Tag Archives: pulse

Where Were You When…?

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The Girl has always worn her heart on her sleeve.

September 11, 2001 – The Girl was 8 months old & laying on her playmat in the living room. I was never a big TV watcher so I had the radio on. The Husband called which he never did in the morning. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “Turn on the TV.” As the daughter of an Air Traffic Controller, I assumed someone at the New York center was about to lose their job. 

I’m still on the phone with The Husband at 9:03 am. We’re both watching the news – me from home, him at work. I watch as a plane banks & heads directly for the South Tower. I’m yelling that they need to pull up or move right, unable to comprehend what I’m watching. The Husband is calmly trying to explain the reality of the moment to my completely naive mind. “It’s a terror attack,” he says simply. We stay on the phone for a few more minutes as people start to jump out of the North Tower. I’m yelling again, “Why are they jumping?! Just go the roof! Help is coming!” The naivete is strong in this one. I – along with the rest of the nation – am completely unaware that within a matter of hours 343 firefighters, 60 police officers & 8 paramedics will be gone along with 2,606 civilians.

The Girl was an oblivious 8 months old. But a friend was visiting that day with her 3 year old.  “Turn off the TV,” she said. “We’ll have to turn on the radio. I don’t want him watching this.”

The Girl doesn’t remember it first hand. My friend’s son probably doesn’t, either. It’s a history lesson to them. In the days following 9/11 this country was unified like it’s never been before. We were all about ending this faceless enemy who was out to destroy the ideals of America. And we know we’ll never forget, much like our parents will never forget where they were when JFK was shot. We lament that the next generation doesn’t appreciate the horror of that day.

Because the next generation is facing their own horror. We worried about a faceless, nameless enemy. My kids worry about the intimacy of one of their classmates opening fire while looking them in the eye. And instead of uniting the country like it did after 9/11, we are now getting torn apart by the debate about gun control & access to mental health.

I am not trying to discount the evil & horror we all faced on 9/11. Hell, a dear friend was working across the street from the World Trade Center at the time & had to walk miles home to his apartment in New Jersey. He emailed me late that night to say that he was ok & that he didn’t want to talk about it. And while he didn’t die within those first few hours, he was nevertheless a victim of 9/11 when he died 13 years later – never recovering from the horror he witnessed on that day he didn’t want to talk about.

Our evil was remote in a way. “It’s over there.” It’s the unseen enemy. We have military who will deal with that. Our kids’ enemy sits behind him in math or in front of him at the concert, or next to him at his after-school job.

It’s personal for them. This is the age they grew up in. They don’t remember planes crashing into buildings. They don’t remember the days & weeks that followed searching for any possible survivors. What they do remember is a high school like theirs in Parkland, Florida. A club they would go to with their friends like Pulse in Orlando. The Wal-Mart they shop or work at like the one in El Paso, Texas. There is no searching for survivors. The kind of massacre they are used to is intimate & immediate.

We will never forget. I will never forget the dreams I had in the weeks that followed 9/11 of having to escape some danger I couldn’t define with my baby girl. I will never forget my nephew panicking during the ride into Boston to see the circus because he was so afraid a plane would hit it. 

But we can’t begrudge a generation their form of terror. Just like we can’t know what it was like when JFK was shot, our kids can’t comprehend the terror we watched unfold 18 years ago. 

My kids don’t entirely understand when their teacher or their mom gets emotional talking about today. I can only pray that their kids – my grandkids – won’t understand the horror of a mass shooting. I can only pray that they won’t have something worse to face. 

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Evil Creeps Closer

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The phone rang with the number of The Kids’ school. At the same time, texts start coming in from The Girl. She left for school that morning feeling less that 100% so I assumed it was a call from the nurse & rejected the school phone call while finishing up a phone call with a client.

When I finally looked at my phone I felt the color drain from my face.

“We’re in a shelter in place” read The Girl’s text.

Cursing myself for not answering the call from the school, I fought the urge to drive there knowing that whatever was happening, the last thing the school staff needed was a group of anxious parents getting in the way.

I’m sure every parent from Parkland or Columbine… every loved one from The Pulse in Orlando or The Borderline in Thousand Oaks, CA… thought it couldn’t possibly happen in their world. We all think that. We all desperately want to believe that. Whenever there was a lag in The Girl’s texts, I wondered. Just like all of those other families.

Just 6 days ago, last Wednesday, a threat to The Kids’ school was found in a bathroom. It was deemed “not credible” & extra police were on hand for the last two days of the week. The Kids were with their dad that night & we discussed via text whether or not he should keep them home like they wanted. We decided, as The Ex so eloquently put it, that “we would not be emotionally manipulated by some mouth breather with a crayon.”

Heading back into school on this Monday morning, it seemed like a lifetime ago & we didn’t give it a second thought.

The Girl tells of being in math & having the teacher suddenly go to the door & pull a couple of kids in from the hall, shutting off the lights & locking the door as they rushed into the room. At least she had her phone with her. The Boy was in gym with his Medical Assisting shop which is 99% female. As the girls were ushered into the women’s locker room, he was pushed into the men’s locker room with a group of seniors that had been working out nearby. No phone, no way to communicate, not knowing anyone. He puts on a brave face but when we went to the store tonight, he stuck by my side instead of his usual routine of going off to see what was new for PS4 or XBox games.

My kids are growing up with evil getting closer.

Someone pointed out tonight that it was a good thing they practiced active shooter drills because at least they knew what to do. “It’s like the fire drills & evacuations we used to do in school.”

Only it’s not.

A fire can happen any time, true. But a fire – with rare exception – is not an intentional act of violence. Staring down a fire & trying to get away from it can’t come close to the terror of facing down evil with a gun. In your school. These kids are growing up with a heightened sense of fear for exactly this reason. We wonder why anxiety is rampant among teenagers. We blame mounting academic pressures, the 24/7 culture of social media & the violence of video games. Have we ever considered that it’s because this generation – born during & after 9/11 – have been raised on high alert. They have been raised to know that they are not safe, even in their own schools.

I remember the first time The Boy came home from his new elementary school in 3rd grade & told me about the drill they had. The teacher locked the door & turned off the light & they all crawled into a vent at the back of the classroom & had to sit really still. That same year, their first in public school, The Girl came home & told us about a lock down drill they did in middle school that day. One of the kids said something during the drill & the teacher looked at that kid & said, “Thanks. You just killed us all.”

This is how they have to live now. This is how we all have to live. With evil creeping closer.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even really know what questions to ask to get to the right answers to end this. I trust my kids’ school. I trust the systems & protections they have put into place. I trust my kids to be smart & alert & to do what they need to. No, I don’t want to be emotionally manipulated by some mouth breather with a crayon. I also don’t want to see evil in my kids’ school or any school. And I feel helpless watching it creep closer.

The evil didn’t get to them today. The school was evacuated & the kids were sent home. The school was swept by bomb squads & dogs & deemed safe so they will be going back tomorrow.

But “safety” is kind of relative now, isn’t it?