So, let me tell you how my day went. Everything I am about to say actually happened.
I wake up after my second alarm and can’t go back to sleep because my stupid brain decides to remind me about a thing happening at work and I have to deal with an anxiety attack. It fades about 35 seconds before my third and final alarm goes off.
I listen to the familiar, out-of-sync chimes of Ryan’s and my phones as they play the same alarm tone at 7 am. I give it about 5 seconds before I roll my eyes and lean over to swipe my phone and end my half of the noise. Ryan turns his off a second later.
I get up, turn the light on and turn the ceiling fan off. Then I go to the bathroom (it’s really nice to have our own bathroom again, I missed that). When I come out, Ryan is stretching and preparing to roll out of bed I think about how the way he’s stretching looks like the funny “downward dog” Sadie does before she EVER OBEYS ME (darn dog), then decide against mentioning it to Ryan even though I know he would have laughed. I know exactly what his laugh would have sounded like: a sharp exhale and soft chuckle as he collapsed out of his stretch and rolled out of bed.
I open the door, turn on the kitchen light, and look past the office to the boys’ room. I can see light under their door, so I know they’re up. Their alarm goes off at 7 am as well, but yesterday they must have gotten up early because they were sitting on the couch together in the dark looking at the cool Zelda set Ethan had put on his 3DS. Not today though. Today, their door is closed and a soft yellow glow shines from the crack underneath.
I smile at their closed door, thinking how I am going to help style Ethan’s hair for picture day. Thinking about how I need to make sure I don’t micromanage his style, his personality. He’s ten now, and very much his own little person, a fact that keeps sneaking up on me because I still see his sweet, chubby, baby face when I look at him.
I look at the kitchen floor and smash an ant with my bare toe, scraping it along the grout in the tile so any other explorers will take heed at the mangled body and severed limbs. I walk over to the tub of generic Clorox wipes, take one out, and wipe up the few wayward ants still alive near the trash can and pantry, then over by the dogs’ kennel (near the washer and dryer). I notice the dogs’ food bowls are empty and muse that the ants must be mentally challenged because they haven’t found the food bowls yet. Actually, they seem to be incapable of finding any actual food, in spite of the boys providing a steady supply of crumbs to every surface in the house. I scoop up the two bowls and fill them from the tub we keep by the fridge, then I walk over to my desk and sit down, tucking my bare feet up under my legs to keep them warm.
While I’ve been wandering around the kitchen, Ryan has gone into the boys’ room and begun the daily ritual of getting them to stop clowning around and GET READY FOR SCHOOL.
I start typing an email as Ryan moves into the living room and sits on the couch. He’s started a countdown because Ethan isn’t turning something off. Ethan is responding the way Ethan does, and I loudly remind him to stop being rude and do as he’s told. Which he does. (Grumble grumble)
I get up and help them pick out their clothes (i.e. find clean-ish clothes that aren’t wrinkled or covered in dog hair because I need to do laundry but don’t want to) for picture day. Ethan wants to wear a FNAF shirt under his nice button-up shirt. We can’t find it so I argue with him about his LEGO Batman shirt which DOES FIT IF YOU’D PULL YOUR PANTS UP IT WOULDN’T SEEM SO SHORT AND I WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO SEE YOUR BUTT CRACK. I win the argument.
I attempt to educate Logan about basic fashion rules. He’s eight and has his own style, but needs little reminders like, “you don’t wear a collared shirt over a collared shirt, just put a t-shirt under that, silly.” Then I help Ethan with his hair and assure him that he looks cool, not stupid, and that no one will make fun of him today.
I feel the anxiety building again, so I sit down on the couch and hug Ryan while Logan sits at the table with a bowl of cereal. Ethan comes into the living room asking where his shoes are. Ryan tells him they’re in his bedroom, then squeezes me tighter and kisses my head. I can hear the coffee maker going and smile. He takes really good care of me. Of us.
At 7:30 am, the doorbell rings and Ethan peeks outside to let BJ know we know he’s there. BJ sits on the bench by our front door and waits for the boys to come out. BJ is their best friend. He’s in Ethan’s class.
