In Memory of Scott Von Lanken
Joshua Cummings, 2017
Joshua Cummings, 2017


1. Do nothing after you find out from a mutual friend via Facebook messenger that your once-best friend, Joshua Cummings, just allegedly shot and killed a Denver RTD security officer at point-blank range, then wonder why feelings about this person you haven’t spoken with in five years and haven’t heard from in two are creeping through you;

2. Say I told you so to no one about the worrisome content of his social media accounts now plastered on multiple news sites, content you actually viewed a few years ago when, via Facebook, he reached out to your wife who he used to run cross country with in college, and also say I told you so to yourself as confirmation that you made the right decision back then not to get back in touch with him;

3. Say nothing as you watch your old college classmates and fraternity brothers talk on Facebook about how wonderful he was or how fucked up he was, how shocked and/or unsurprised they are/are not;

4. Write a long response about why everyone is right and why everyone is wrong about your friend and what he did or did not do and that if we really saw it coming, then why didn’t we say something, but never hit send;

5. Watch and read more mainstream news in one week than you’ve watched or read in years;

6. Marvel at how adept the media is at finding and using the least-flattering, most insane-looking image of your friend to incessantly plaster everywhere;

7. Feel better about not saying something when you saw it because even when three different mosques alerted the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security about how your friend was dangerous, each resulted in nothing happening that could have prevented what happened because civil liberties still exist—for some people—and especially in certain circumstances, for instance: being an able-bodied American-born private-college-educated straight white male ex-military business-owner with a wife and child tends to help tremendously;

8. Run through numerous fantasy scenarios that don’t end with your friend spending the rest of his natural born life in prison but that all fall under the Hail Mary pass that is the insanity plea;

9. Watch your friend spike that Hail Mary pass at the line of scrimmage as you listen to an interview in which he lucidly, calmly pledges his allegiance to ISIS and says he did what he did for the pleasure of Allah;

Joshua Cummings, 2007. Photo credit: Spencer Darr
Joshua Cummings, 2010. Photo credit: Spencer Darr

10. Dig up old photos you have of your friend hanging out with your family and that one of him sleeping in the back seat of your ex-fiancé’s car with a trimmed beard and a black and white POW/MIA “You Are Not Forgotten” bandanna on his head and wonder for the thousandth time what the fuck happened;

11. Get uncharacteristically perturbed when a cube-mate at work makes the comparison of how the spreadsheet you use to keep track of your productivity metrics is like making hash marks in prison, which is where your friend is likely to spend the rest of his natural born life;

12. Become blissfully aware of how much freedom you have in comparison to your friend;

13. Become painfully aware of how guilty you feel about how much freedom you have in comparison to your friend;

14. Question why you give two shits about this whack-job (alleged) killer and how it is that the actual victims, the dead man and his family, are a footnote in comparison to the article after article after article after article with that mug shot of the wild, one-eyed bearded ex-military jiu-jitsu instructor white Muslim who (allegedly) murdered him;

15. Discover that you are going through the five stages of grief and trying to hide it from everyone;

16. Realize that the five stages of grief are less a teleological progression of stages and more a cyclonic shit storm cycle of the never-ending emotional turmoil you can’t fully experience or express, perhaps because both you and your friend received similar versions of the same kind of hyper-masculine emotional-neutering that doesn’t just enable, but in fact encourages a numbness that disallows you to cry over all of this, yet allowed your friend to (allegedly) kill;

Joshua Cummings, 2015

17. Realize that despite what happened and why, he was the best male friend you ever had; you went to college together, you met each other’s families, you grew up in similar small Texas towns, you were in the same fraternity together, you worked together, you lived together, you both served in different branches of the military, you were both the first in your family to go to college, you were the best man at his second wedding, he asked you to be the godfather of his first child, you were there in the hospital and at the memorial service after his first child died during labor, you were there for him during both of his divorces, he was there for you when you had nowhere to live, you were there for him when he had nowhere to live, and how it seemed that when no one else was there for you, y’all were there for each other—like friends, like brothers, like family, like countrymen who felt the whole world was against them;

18. Wonder for the thousandth time what the hell is wrong with white males (see #17);

19. Read and re-read James Baldwin and Malcolm X and Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Rebecca Solnit and James Cone and Chris Hedges and Cornel West and really, really wonder for the millionth time not only what the hell is wrong with white southern American males from Christian backgrounds, but also why the powers that be tend to Trump up the big black/brown/foreign/urban threat of almost everyone except the people who look like you and your best friend, the people who come from places like you and your best friend came from;

20. Do something by accepting responsibility for him, for yourself, and for the growing number of people like him, like you, like us, even if it lands you on a watch list no one will pay attention to until it’s too damn late.

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SPENCER DARR is a non-fiction writer, travel blogger, and photographer of people and places with a Texas connection. His work has appeared in Atlas Obscura and on his blog He experimented with writing fiction until he sobered up, started reading the news, and realized all of his publications appeared in now defunct publications such as AlienSkin Magazine and theEEEL (a project of tNY Press). He currently lives in Round Rock, TX, and lived the longest in Pecan Hill, TX. He has a B.A. in English from Southwestern University, an M.A. in Technical Communication from Texas State University, and no degree after dropping out of Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO.

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