Zibby Mag

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I Can’t Remember the Word That Saved My Life

Friday, May 27, 2022

By Tess Day

Taking 34 seconds to play a word game made me a witness to gun violence instead of the victim of gun violence.

Ten years ago today I saw a man get shot on my way to yoga.

I was teaching that afternoon and I had spent the past hour planning the class at a coffee shop. I had eaten a cupcake, white with pink frosting. I remember tasting that cloying sweetness on my tongue for hours afterward.

I bussed my plate and walked to my car. It was warm and the sky was blue and my husband and I had just decided we were going to start trying for a baby. I felt ready then, hopeful.

I buckled my seatbelt and started my car. My cellphone pinged, and I looked down to see it was my turn to play Words with Friends against my friend Amy. I had time, I decided. Lots of time. I typed in my word — I remember the cupcake I ate that day, I remember the weather, I remember too much — but that word, the one that saved me, it escapes me.

And then I drove off.

I rolled the windows down to feel the breeze on my face, the Seattle sun warm for the first time all year. The light at Cherry and MLK Jr Way turned red. I braked behind a white van. And then I heard it, a sound I had never heard in real life but knew like a reflex. A gunshot. I looked out the window and saw a man with a gun. He began to run. I looked ahead and saw the white van. I saw the door open. Two children get out and one screamed, “My daddy! He’s hurt! He’s bleeding!”

He died on the scene. His name was Justin Ferrari.

His children were in the car, and he was driving his parents to the airport. His father held him while he died. I called 911 and I don’t remember if I was screaming or talking calmly. I did not teach yoga that night, or for a while afterward. I do not remember the word that I played that gave me those 34 seconds to be the driver behind the white van and not the driver of the white van, to be the witness to gun violence and not the victim of gun violence.

Two months later I would get pregnant with my son. Five months later the man who shot Justin Ferrari in a random act of gun violence would be sentenced to 23 years in prison. He lamented at his sentencing that “I get out when I’m 41. That’s f — d up.”

If you had told me on the morning of that warm May day that just hours later, an innocent man would be gunned down in the car in front of me, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me on that day that just months later, while gazing at the profile of my son on an ultrasound screen that 20 children would be shot to death at Sandy Hook, I wouldn’t have believed you.

If you had told me on the day of Justin Ferrari’s murder that exactly ten years later, on May 24, 2022, 14 children would be shot to death at a Texas elementary school, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I’m not sure what that word was that I played on that sunny afternoon that bought me the difference of being the car behind the van and not the car in front of the van. It was probably something benign like ‘acorn’ or ‘broom.’ But I like to pretend that it was something more meaningful, a harbinger of what was to come, like ‘hopeless’ or ‘senseless’ or ‘ceaseless.’ Less. Less of this. But there’s just more.

If you had told me all those years ago that I would live in a country that does nothing when children are murdered in their schools, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But I believe you now.


Tess Day is the publicity director of Zibby Books. A recovering Seattleite, she currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC with her two sons.