Most names have been changed.

Sometimes my PTSD kicks in when I am walking through the front doors of the school where I am a teaching artist, and the buses are dispensing kids like so many Pez pellets, and I think of how school was a safe place for me, even when two of my best friends waged their battle for an oblivious boy’s affection, even when Rhonda Macias used to corner my friend Stacey on the patio at Deming Junior High, and Stacey was so terrified she joined every club at school just so she’d have an excuse to stay indoors for a lunch meeting. Once I survived the band of small Chicanas that plagued me through sixth grade catechism, I had little to fear. Rhonda even invited me to a basketball game and gave me advice about Eric Green, the tallest boy in seventh grade (I think because he was really supposed to be in ninth), when he asked me to go around with him via a note passed in Mrs. Hall’s sixth period math class (possibly the worst period for a group of twelve and thirteen year olds to have math). Mrs. Hall was six feet all and walked like her hips were made of stone. She taught us algebra, which was the last kind of math that I ever really liked. (Although now that I run our household budget, I get a rush out of making the numbers work every month, the harmony between the total in our checkbook and the bolded figure on our Excel spreadsheet.)

I was in the green room at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, minding the child actors in Farolitos of Christmas (paying special attention to P. who was making her theatrical debut as Luz and was just recovering from a bad case of stage fright), when my mom texted: “Elementary school shooting in Connecticut. 19 dead.” And in those moments when all the kids were on stage, none trying to eat in their costumes, or sneaking food into the dressing rooms, I googled “school shooting Connecticut” into my iPhone and wept as the picture materialized.

We know the names: Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Newtown. Newtown. This one is the hardest to look in the face. This is the one that haunts me some mornings as I arrive at school feeling a little off because I haven’t slept or exercised or written enough. Morning announcements: the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish (which I learned in seventh grade under the tutelage of Señor Rodriguez, who wore pointy boots and a thin combover), a heart healthy tip from the P.E. instructor, and a reminder to NEVER open the side doors of the school for anyone, even a teacher you know.

It sounds crazy, but I have planned our escape route, the children’s and mine. I think of how someone with a gun might get into the school, wonder how we might run from so many rounds, can’t remember if the patio area is enclosed.

I don’t know the Newtown families, that community. I take P. and K. to school in the morning. Some days they practice lockdown drills. Bullets are the atom bomb of their time. I feared Communists, nuclear war (Remember The Day After?), getting stuck. There were fights and once rumors of a satanic cult, led by the boyfriend of a childhood friend. I think I remember the police leading the boys out of the school in handcuffs and a front page article in The Deming Headlight that read like the stories we told each other at our lockers.

They were his mother’s guns. What did she fear?

I take comfort in the smallness of the places I live and work, neighbors knowing each other, people with shared history.

How many more people have to die before we do something?

Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. A beautiful piece of writing about a dark and ugly subject. Perfect.

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