Today started out like any other day. I woke up, got dressed, woke up Mom, ate a quick breakfast. I was late for school again. Told my mom I loved her. Said "Hi" to the secretary, to the guidance counselor, to a friend. Waited for the bell to ring to go to class.
I had been worried about the five quizzes and tests I had to take today. One in Algebra II, one in Religion, one in Chemistry, one in Government, and the last in Spanish. I thought that would be all I'd have to worry about today.
I wish that was all I had to deal with.
I made it to Algebra, Religion, Chemistry and Chem. Lab. That's when we heard the news.
The superintendent came on the loudspeaker and called for our attention twice. The first time, since she said it was a special announcement, I thought it was for the student of the month. Then I heard the tone of voice she was using and I knew there was something wrong. I had no idea how wrong.
She told us that due to an event that had occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we would be going into lockdown.
When you're a student and you hear that word, you first feel confusion. Then excitement, because something different is happening. Then comes the fear, the anxiety, as the words, "This is not a drill," fully register with your mind. Questions follow.
Why did we need to go into lockdown? What had happened? Was someone hurt? Were we in danger?
My classmates and I glanced around at each other in confusion, not sure of what to do. They started to murmur and snicker, a response that irritated me. Later, my mom told me that teenagers just cope with these things that way because they're immature. Their frontal lobes are underdeveloped or something. I remember thinking something along those lines, but I wanted them to understand how serious this was. "Someone probably has a gun," I said seriously. They quieted, and I could see nervousness reflected in some of their gazes.
We were prompted into lockdown by our teacher, who called us back to grim reality. We hadn't had a lockdown drill before, or if we did, we didn't remember. I could recall lockdown drills from middle school. Those were the drills that were the most fun. You had to glance around at everyone and try your hardest not the laugh. I was very upset to find that the real thing happened to be the same.
We all gathered against a wall out of view of the windows. The blinds were shut. A table was propped up against a door. Students glanced at each other with goofy grins on their faces. I think they were concealing nervousness.
I kneeled on the floor, hoping not to take up space, while we quieted for about thirty seconds. Our teacher pushed herself up on a moveable bookshelf. Then they started murmuring about tests and what was happening, and how they hoped the lockdown didn't extend past lunch. Part of me was disgusted that they were concerned about food when people could be dying. I told them we'd probably be there for a few hours.
We were in the Chemistry room for around two.
After only five minutes or so, I took out the iPad we were required to purchase for school and I searched "sandy hook ct."
The first result confirmed my fears, confirmed everything I wanted to deny. I stared at it for a second, numbly, with my eyes wide. "No," I whispered. My classmates looked over my shoulder and read it quickly, lips parted as they drank in the deadly, poisonous news.
I couldn't believe it. Not here, not in Connecticut. Nothing like this ever happens in Connecticut.
I had been forced to realize that these things can happen everywhere and anywhere during the past three months, during which a friend of mine was shot and killed, another friend almost choke to death right in front of me, and a woman who taught me violin when I was third and fourth grade was killed in her home. This tragedy, however, eclipsed all three of those events.
I began to pray, begging Jesus to save them, to help all of us.
No matter how much we prayed, though, and even though many were spared, not all could be. God just had other plans.
"Let the children come to me." Matthew 19:14
Last night, I posted this on Facebook, but then deleted it:
"Even though I'm sure I've said it a lot, I don't think that many people understand how precious life is until you watch someone almost die right in front of you, while all you can do is pray to The Lord to save him. That's when you really see how close you are to death. It's closer than you think. Feel the air in your lungs--for all you know, that could be your last breath. Drink in the flavor of the air, savor its sensation within your chest, that feeling of fullness. Notice the little things--it's not until you might never again experience them that you pay close attention."
Do you see how close we are? Do you really see? This was the second deadliest school shooting in this nations history. When are we going to really realize that we only have a limited amount of time here in this world? When are we going to realize that we need to stop this violence?
