When Babij and Mark-Babij reached California, they were relieved to be home but had no idea how much pain and hard work lay ahead. Eight days after the shooting, on October 9, Babij had shoulder surgery, leaving him with a plate and 15 screws in his left arm, and strict instructions not to move for a month. The pain was unbearable, he said, and he spent weeks in bed, sleeping, reading, often pushing away his wife. She’d bring him food, coffee, anything he needed, but nothing seemed to help. “When we first got home, we were both very much in shock and traumatized, and it was very difficult for me, because I was too consumed with him to start therapy for myself,” Mark-Babij said. “I felt helpless.”
Taking care of her husband was a fulltime job. Mark-Babij brought him to doctor appointments, arranged physical therapy visits, took him to support groups and therapist appointments, and looked after him at home. He seemed depressed, and she worried constantly. By Christmas, she started seeing a therapist. “Chris and I became very disconnected, because we were both struggling in our own way and didn’t know how to comfort one another,” she said. “As callous as this may sound, one of the things that was really difficult for me was that every phone call, email and text said, ‘How’s Chris?’ I get it. He was shot. But nobody ever once asked me how I was doing. People forgot that I was there, standing next to him. I was shot at, too.”
The ACIA conference marked a turning point. While Mark-Babij had returned to Las Vegas a few times with friends, Babij hadn’t been back since the shooting. “Up until we left for the conference, Jenny kept checking in on me: ‘Are you worried? Are you okay?’” he said. “I didn’t have that defeated mentality. I’m a survivor. I survived. He didn’t get me. He didn’t win. Those PT sessions where you’re hurting and pushing through, I’d get angry, saying, ‘You’re not gonna win!” ‘You’re gonna beat this!’”
All that work paid off.
“Having a support system to be able to return to Las Vegas, sit here and tell my tale to absolute strangers—” Babij said, trailing off. “To be part of something like this conference is truly special—and very helpful to me and my recovery.”
For Mark-Babij, the conference was “extremely healing.” She’d spent months struggling to make peace with the fact that it took her 15 hours to reach her husband after the attack. But listening to Dr. Empey and nurse Donnahie talk about the bloody chaos at the hospital the night of the shooting, she suddenly felt grateful for that delay. “It almost was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “If I’d walked into that chaos in the hospital, with all those people bleeding all over the place—” She paused. “I’m shaking just talking about it.”
“Life is still very unknown, and I mean that everyday I wake up grateful and thankful to be alive, but I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know if I’ll be triggered today, or if something will upset me or set it off,” she added. “But today we are in a new place. We are both changed people.”
By Abigail Jones