In the states, we are a bit inured to school shootings. Yes, they're horrifying every time...but there are so many and they won't stop. To protect your sense of self, you must think of them as things that don't happen to you.
But this time, it happened to me. At least from a distance.
I haven't lived in Alpine for 25 years, but I return every year to visit friends and family. And in the high school I attended...just outside of the band hall where I practiced for four years...in the restroom I used every day...a fourteen-year old girl shot another one, and then turned the gun on herself. We do not yet know why, and even if we ever find out, I'm not sure it will ever make sense.
This pin hangs on my bulletin board at work. I've had it since high school and it is one of my secret smiles in my office---something that I know the origin of but doesn't make sense to anyone else.
I also have this picture...the only photograph I have hanging up at work or at home...on my board.
This is Juan and me. And while most people keep photographs of their family or major events, I keep Juan in front to remember the joy of graduation and why I work in education. I want every student to feel like Juan on the day he graduated from Alpine High School.
It is surreal to read articles about this shooting, because so many of the people quoted throughout the coverage are people I know, in spite of all the time and distance. Ah yes, the guy I made out with (on a dare) while I was dating his roommate. And the county official was someone who asked most of my friends to "take your pants off" when he took them out. The principal lived three doors down from me when she was in school. I remember being in girl scouts with her, swapping stories with her step-sister, and how several of my friends chased after her step-brother. (Don't get me started on the time in fifth grade where he tried to convince our art teacher that he was making an elephant out of clay and not a penis.) There were 59 people in my graduating class. We knew each other well...maybe too well...along with those who graduated just before and after us. We are of an age now where we have civic responsibilities and are stewards for the next generation. History and secrets run deep, but all we have right now is each other. The names I read and the faces I see are not abstract contexts. They are connections that span from my childhood to the present, and will no doubt be part of my future.
I suspect that most of the public sees pictures of the school or town without context. The most oft-shared pic I've seen in the last 24 hours---with students crossing the street from the school to a church---shows the view toward my best friend's house. My mother lives two houses from the elementary school, with its well-armed guards. I have walked in and around all of the buildings referenced, laughed and shared with others, and now I grieve. I am not there in body, but part of me is so deeply rooted there in spirit that I feel crushed physically whenever I have seen a picture or reference today. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be there in person.
There is sure to be anger in time. Anger over a lack of gun control that provides a 14-year old with access to a handgun. Anger over the waste of life. Anger over the distrust and disillusionment sowed in a community that needs interdependence for success. For now, I am just sad and hurt and wishing there was something I could do to ease the burden. I am grateful for my friends, who have called or reached out. I need them to tell me it will be all right, even if that's a lie.
Even if it's true, it feels cliche to ask you to hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight. Instead, educators, I ask you to connect with your students a little more closely tomorrow. Remind them that you care about them as people, that they have value, and that you will help them. It hurts to realize that the next news cycle will move on to the next shooting, well before any healing from this event has happened. Do what you can to ensure that your school is not the next one that is hit too close to home.