I slept with my amethyst rosary wrapped around my hand last night. I curled up in my son’s bed, hoping I wouldn’t alarm him, but knowing that if I were him, I would be alarmed.
But he was asleep, breathing deeply as though he was absorbing all the life from every corner of the house. I would have given him all I had.
When I was 17, in 1999, Columbine happened. The Monday after, we all went to school, but looked a bit harder at those around us. I told my mother not to worry, that she was crazy, smoking cigarettes one after another, inhaling hard as though she could suck away all the smoke and horror so far away. She could not stop staring at the screen, watching trails of students running from their lives, any one of them or every one of them, one of her four children.
When I looked at my mother after Columbine, I knew she was right to worry, or at least that she was normal.
Yesterday, I didn’t hear the news until 2:30. I hadn’t turned on the TV all day. When I heard about it, my son was at preschool in Brockport‘s Ginther School, and I was in my kitchen, on the phone with my mom, who said, “God, are you watching this?”
She told me in brief, and I turned on the news, knowing I had to get all I could, grab my own sense of it because not five minutes later my 4-year-old and his best friend would bound through the door with Spiderman backpacks and light-up shoes and zippers and gloves and hats and I would be a parent, calming myself so I could handle the chaos of fun, the lightning fast chirping and questioning and squeals of kids being just what they are, what they should be, breathing, running, vibrant kids.
By the time they came through the door, exactly the way I’d expected, I’d seen and heard enough to be changed, to hope the red of my eyes and nose would go away before the boys would notice.
I turned off the TV. I was scared, let alone these innocent babies.
We all are children at our core, after all.
This past week, absentmindedly, I had The Morning Show on, not thinking about how horrifying the news could be until the report came on about the mall shooting in Oregon. My son sat across from me with a buttered english muffin, licking the butter off before biting into the bread itself.
He stopped chewing.
“Why is he naughty? Why did he shoot?” Johnny asked.
I wish I’d been paying attention to the TV during the lead-up instead of fixing my coffee. I had to say something when I couldn’t comprehend it.
“I don’t know, Johnny,” I said. “I just don’t know. Some people are not nice,” I said.
“Well, will he go to jail?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, Johnny,” I said, not going farther into the story than I had to, shielding him, as much as I could, from all the death.
I wanted to save him from this horror.
He would ask me about the mall shooting again after lunch. Again, I’d shift away.
Is this what it is? What we imagine: the pulses racing, the terror inside, the prayers we know they’d be saying if they could think about anything other than survival.
Yesterday, Johnny and his friend, Sam, clomped down the stairs to ask me to help them construct the train set, to get it back on track and make the engine run. I did what I could, listening to them consider how to piece it together. I looked to their innocence to negotiate my own thoughts.
When I came down, my husband whispered updates to me, turned the TV down low, and we distracted Sammy, our toddler, somehow too young to be scared, with trucks.
I’d just read the latest piece of fiction, “Creatures,” by Marisa Silver, in The New Yorker about a couple whose son is expelled from preschool for biting his classmate. I thought, when I read it, these poor parents, their poor son, and I wonder today, how I’d read it, what might change, where my son might appear in the text, where the story would write itself from the end.
My sister-in-law came over last night for coffee, and we talked about the news as though it was just that–news, but we knew how much more it was. We said we were sad the way everyone in America said they were sad, the way we all feel it in our guts and not in our brains because our brains can’t touch it.
Then we agreed that we should do anything to prevent this, as anyone in America would give their right arm, or more, their own lives, to prevent this from happening again.
If only we could be superhuman.
When Johnny came to the kitchen with his older cousin, he wore his blue Transformers helmet. Every time he laughed, the noise escaped the awkwardly large dome like a robot, as though he was some machine, but from below it, I saw his shoulders wobble and peeks of human skin.
Later last night, I folded my sons’ laundry–their mini socks, their small pants with worn knees and shirts thin at the elbows from bending and jumping and dancing.
Later last night, I picked up their toys, tucking them in drawers and stacking their books on the table.
Later last night, I gasped at every moment my children entered my mind, and soon, gasping was all I could do.
We find them everywhere, and after they come, we are not only ourselves.