?”, plumes of legal recreational smoke and images of snowy mountains run through their head. I laugh and say, “Oh not quite, yes there are mountains, but we outlawed the sale of weed. I’m from almost the antithesis of Boulder: Colorado Springs.”
A few weeks ago people would have nodded politely or made a reference to their friend ‘Ian’ at Colorado College, but because of last Friday’s shooting, now when I share my hometown people’s eyes will likely widen. Our name has become inextricably linked with this tragedy. In reporting this like The Guardian pretty aptly described Colorado Springs as “a playground for white, pro-gun, pro-life Evangelical Christians”.
When I heard about what happened last Friday, I was devastated but not surprised. A shooting is shocking, and a shooting under the guise of such a radical cause as pro-life is all the more unfathomable to most people at Berkeley. But remembering the anti-abortion ads, the vigor of pro-life month, the priests I knew who organized a weekly Planned Parenthood vigil, and the graphic anti-abortion bus that could be seen roaming Colorado Springs — a van with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses,, a radical event taking place in Colorado Springs in the name of pro-life ideals was not surprising to me. Protests at the old location Planned Parenthood were regular. In fact, it moved to a new location in part to be more hidden and to have higher security. Pro-life rhetoric in Colorado Springs was the norm.
I can’t explain the horrific acts that took place Friday and I can’t begin to fathom the grief of victims’ families. But I can do my best to describe Colorado Springs, a place that is now on the national scene, mainly depicted through one-liners like The Guardian’s. So what is Colorado Springs?
Colorado Springs is a strange city of a half-million people with a lot of superlatives, among them: most conservative, largest army base, fittest city, and worst dressed city. It’s also the eclectic home of the Air Force Academy, an Olympic Training center, the Pro-Rodeo Hall of fame, and the 2nd most visited peak in the world, Pikes Peak.
If you enter from the north side of town on one of two major highways I-25, you’ll be greeted by a large sandstone Colorado Springs sign. If you look closely you’ll see the N in “Springs” is upside down. Lore says that the maker of the sign flipped it see if anyone would notice (few do).
To the west, the mountains stand companion to I-25, running parallel to it. The mountains are covered in green pine trees. Some parts have aspens that turn in the fall, leaking a river of gold down the mountain. Some parts show scars from the town’s mining days, other patches look barren having survived recent wildfires.
To the east are flat plains with new growths of shiny buildings. New Life, an infamous mega church, stands stark off of the highway. This church is known for its role in the documentary Jesus Camp, a 2007 shooting, and a scandal where a gay bashing preacher was caught doing meth with a male prostitute. It is surrounded by nothing and only it, in its blue glass monstrosity, stands alone.
Further down the highway you’ll pass a large mural depicting a gymnast, underneath words boasting the presence of the men’s olympic team in our town. You’ll pass America the Beautiful park, named for a song that Colorado Springs inspired. You’ll see many signs imploring you to go to the mining museum, or the money museum. You’ll see Pikes Peak and a scar running up it making the incline — reclaimed railroad tracks now a mile long ‘stairmaster of hell’.
We are a town with so much randomness and weird shit displayed in the most mundane ways. We have stickers that say: Keep Colorado Springs Lame. Colorado Springs is lame because of the Figure Skating museum, because who goes to that money museum, because we have a beautiful free park called Garden of the Gods that erupted from tectonic plates apropos of nothing. Colorado Springs’ lameness has never about the weird Conservative rhetoric, it’s been lame all these other reasons.
But now with another tragedy, will the lame read the same?
Telling people at Berkeley that my town is thought of as the “ground zero of the anti-gay rights movement”,they react: this is what their lame looks like. But when I was in Colorado Springs, Focus on the Family was simply known for having a great slide in their building! This was my reality. Conservative, maybe slightly crazy things, were the normal going-on’s as much as part of the landscape as the mountains, lame only in the way that they were routinely commonplace.
My friend Rosie and I were for large parts of our lives the only black and only half-Asian girl in our class. With our friend Alexa, we were a motley trio, the children of the rare liberals. Would Rosie and I have had better understanding of the ethnic parts of our identities more easily if we hadn’t grown up somewhere where they were so out of the norm? Perhaps. But the three of us also wouldn’t have the same sense of humor, or nearly as much Call Of Duty prowess from our ‘exclusive’, friends-only-we’re-each-other’s-only-friends-Friday night sleepovers. We, too, sunk into Colorado Springs and contributed to it’s lameness.
Our favorite place in high school was Point 93. This was a perch on the mountain that overlooked the whole city — the traffic on Nevada, the reservoir at the Broadmoor, the lights of NORAD. We would come up here to watch the lights change and observe from above where we were growing up. And we still come back here with three years of college and distance. The lights still change and the more flecks have risen east of the city as it expands. Our last three years and especially news stories like Friday’s have given us some perspective to what weird,radical place Colorado Springs was to grow up, but from up there, it doesn’t look so bad.
After a certain point, you cannot resent where you’re from. It’s too much a part of you. I resent the events that happen in the city at the expense of anyone’s life and safety. But to resent Colorado Springs, a town whose climate I might have never fit, would be to resent too much of myself.
Like all places that withstand tragedy, Colorado Springs will continue. The victims, Jennifer Markovsky, Ke’Arre M. Stewart, Garrett Swasey, will be remembered. The mountains will stand to the west and Colorado Springs will soon go back to being lame.