My face hurts. My eyes are puffy. My chest grips tight and I think my heart might shatter into a million little pieces. Flashes of guttural loss whizz through my mind. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Umpqua… all these names blur together but it never stops with schools. Las Vegas, Pulse Night Club, Sutherland.
I was a freshman in high school when two students at Columbine High planed an attack so massive, it marred the face of America and High School as I knew it. In my life, they set the tone for my entire high school education. For months, we had more bomb threats, more school shooting threats, more letters and phone calls claiming mass murder than at any other point in my high school education. Copy cat’s they called them. My fellow student’s and I spent more time outside in the bleachers while bomb dogs sniffed the school out than we did in the classroom. Or so it felt. We had to add extra days at the end of the year to make up for all the lost time.
But it didn’t end there. A student actually set off a small bomb in the woman’s bathroom in one of the school’s buildings. No one was injured. We were lucky. I consider myself lucky that when I was in elementary school and someone set off a homemade bomb in the playground no one was injured there either. I also consider myself lucky, because a kid brought a gun to school last week and no one was injured. I’ve been in real lockdowns and real lockouts.
And I’m only a substitute teacher.
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to sub on a drill day (truthfully I dread them more than the dentist). Whenever I find myself in this situation, and it’s happened a few times, I stress the severity of the importance of drills. I’m always floored with how many kids think it’s a game. A get out of class pass, so to speak. To which I get stern. So stern I hope to scare the crap out of them. I start by asking them to take a poll for me seriously. “How many of you have ever been in an actual lockdown?” I raise my own hand with the kids. Roughly half the students always raise their hands. Yes, at least half of my students have been in a REAL lockdown where real danger was imminent. “How many of you have been at school when a bomb has gone off?” I keep my hand raised and most of them lower theirs. But there is always two or three that keep them up. “How many of you have ever been at school when two bombs go off?” I keep my hand raised and almost always their hand’s drop. “Anyone been at school when there was an active shooter?” I’ve got their attention at this point and we are finally able to have a serious conversation about what it means. What they should do. How they can try to keep themselves safe.
I say try because today 17 students in Parkland Florida lost their lives and active shooter drills didn’t save them. They knew what to do and it didn’t matter. Because gun control matters but not to the people who can make a difference. The rest of the world has proven it works but none of that seems to matter when money lines the pockets of those with the power to make effective change happen.
I was on Twitter and someone posted a video from today. A high schooler was filming when the shooting started or maybe it was in the middle. I’m not sure. I didn’t make it through the fifteen-second clip before I lost it. Sobbing in my kitchen.
I don’t understand how a single person is okay with the status quo. We’ve had 18 school shootings in 6 weeks. If you don’t factor in weekends, that’s more then one school shooting every other day. 1.10 shooting every other day to be exact. This isn’t factoring in shootings at other locations, this is only in America’s education system. Think about that. Are your kids even safe? I don’t feel safe. I live on a small island and in theory, smaller is safer, right? But I don’t feel safer. I feel lucky every day that goes by and nothing happens. I shouldn’t feel lucky.
But I do.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a plan of action. I don’t have anything but a broken heart. And terror at the idea of going to work one day and not coming home. Of going to work and having even one person not go home because of a gun. I just wish those with the ability to make change happen could see it through even a single student’s eyes who lost seventeen classmates today. I don’t know what it will take for change to happen. I can say this, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.