It’s Wednesday morning at 9:30am, and I am not teaching realism. I am silently huddled in the closet inside of my dark classroom with my 27 American literature students during an active shooter drill. The student that asked me this question is 17 years old. I recognize I am the adult in this situation, which means I should provide reassurance. To my left, another student is visibly upset by the drill, which has become routine at the start of each school year.
“Let’s stay quiet now,” I whisper, “and we will talk when it’s over.”
When the alarm sounds that the drill is complete, I turn on the lights. I start by answering my students’ questions: “our campus police have thought seriously about this situation and have told us a lockdown is the best chance we have to stay safe.” I reassure my students that though we see many reports of mass shootings, the odds are that we are still very safe. We are unlikely to be impacted. We live in Midland, Texas, a town most people couldn’t find on a map.
Three days later, I will find myself answering texts from concerned family and friends: an active shooter in our town and neighboring Odessa will leave 21 injured and 4 dead before being shot and killed himself. “Yes, we’re fine,” I respond. Then I look online hoping it’s all a misunderstanding. But it’s not.
One location where people are shot is a movie theater and bowling alley Brendan and I have taken our English honor students to for end of year parties and the like. Rumors begin that there is a shooter at the mall and Home Depot and the hospital too, though those will later be debunked. I text our friends. Our boss’s wife was on lockdown at a nail salon and his daughter, a nurse, has been called to work. On social media, Brendan sees that the judge from one year of our school’s poetry contest is reporting her friend’s granddaughter is injured. The child is 17 months old—the same age as our own daughter. Later, I will hear she has damage to her mouth, tongue, and chest from bullet shrapnel. A friend of a friend’s brother was one of the police officers shot. This is our home. Less than a month ago, a shooting in El Paso, a few hours away, left 22 dead and 24 injured. I struggle to process it all. I’ve written about my opinions on this topic so many times on this blog. You can read one such post here: https://lolaandzoe.blogspot.com/2018/02/someone-slams-door-at-work-and-i-think.html?m=1
This past year, I was too anxious to go to graduation after I overheard colleagues discussing how a disgruntled employee that had been banned from the campus may try to show up. I watched on the computer feeling both anxious about my husband and ashamed at my own fear, like maybe I was letting this all go to my head too much: my baby slept in her crib in the next room, and inside me, another baby was growing. I tried to quell my anxiety but didn’t relax until I heard my garage door open signaling that my husband was home. These emotions are not normal. These situations are not normal. But we’ve perhaps come to accept them as such. You could be paralyzed with fear or you could be numb: sometimes you feel both ways at once.
When our baby started daycare at age 4 months, the director told us not to come during a lockdown. “We won’t let you in, but we will keep your child safe.” We signed a paper saying we understood this. But can this be comprehended? I felt tears welling up and tried to assure myself I was just experiencing nerves about going back to work like many moms, only it wasn’t that. I don’t think my own mother ever grappled with this.
I have no faith that things will change unless we make some kind of change. But on Wednesday, I recognized that at least several of my students desperately needed some reassurance, and I said to them “you are safe.” And I desperately wanted to and want to believe we could live in a place where this is a truth.
Next Wednesday, when we go back to class, I am sure this weekend’s events will come up; and I will say “you are still safe,” and I not sure they will feel it, these young people who have signed up to read plays and poetry and stories with me and discuss them three times a week. I’m not sure they will feel safe anymore. And honestly, that will break my heart. I will say to them, “I am doing everything in my power to make things safer.” We all know that this isn’t a lot, but I think of what my daughter’s daycare director said to us. I think of that paper I signed. I think of the 28 of us huddled in and around that dark closet. I think of the society I wish they had. They are somebody’s children. Surely, we can all agree each of their lives is sacred, irreplaceable. I will wonder when we will all agree that making a few changes to our laws would be worth a try. Because doing nothing is definitely an option...but we have already tried that.