We remind the boys to brush their teeth, get their shoes on. Do they have their picture order forms? No, I didn’t put it in your backpack, I gave it to you. Planners? Homework? We give them hugs and kisses. I tell them to be safe, to do their best. They both shout, “Bye! Love you!” as they go out the front door and close it behind them. It opens again, as I knew it would, and I see Logan’s face as he tosses the blue plastic bag with our newspaper through the crack and closes the door with one last, “Love you!”
I open the curtains, which the dogs are peeking through, and together we watch our boys cross the street and head down the block to school.
Just a normal day.
Ryan plays Fallout 4 while I drink my coffee and try to focus on work. He heads to work at 9:50 am. I tell him “Be safe! Have a good work!” and we exchange I love yous before he closes the door. I stick my earbuds in and queue up a podcast. I keep working until about noon, then I grab a quick shower so I can drive to Sunset and get fingerprinted for my Utah insurance license (which I tried to do yesterday, but they were closed when I got there). I figure if it doesn’t take too long, I’ll grab some lunch on my way back.
Since the boys get out of school at 1 pm on Fridays, I leave a Post-It on the table for them.
Then I put the dogs in the kennel and leave, not locking the front door so the boys can let themselves in. I figure it’s a pretty safe neighborhood, plus there are already cars parked by my driveway with parents waiting on their kids to get out of school. I plug my destination into Google Maps and let the friendly female voice remind me how to get where I’m going, then I turn my podcast back on, get in the car, and head to Sunset.
By the time I’m done getting my fingerprints taken, I decide not to grab lunch so the boys won’t be home alone too long. I arrive home at 1:08 pm, expecting the boys to be inside.
They are not.
I look out the front window.
No one is walking home. No cars are parked outside. The kids should be here.
But they are not here.
My note is still on the table. Did they even see it? Did they come in and see I wasn’t there and then go to BJ’s? They better not have. Not without permission! How am I going to discipline them?
The house is quiet. The neighborhood is quiet.
I call Ryan.
“Hey, sweetie,” he answers.
“It’s Friday, right?” I ask.
“Yes,” he responds, chuckling, thinking I’m making a joke because I never leave the house anymore (the joys of working from home).
“The boys get off at 1 on Fridays, right?” I ask.
Something about my tone clues Ryan in that I am not joking.
“Yes,” he answers, more hesitantly.
“They’re not home, and all the school traffic is gone,” I explain.
We decide that, since he’s on his way home for lunch, he’ll swing by BJ’s house to see if they went there, and I’ll start walking to the school to see if they’re just dawdling. But I can see the playground from our house. There are no kids there.
I notice, as I walk, there are a lot of cars still parked outside the school.
“That’s weird,” I say to Ryan. “Did they not have early release today? Like…just today for some weird reason and the boys just didn’t give us the notice?”
“Maybe picture day ran long?” he suggests.
As I walk past more parked cars, I realize very few – almost none – have anyone inside. I tell Ryan this.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is at BJ’s house,” Ryan says, an edge to his voice now.
As I cross the street, I look toward the school and am not surprised to see a crowd of parents on the front lawn.
“Did something happen?” I ask Ryan, hoping he somehow knows something newsworthy from work and has just forgotten.
“I haven’t heard about anything,” he tells me.
There’s a woman standing by her car down the block in front of me, shouting across the street at another parent sitting in their car. I notice her hair, because it’s a weave…or braids…or dreadlocks. I’m not really sure, but she has a really big forehead, which makes me notice her hair, and I reprimand myself for my cultural stupidity because I don’t know how to accurately describe her hair. Then I catch some of what she’s shouting.
“They’re only letting a few parents in at a time,” she projects across the street. “You have to go in, tell them your kid’s name, and they go get them. There’s cop cars everywhere. No one knows what’s going on.”
I look away from her and back toward the school. I see two police cars. I look further and see two ambulances.
“Ryan. Something happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are police cars and ambulances and a crowd of parents and this woman said they’re only letting a few parents in at a time.”
I don’t know how words are forming. They just are.
My heart is pounding. I can barely register sounds over the loud buzzing in my ears. Tears are streaming down my face.
