This week, a friend shared this Facebook post (again) for reasons I don’t need to explain. It feels futile to write here (again and again and again) about school shootings because what can I say that I haven’t already?
This week, I processed the Nashville school shooting while visiting family in Louisiana. Other than one brief conversation with one person, it didn’t come up in any way. I tried to explain to someone who hasn’t worked in schools what it means to spend your days with children in a place with constant, visible reminders of potential threat, with locked doors and ID badges and cameras and giant TVs displaying grainy images of every entrance to the building. I tried to explain the impact, but I think I failed. I was trying to sound reasonable. I am new to this family, to this place. I am trying to build things, not break them. I did not say what I wrote to my friend who shared the Facebook post about every teacher:
Every teacher you know has complex PTSD that is triggered by every school shooting, even the ones who no longer work in schools.
Sure, not every teacher. But more than most people probably know.
There’s so much to say about what I saw and felt and thought this week, I feel like I’m choking. I want to ask, why aren’t those of us who were in schools before May 21, 1998 screaming and shouting about how important it was to learn in places not locked down like fortresses? What happens when there are no longer enough of us who knew that kind of safety? I want to say that not every teacher prays that it doesn’t happen. I want to tell you about all the billboards I saw with Bible verses on them. I want to tell you about how the town we bought a house in is still segregated by railroad tracks, even though the tracks are now gone. I want to tell you about removing layers of the house to find the story of its history, about stripping down to rebuild. I want to tell you about the ads that came up for bulletproof inserts to put into backpacks, and the pretty blonde Nashville mom who posted about her child who goes to Covenant school, and the Nashville state representative who sent out a Christmas card with a photo of his children posing with guns. I want to talk about how the ugliness I saw in rural Louisiana is different from the ugliness I saw when I came home to urban Portland but that there is ugliness in both places. Beauty, too. I want to talk about poverty and culture and brokenness and politeness and religion and politics and money and burnout and persecution and conspiracy because you can’t really talk about gun violence without talking about all of those things but I can’t talk about all of those things in any coherent way. Not today, at least, when I am feeling so tired and broken. I want to say that this is not just about the south or red states; that’s just where I happened to be last week. These things bleed across the all arbitrary lines we draw between us.
Why do I worry about sounding reasonable in the face of a situation that is anything but?
Last week, I wrote about submitting a micro-essay that received an encouraging rejection and noted that I probably wouldn’t share it here because “It really was of a moment, and the moment has passed….” I wrote it during the winter holiday season, in the wake of a mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia, and I thought it was no longer quite relevant. (I mean, who even thinks about that shooting now? I had to Google it myself to remember what it was about.)
It occurs to me now that a piece about mass shootings is probably always relevant in the America we currently live in. So, here it is:
This morning I will skate at a rink in a half-dead mall, its anchors having long ago jumped ship. Lights will shine from a fake tree at center ice, soap flake snow will drift from the rafters, and my eyes will scan the faces and bodies of lone men who watch us too long from the upper floors.
“This place could be a bloodbath,” my coach said a few days ago as the ice became choked with the bodies of students set free for a long holiday weekend. I didn’t tell him about my scanning or my already-planned escape routes, how I’ve wondered if my aging body could carry small children while while running in skates. I didn’t tell him how often I think about the December shooting at another mall down the road just three days before Sandy Hook, the first time I stood in my office in the school library and cried.
In this week when bullets rained and revelers died and Walmart shoppers dropped and another governor declared that violence has no place in our communities–words empty as the windows of our vacant storefronts, as the ice after a fresh cut–I will swoop and soar and spin at the center that still holds, my flashing blades a defiant middle finger to all that I fear.
After hitting Publish, I am going to think about what resistance might look like today, and I hope you will, too. Have a good one.