Friday, April 5, 2019

Death "Where Nothing Ever Happens"

Indulge me, if you will ~ no music post tonight.

I've heard it for almost my entire life ~ "North Dakota? Nothing ever happens there." When I was eleven years old and I learned that my parents were giving up farming and had purchased a business in North Dakota, I was excited until my best friend's brother said, "Isn't North Dakota another word for 'disaster area'?" (Minnesotans are condescending like that; even the kids.)

I admit, I didn't like North Dakota at first; but that was mostly because I was sorely homesick. It took me at least a year to embrace my new home. It was so different from the rich black soil that I'd sunk my toes into in the Red River Valley of Minnesota. North Dakota was tough; hard-bitten. A spindly tree, if one was spotted, was a benediction.

In the sixties there were still old women there who preferred to converse in German. Kids my age were like first-generation Americans. The slang was odd; foreign. "Come here once." "I have to stop and fill gas." After a couple of years, I spoke the same phrases and thought nothing of it.

The thing about living in western North Dakota was, it formed calluses. I shudder to think what a simpering wimp I would be today had I not spent my formative years in North Dakota.

Nothing happens in North Dakota? Like what, exactly? Do people in other states have riotous backyard parties every day? I'm not sure what the opposite of "nothing" is. I live in a large metropolitan area today and I come home from work and flip on the TV. I could pretty much accomplish that in a North Dakota small town. Sure, there are concert opportunities, but I had those in North Dakota. In fact, I could leave my car tucked inside my garage and walk to the concert hall if I chose. It took me ten minutes to drive to work on a slow day. None of my workplaces had such a thing as security...

This past Monday morning as I took my regular instant oatmeal ten-minute breakfast break, I scanned the latest news. I saw, "Four People Murdered In North Dakota", and naturally it peaked my interest. Somewhere in the oil fields, I thought; or maybe Fargo. When I clicked on the story and saw "Mandan", my spine prickled. Reading on, it said, "near The Strip". I grew up on The Strip! My mom and dad's motel was on The Strip.

"The Strip" is the swipe of highway between the capital city of Bismarck and its tiny sister, Mandan. Mandan was actually my designated hometown because we were in the Mandan school district and that's where I attended my last year of elementary school through Central Junior High and ultimately Mandan Senior High School. Mandan is where I made friends. It's true that nothing ever happened in Mandan, and that was a good thing. I tramped its streets and cracked sidewalks for about a thousand miles ~ from the bus stop to the school; from my brother and sister-in-law's pint-sized apartment to the downtown business district with the Ben Franklin store to Dahmer's Music. My best friend Alice and I giggled through Sunday matinees at the Mandan Theatre. I took devotions at St. Joseph Catholic Church during my short-lived religious period.

I've been gone from North Dakota for twenty years now, but it's never abandoned my heart. Mandan's population was about 15,000 when I left. It's 22,000 now; and things have changed. My parents' motel was callously demolished a few years back, According to Google Street View, it's apparently been replaced by a strip mall. The only businesses still alive on The Strip are the livestock barn and Midway Lanes, where I spent many a languid Saturday in rented shoes, rolling a nine-pound ball down a slippery varnished lane.

There was no such thing as RJR Management when Mandan was still my home, but through the years I worked in small offices throughout Bismarck and Mandan. During my employment at Farm Credit Services I was the direct target for any stranger who strolled through the front door. But murder was not even an imaginary illusion. Even if we didn't know each other, everyone was simpatico.

I spent eight years at the largest medical center in western North Dakota and the facility employed zero security.

Today I'm tucked safely behind security doors that require a key card to unlatch. Even the receptionist's alcove requires a licensed swipe to broach the inner office sanctum. (I've been a receptionist, and that's not exactly a comforting notion). Even at my most vulnerable, no one ever even raised their voice to me, much less tried to kill me.

Somewhere out on The Strip at seven o'clock in the morning, four people showed up for work like they did every day, and a psychotic fiend with a simmering grudge burst inside and butchered them.

Nothing ever happens in North Dakota? Well, one thing that never happened (until now) was mass murder.

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