“Something happened, Ryan. I can’t breathe.”
“It’s ok, baby. I’ll be there soon. Take slow, deep breaths.”
I begin to mentally prepare myself for my new reality.
My children are dead.
They are victims of a school shooting.
I am going to have to identify their bodies.
I will never hug them again. I will never hear them laugh. I’ll never cut their hair or play video games with them or yell at them for being crazy or teach them to drive or kiss their faces ever again. They are dead. They died terrified and in pain and I failed them because I didn’t keep my promise to never let anything happen to them. And I want to die with them.
I know this is true. All of it. As my legs carry me closer to the crowd of parents, I know my children are dead.
There are two reasons I didn’t lose my mind on the front lawn of my children’s school today:
1.) Ryan was talking to me, constantly, as he parked and walked over.
2.) The other parents seemed calm
I am too scared to ask another parent what’s going on. I overhear several saying the same thing the woman with the hair I can’t describe had said.
I spot Ryan walking toward me and tell him we can hang up. When he reaches me, he wraps his arms around me and holds me.
And then we wait for someone to tell us.
We wait for about (eighty seven hours) five minutes or so before a police officer comes out of the building, smiling.
I have never hated anyone more in my entire life than I hate this man right now.
He calms the crowd down and makes an announcement. There was an “active situation” nearby, and they’d locked down the school as a precaution.
Our children are ok. Just scared.
Later, I found out the “active situation” was a suicide threat, and the lockdown (technically “lockout”) was to keep kids from walking home until the threat was contained.
And then we wait. As we wait, we watch parents trickle in and then out, with their kids – most of whom are still crying. The principal comes out a few times to reassure us in both English and Spanish. I feel physically ill with worry, wondering how scared the boys are, knowing how unbelievably lucky we all are today.
At 2:08 pm, one hour after I arrived home, it is finally our turn to go into the school. We walk to the table to tell the staffperson what rooms we need to go to, but she seems to have given up trying to keep track of all the parents at this point.
Ryan and I glance at each other, silently and mutually deciding, “Fuck this, let’s go get the boys.”
We go to Logan’s classroom first. His teacher, who I want so badly to hug, has the kids sitting calmly and seems to be trying to keep them smiling – a Herculian task given the day’s events. She tells Logan we’re here, and as he walks over to us (not smiling), she says, “They all did exactly what we were supposed to do. They did a great job.”
Then we make eye contact, and an unspoken understanding passes between us. This should not be our reality.
Logan holds my hand. I am squeezing his too tightly but he doesn’t complain.
“Are you ok?” I ask him.
“Yes, I’m ok,” he says.
“Were you scared?” my voice breaks.
“Yes,” he says, quietly.
“But you’re ok now?”
“Yes, Mommy. I’m ok.”
He squeezes my hand three times (I love you). I squeeze back three times.
“Are we going to get Ethan?” he asks as we walk down the hall to the side door that will take us to the playground.
Ryan answers him. As we walk to the outbuilding where Ethan’s class is located, I can hear them talking. I have no idea what they’re saying to one another. I keep my death grip on Logan’s hand and try to focus on keeping it together for them.
We walk up the ramp to Ethan’s classroom and I can see his teacher peeking through the barely-open door.
In the past, I’ve commented to Ryan, jokingly, that she barely looks old enough to be a teacher. Today, she does. She looks tired. Worn out. Her usual pep replaced, for the moment, by a more somber tone as she calls Ethan over.
“Have a good weekend,” she says with a forced cheerfulness as she opens the cracked door wide enough to let him out, then pulls it closed again.
Ethan blasts past us, seemingly irritated. He gets to the bottom of the ramp and turns back.
“Everyone was really scared,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“Were you scared?” I ask as I reach for his hand with my free one.
He takes it. “Yes.”
“Are you ok now?” I ask for the second of a thousand times today.
I squeeze both hands three times as the tears flow. They both squeeze back three times.
“Why is Mommy crying?” Ethan asks Ryan as we walk home.
Logan looks up at me with dry, red-rimmed eyes. “Were you scared?” he asks me.
I nod. There will be no speaking for me just yet.
Just a normal day in America.