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Sunday, Jun 17, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Gently wishing Nicole Oulson would hush

The territory ahead is at least treacherous, and might be better left well enough alone. After all, Nicole Oulson is freshly bereaved. A collateral victim in last month’s Cobb Grove 16 shooting that left her husband, Chad Oulson, dead, she is not yet a month into what Joan Didion called “The Year of Magical Thinking.”

In an achingly detailed memoir penned after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, Didion makes abundantly plain that brand new widows cannot be held accountable for what runs through their heads. They find themselves in uncharted and, especially in the Oulsons’ case, unexpected waters. And no matter how broad or deep or intuitive their support system, reaching safe harbor is a course they ultimately must navigate on their own.

Didion wrote, “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” The Widow Oulson says, “My whole world just shattered.”

Different words, same meaning. So terrible a place, the vast isolation of grief.

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And so we must be gentle. Not everyone is, of course. Coarseness is the currency of our digital world, and brutes with as few as two good fingers and expertise on nothing beyond their opinion are quick to append blunt cruelty to website news stories. Reports about the Widow Oulson’s appearance on “The View” Thursday brought out more than a few of them.

But we are not like that. We are measured. We are careful. We are compassionate. Especially those of us who have endured sudden loss under violent, news-making circumstances. To be asked what happened and to describe how we feel about it, particularly in front of television cameras and in the company of celebrities, particularly when we’re still trying to make sense of events and emotions ourselves – such a thing exerts an almost irresistible tug.

On three occasions – once briefly in front of the local media, twice in ABC’s New York studios – the Widow Oulson has succumbed.

Yes, despite pleas to have her privacy respected. So what? The parameters of her exposure are hers to govern. It is possible to be willing to occupy the center of the curved turquoise couch flanked by Whoopie and Barbara and Jenny and Sherri and still draw the line at tabloid TV camera crews camped on her sidewalk. Is that so hard to understand?

Now, whether these appearances will aid or hinder what the Widow Oulson says she wants – truth, justice and a life sentence for the shooter, 71-year-old retired cop Curtis Reeves, accused of second-degree murder – is a fair subject for speculation. This, after all, is not like the parents of Trayvon Martin juicing the media when Seminole County authorities initially balked at charging George Zimmerman. Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin were not witnesses. Nicole Oulson is; accordingly, her every public comment feeds the files of Reeves’ defense team.

So, when she provides a Reader’s Digest version of events – they got their snacks, they sat down, Chad checked his phone for missed calls, “and then, zero to 60, my whole world shattered; it just changed for no reason” – the omission of details both richly reported and pertinent renders the rest of her assessment suspect. I mean, how does she know Reeves was acting out his authoritarian instincts?

To be sure, Reeves wasn’t “the movie police,” and the defense will be hard-pressed to argue that a handgun is an appropriate response to a shower of popcorn. But it’s well-established the dispute built over several minutes, involved several increasingly angry exchanges, and was precipitated by Chad Oulson standing and turning to confront Reeves.

Of course, at trial, other witnesses, including the theater’s security video, will provide the best knowable sequence of events.

In the meantime, can those who share at least two-thirds of her ambition – that truth and justice prevail, however that works out for Reeves – be blamed for wishing, ever so tenderly and respectfully, the Widow Oulson would just put a lid on it?

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