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Damian Meins

November 15, 2015. My birthday weekend. My dad, mom, sister and I are having an “adventure weekend,” open to possibilities, no expectations, just fun. My grandfather spent years living near the Salton Sea, and having heard many stories about him, I wanted to see the place for myself. Dad’s happy, but pensive. I photographed him as he walked along the water. Was he thinking about his dad?

November 25. I returned home to stay with my parents for the entire Thanksgiving holiday and weekend. It’s wonderful. Typically Dad and I’d visit his sister up north this weekend, but she’s ill, so we stay local. It turns out to be a blessing. We have five whole days together, eating, watching movies, having intense philosophical conversations, laughing, rearranging furniture, and picking out a Christmas tree. I go home on Monday, happy.

On Wednesday, December 2, Mom calls me at work. I answer immediately. She’s been sick; I want to make sure she’s okay.  

“Do you see the news?” she asks.  

I had seen online that there was a big shooting in San Bernardino.  “Another one?” I’d thought, incredulously. 

“Yes, I saw,” I reply.  

“Your father is in that building, and I can’t get hold of him.”

I remember every second of that conversation and the ones that followed as I raced home—the desperate calls to hospitals to find out if he was there; to police; to information hotlines; to family members, telling them what was happening.

I remember watching each survivor depart the buses at the reunification center, looking for my dad, hoping in some strange way I’d see his hat, though I knew he wouldn’t wear it to work. 

Dad never came home. He was killed that day, along with 13 coworkers. Another coworker and his wife declared allegiance to a terrorist organization, and shot my dad five times. He died within seconds.  

It still hurts, every day. I am not the same person I was before December 2. But I am forever grateful for the time we had together, and I will always cherish our memories, especially those we made in those last few weeks. 

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