Yesterday, when the school bus door opened, there were no kids inside. “School’s been canceled today,” the driver said.
I was confused. It was just a regular mid-week Wednesday. They had gone to school for the last two days. We were all getting into our routines after the holidays break. “There’s no school today?”
Our driver is a thirty-something, smartly dressed, attractive woman with blonde hair and glasses. She goes from house to house every day and picks up all of the special education kids. “No, some schools are on lockdown. We don’t have any more information. All schools are closed.”
My daughter, who’s eight, looked up at me and frowned. “Aw!” she said. She likes routine and this was not part of the routine today.
“You don’t have any kids in this bus,” I said.
She shook her head.
“Why was there no automated call?”
“They’re working on it now,” she said. Working on it now, I thought. That means they weren’t planning on it. That means they’re in a rush. That means something unexpected happened. We chatted a bit more. She had few details. By now, two cars were stopped on the street, waiting for us to finish.
My daughter and I walked back down the driveway, through the short woods, to the house. She chattered on, trying to make sense of the change. “Maybe the power broke,” she said. It didn’t make sense that school would be canceled on the first Wednesday after the holiday break.
Meanwhile, the police were searching the neighborhood around a school on the west side of the highway. Early that morning, in a gray fog, a man in a black hoodie and camouflage pants with a rifle had threatened a staff worker. This was not my daughter’s, or any of my three kids’, school. But it was the school my daughter had gone to for kindergarten a few years ago. And the man threatened to go to all of the district schools.
You often hear about shootings at schools. We all know the tragedy of Sandy Hook too well. In Seattle, we know about Marysville and Seattle Pacific and Issaquah. But as long as it’s far enough away, it’s not real enough to worry about. This was real. And the gunman was still on the loose. He still is as I write this. The fear, frustration, and anger this puts in a mother’s heart is indescribable. Why are schools so often the target? Why innocent children and innocent adults? Why don’t they go to the NRA office and shoot each other up there?
We spent the day playing games and going out to lunch and to the thrift store. We went east. I bought them all jeans and shirts. After all, they needed nice clothes that fit for school. The school that educates them. Where the teachers work hard. Where they go every weekday. Where I assume they’re all safe. Even though they’re not.
I tried not to obsess on the details, but I checked each school email and the news media all day. As information trickled out, the threat became more sinister and I more agitated. All three kids, from time to time, wanted to know why school was canceled. They knew it was strange. Privately, I had told my twelve-year-old, without the intimidating details, what had happened. Later, I would tell my ten-year-old. But for my eight-year-old special education child, the one with anxiety, the one who always asks about jail and bad guys and whether we’re safe from bad guys in our house, I just said the school had to close to fix something.
Later, after dinner was done and the kids had gone off to play, my husband and I talked about it with a quiet exhaustion. This insanity has now come to our community, what was the latest, how to talk about it with the kids, did we want to even send them to school the next day? It was a conversation we never thought we’d need to have.
Today, after I put my youngest on the bus, I walked back down the driveway, thinking. At least, a police officer was at each school. But would they be there tomorrow, or the next day? The police can’t guard the schools all year. And this idiot gunman hadn’t been found. He was like a ghost that had haunted us all. He could come back anytime he wanted. Was he a transient or did he live in our area? And of course, how could he do this?
I imagined the layout of the two schools my kids go to. At the older two’s school, their classrooms are tucked away at the back of the school. A gunman would have to walk most of the main circular hallway to get to them. (He wouldn’t know the shortcut through the office.) By that time, my kids’ teachers would have heard the shots and maybe be able to evacuate or hide the kids. A gunman would start with the classrooms closest to the office, the first graders. My kids would have a decent chance to survive. But in my youngest child’s school, her classroom was only a handful in from the front door. There would be little time to escape. By the time the teacher would hear shots, she’d barely have a minute to gather the children. Then the gunman would appear at the door, catching her by surprise. Then shots and blood and screaming. My youngest, the sweet, always-worried one, would be dead.
I stopped in the driveway and realized what I was imagining. I was actually laying out the statistical chances for my kids’ survival if a massacre occurred. What? It was as if I’d been outside of myself for the last several seconds. Playing out a horrible scenario in a nightmare but with a realistic eye. How had I gotten there? I heard the birds in the woods, fluttering in the shrubs and singing. The air was cool. I felt helpless and lost. And lonely. Lost for direction, lost for what to do. So I went inside the house, hoping their safe return would give me strength that afternoon.