The thing that amazed me the most about yesterday was how quiet and orderly everything was on the outside. Trees stood at attention. The sun moved along its course without obstruction. Cars parked evenly within the white lines.
On the inside? It was crazy. Heart banging around in my ribs like a caged squirrel. Breath coming in short bursts. Brain firing off a thousand what ifs?
Remain calm, I told my head. My body wouldn’t listen.
A phone call minutes earlier at the bus stop tripped my panic button. Maybe caffeine played a role. I’d just arrived in my car from the coffee shop drive-through. Otherwise I’d have been on foot. As I cut the engine, I grabbed the buzzing phone next to me. It was a fellow parent and book club member (Tonight was our monthly meeting.) I expected something routine. “I’ll be late” or “I’ll bring wine.”
Instead: “The schools are on lockdown; there’s been a shooting …”
The crazed squirrel burrowed in my chest began scratching and clawing in earnest. “What? Where? Ohmygod, our kids are out there.” I sprang from the car toward the corner.
Cell phone pressed to my ear and run-walking, I wasn’t really listening anymore …” my son said the kids were hiding under their desks at the high school … I just marched over there and told them … “
I looked in all directions at the empty streets and sidewalks. Where did this happen? I looked in the faces of the waiting parents. They were calm.
They didn’t know.
As I opened my mouth to pass on the news I noticed for the first time the thumping of police helicopters overhead.
“They are not releasing any students from the buildings until the police call off the lockdown,” my friend said.
As we parents stood on that windy corner, looking around in confusion, wondering if we should stay or go, I called the school. Amazingly, I got through. The answers to my questions were short and curt and then the line was dead. What it came down to was I had to do some hunting. Depending on whether she boarded a bus, Girl from the East was either in one place or she was in another.
Where the hell was my Girl? And was this gun-toting shooter lurking in the bushes somewhere nearby?
I’m no good behind the wheel when I’m rattled. In my efforts to find her, I turned the wrong way on the wrong streets that became dead-ends. Finally, after what seemed a ridiculous amount of travel within a few miles, I arrived at her school. No chaos. No crazed crowds as I’d imagined. Just order and quiet.
Although we wouldn’t know many of the details until later, when our children were safely within the walls of our homes, there was an incident, perhaps a botched robbery attempt, that resulted in gunfire and an injured young man on the grounds of an alternative high school near our home, one that caters to out-of-district adults.
I parked and walked toward the school doors. I quickly tried to figure out how to arrange my face. Sometimes I’m bad about this: smiling in the face of grief, scowling in the glow of joy.
Turns out it didn’t matter. We all lined up inside the doors, said our child’s name, waited for that name to be announced over the PA, and then waited some more for them to come to the front lobby. I stood there, one among many worried adults, wondering what to say to my child on the car ride home.
And then there she was, a vision of innocence in her flowered tights, side pony tail, and Hello Kitty lunch box swinging at her side. I hugged her in a desperate release of worry.
To my surprise, Girl from the East was unfazed by the whole thing. The kindergarteners were told they would not be boarding buses and they accepted it without question. To my horror I realized how vulnerable they are at this age. I realized that such things in life: guns, people using guns to hurt other people or get what they want, crime, drugs, desperation, the malaise of poverty and ignorance, all were things outside her purview. She is an innocent.
And today, just another day in the city (this city for sure, but maybe yours, too) I realize how quickly one thing can change into something else, or be scary for a while but OK in the end, and that maybe it’s important to take a moment to be thankful for the latter.
Update: This guy is still at large, according to the latest news.