Life in the city, Part II

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.




The whole truth


I am lucky. I am a survivor.

I was dismissed from jury duty this week.

That is not why I am lucky. That is not what I survived.

I was dismissed because I could not be fair and impartial regarding the case before me and the other potential jurors.

Soon after the clerk herded us sheep into the dark-paneled court room and guided us to our pen,  I felt myself relax for the first time that day. Waiting is stressful. At least now I knew my fate. Or so I thought.

As the judge, prosecutor and defense droned on about rules of law, the great American judicial system and so forth, I’ll admit my mind started to drift. Then the words: armed robbery shot cross the room like a bullet.

The words jabbed me in the ribs and I let out an embarrassing little gasp that drew the attention of those seated next to me.

It was the beginning of a string of actions that would cast the spotlight on me. Things like being asked to sit here. Then being asked to get up and sit over there. Then being asked the same question three different ways. Then being asked to leave the room and sit in another room until every last juror or potential juror was safely in their cars and headed home. Any lawyers out there who care to explain this to me?

I don’t know, telling the court you don’t think you can be objective — which is the truth and I swore to be truthful — maybe gives them pause?

Nineteen years after I was robbed at work, I still have anxiety about it. I don’t like it that I do.  But I do and I have to accept that about myself. Things like court rooms don’t help.

I survived the incident. But it took me a long while to learn there was a lesson in it: When something bad happens, you have to acknowledge that bad thing and then let it go. This is not what I did. I was the queen of suppression and denial.

So when I found myself on the business end of a gun during my stint as a bank employee, I reacted not only to the threat at hand but to another incident four years earlier, which was a deep, dark secret brushed under the rug and never worked through. Most decidedly, the felon on parole wielding a .380 pistol pushed my buttons.

Everything spun out of control after that. I ended up in therapy. I quit my job. I messed up my last year of college. I damaged beyond repair the relationship I was in at the time. What may have been a minor blip on someone else’s timeline was a big bomb going off on mine. 

So, the lesson in all this is when something bad happens: cry, scream, yell, get help, press charges, tell a friend, go jogging. Do what you need to do to release the poison and begin the healing. Pretending away a trauma does not work. Don’t worry about what others will think. Ditch the false bravado.

I’m lucky I survived both incidents with nothing more than some protracted stress issues. I’m lucky I learned from them. 

That’s the truth.