I’ve stared at this blinking cursor for a long time.
Because there are infinite amounts of things to say, and yet, nothing at all to say.
Isn’t it funny how the human soul works that way?
I waited a long time to call my mother yesterday.
I called her because she’s generally a news-hawk, and she’s generally alone, and even as a woman who grew up under nightly news broadcasts of Viet Nam, who saw the assassination of Kennedy and King, she has a hard time shaking it when bad things happen to children.
We all do, of course, but she and I have inherited the same genetic-spiritual trait: the inability to make sense of tragedy can often handicap us into not being able to go on with our lives for days at a time.
We’re like little spinning tops that just wind down a little more with every picture, news story, and video update until gravity overcomes our own momentum, and then we have trouble doing simple tasks like going to the grocery or making a doctor’s appointment.
So I called her, because I was alone, and I knew she was alone.
And I called her because I couldn’t stop thinking about those children, hidden away in closets and under desks in the school office, very young and very afraid and thinking to themselves, I want my mommy, I want my mommy, I want my mommy.
I wanted my mommy.
“Hi!” she said brightly when I answered. “What are you doing today? I’ve been in the kitchen all day making pasta.”
I was a little thrown off but I persevered because the television is almost never turned off in my childhood home.
“I — called. To check in with you. In case you were having a hard time about what happened in Connecticut.”
“I’ve been in the kitchen cooking since nine this morning — what happened in Connecticut?”
She had no idea and now I was going to be the one to tell her.
Fuck fuck fuck.
It’s okay to say “fuck” in times like this. Mama says sometimes there is only one word in the English language that will do, and that word is fuck.
Fuck this. I fucking hate this. Fuck this life. Fuck this conversation, fuck this situation. What the fuck is wrong with the world. Everything fucking hurts.
I hadn’t expected that I’d have to actual relay the news to her, and so I picked through my words carefully.
“A young man…in Connecticut…this morning. Walked into an elementary school. And shot twenty…young children. And six adults.”
More silence, and then the smallest, quietest voice I’ve ever heard on the other end of the line:
Yesterday afternoon, I’d vowed I was not going to spend every waking moment refreshing my browser for updates. I’d promised myself I wasn’t going to watch pictures or video or comb the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post.
So I went outside with the dogs, and when I finally yelled at them to come inside, they trooped up so diligently in a little perfect line, like kids holding hands on a field trip, and all I could think about was that photograph splashed under every headline that day, of those tiny children with their hands on each other’s shoulders, marching to the parking lot, most of them screaming or crying.
I didn’t want to start crying, because I’m a migraine sufferer, and hysterical crying jags will often set off a migraine. I figured if I took all this very slowly, one piece at a time, I could probably process it without physically breaking down.
I went inside and decided to shower. As I rubbed face wash in, I thought to myself, “Do not think about gun control. Do not think about teachers unions. Do not think about mental illness. Just not yet. You need some time to process. Just some time to process.”
So I thought instead about locks on doors. Locksondoors locksondoors locksondoors, and how that one classroom had no door lock so the teacher barricaded it with her body.
The thing about crying in the shower is that it’s impossible to realize how much you’re crying, because there is so much water already, until you reach over and turn it off.
I was thirteen years old when Columbine happened. In a pre-9/11 world, the Internet and news media wasn’t what it is today, and so the news didn’t reach me until I walked into theatre rehearsal at 7:00 that evening and found everyone gathered around a television.
I had a hard time processing it, not the same way I’ve had a hard time processing Sandy Hook, but because I was still young enough that I literally didn’t have the understanding or the lexicon to understand the very basic principles of what had happened.
It wasn’t like someone was telling me sad news and I was overcome with grief; it was more like someone was speaking Greek to me and I could only stand there and stare.
The next day, the school administrators hung a huge paper banner in the student union so that we could all sign it and offer our notes of condolence, our re-enforcements of love.
I approached it at the same time my theatre instructor, a man named Jerry Worsham who we’d all lose a mere 18 months later to cancer.
I stood in front of that big banner with my little magic marker, utterly unsure of what to say.
Worsham noticed my hesitation and turned to me and said,
“You know what a columbine is?”
I didn’t. Of course I didn’t, so I shook my head.
“It’s a mountain wildflower. The blossoms are shaped like doves, the symbol for peace. It’s very strong and hearty, and you seed it in the autumn because it needs a good freeze to bloom in the spring. It’s one of the few wildflowers that can grow up through snow if it must.”