Is there a MeToo for school shootings? Because ours happened seventeen years ago, and I’m grappling with it in a very different way today than I did at the time.
Yesterday I took my kids to a birthday party. Then I spent all afternoon on the verge of tears looking up photos and statements about the March For Our Lives events all over the country, millions of people supporting the high school students who pushed this miserable debate into high gear.
I had an opportunity to join the march here but couldn’t finagle the time constraint to get to my other obligation (I’m sorry laaadiiiiies). The scheduling woe was real, but if I’m being absolutely honest, I also leaned into the problem as an excuse to chicken out of a high-emotion atmosphere. If Twitter could bring me to tears, going in person was gonna be a mess.
I should have just let myself be a mess.
Our school shooting happened in the early days of this nightmare, 2001, when it genuinely seemed (to us, at least) to be a fluke tragedy. Something wild and unpredictable and how-could-it-happen, but rare, at least. With two dead and thirteen wounded, for a little while we were called the second-worst to Columbine, and wow have those numbers become commonplace. Hardly even newsworthy.
Our shooter (I won’t even bother naming him, let’s just say Some Piece of Shit) ran with a group of bullies, so the media latched on to the theory that he was being bullied by them. But, uh, according to my classmates he ran with bullies because he was a little bully himself. Next theory, plz. (The Columbine shooters weren’t bullied either…but that story was bought into so heavily it has shaped twenty years of rhetoric on this.)
We didn’t do anything about it except try to move on. The adults were supposed to take care of it. Now we’re the adults, and we’re still not taking care of it. So oh my god, these kids are so brave. They weren’t even born when this started. This fear has been hanging over their heads their entire lives. And they’re right to be furious.
My feelings have always been a muddle. I was lucky–didn’t see anything, didn’t know anybody, though I would eventually see the toll it took on my friends who did. I was in a classroom on the opposite side of campus at the time, stayed in there during the lockdown, and evacuated via a route that prevented us from seeing where it happened.
I remember being very calm during the evacuation. They led us to a massive grocery store parking lot across the street, where the lines all immediately lost structure, and everyone bolted to search for their friends, and parents started showing up. I found my bestie pretty quick, but it took forever to find my older sister. I was just starting to panic when we spotted each other. That is my clearest memory of the whole thing.
I barely remember the aftermath, on the other hand, and that is just bizarre. Kids started getting cell phones (this was 2001, babyyy, teens didn’t automatically have them yet). They had us do weird art projects to express our feelings. We got a therapist on campus and a permanently stationed deputy (I interviewed him for the school newspaper, dweeb that I was).
But otherwise: big blank. I know there must have been huge amounts of emotion permeating the school, but either I walled it off at the time or I’ve walled it off since then. I do remember thinking I should reach out, friendship-wise, to a boy in my class who had been directly affected. We did eventually become friends, mostly because some of our friends became friends and our groups merged. Ten years later we got married. So add one more convoluted layer to this mess, because despite not touching me at all, this incident subtly shaped the course of my life anyway.
I’m always hesitant to mention it, because it never felt like my experience. It wasn’t “my” shooting. It was a Thing That Happened in my vicinity, a thing that hurt other people so badly it seems ghoulish or disingenuous to make any kind of emotional claim to it. It’s a disorienting mindset. I might never untangle it.
I didn’t even realize I had any remaining deep-seated feelings until I had babies, and now every news story has me reeling. I imagine my kids there, and I imagine myself driving like a maniac to reach the school like my mom did, and I break out in a cold sweat. I don’t want them to grow up with this fear. I cannot comprehend the mindset of people who think it’s worth the risk to keep their arsenals. I could rant all day about how there’s no such thing as responsible ownership.
I don’t have a good ending for this blog post. I just felt compelled to write something down. I’m mad that this is still part of the tapestry of our lives. No, I’m furious.