Throughout those hours in school, sitting on the floor and searching Google for new news, we all had varying feelings of fear. Grief. Horror. When new information came in, I'd share it. When someone stumbled upon something new on Twitter from their smart phones or got a text, they'd mumble about it for a moment before moving onto something that was less depressing. Things before declared illegal to have at school were now vital assets, provided no outgoing messages were sent. Even the teachers asked for updates. I just sat on the floor and drew in my sketchbook while refreshing the page on Google. The superintendent would come on every few minutes and say, "We're still safe, please say a prayer." You could hear the emotion in her voice, how shaken up she and all the staff was. Sheltered in the school, we knew it was bad, but we hadn't fully experienced it yet.
I kept thinking about Columbine High School and Rachel's Challenge, an anti-bullying program created in the name of Rachel Joy Scott--the first victim in the Columbine High School shooting. Here we were, going through a very similar experience. I can only imagine what being in a school with a gunman is like. Feel the horror, the terror. Smell the blood, taste the fear. I don't want to imagine that.
After we were released from lockdown, we went to lunch and class and tried to salvage the rest of the day. We were forbidden from looking up any information about the shooting on our iPads. No streaming live video. Quizzes and tests were postponed. The event was described as traumatic by my Spanish teacher, and she gave us the class period to either do the homework she gave us or talk with our friends.
Announcements were made, mass was scheduled for Monday, and seven specific people were called down to the office by the superintendent. Usually it's the secretary that does that, and from the grim tone of voice she used, I can't help but think the worst. Was she telling students that their loved ones were dead? The thought filled me with fear, such paralyzing, agonizing fear. It wasn't quite the same as the terror I felt when my friend almost died in front of me, but it was fear. What if it were my sister who was at that school? What if it were my family member that was shot and killed?
What if I had to tell a child that their sibling was dead?
How do you do that?
I tried to comfort a friend who was worried about her cousin, a student at Sandy Hook. Her mother called and told her that the girl was fine, but I promised to be there for my friend. It was similar for another friend of mine, who was beginning to wonder what she would have done if it was her sister at that school. I reached over and held her hand, and we talked through Spanish.
In English, I ran into a friend who had been upset earlier in the day. As soon as she walked into the room, I wrapped my arms around her. I looked her in the eye and asked if she was okay. She nodded and gave a grim smile. "I'd say that it will be okay, but...." I trailed off, only voicing the end of that sentence in my head. ....but it won't be.
It won't ever be. Even time can never completely heal these wounds. Scars will form as the wounds are stitched closed by flimsy threads, often tearing and fraying as white hot grief seeps out. As time goes on, those thin threads will be replaced with something stronger, but even that has the potential to rip, to tear, to let loose sorrow.
Only the power of God can reassemble these broken hearts.
We were dismissed in a different way than usual. First the kids who take the bus were allowed out of the classrooms. They were urged to pack up quickly and were on their way before the rest of us were let out. As my friend left for his locker, he reached for my hand, and our hands closed around each other for a brief couple of seconds as he continued on his way. The rest of us went to our lockers and packed up, then waited in the cafeteria for our families to pick us up. To take us home.
Is home the only safe place now?
I was surprised to find my dad waiting for me outside, leaning on the hood of the car. He had a grim, tense look on his face. I walked up to him and he pulled me close, wrapping his arms around me just as I knew he would. I had a feeling he would have liked to never let go.
We got in the car and drove past the policeman that was directing traffic. The news reports on the radio filled the gaps in our conversation about how we each found out--he had been listening to the scanner when the town siren went off. Any available state police had been asked to report to Newtown to help with the tragedy.
I asked if it was like nine eleven. He didn't answer.
When we arrived home, the news was on the television.
Twenty confirmed children were killed.
The shooter shot his own mother.
The shooter was carrying a false ID.
The shooter took his own life.
To that, my father shouted horrible names at the television screen. I just hugged a pillow tighter and stared at the screen with my lips parted in horror.
My sister came home from school and shared her experience. She hadn't been allowed to get lunch because the school was in lockdown, just like most of the other districts in the area.
And then President Obama came on. I hadn't yet cried that day for the shock of it, or maybe there was another reason. I'm not sure. I just hadn't cried.
When he started to shed his own tears and became too choked up to speak, tears ran down my cheeks. By the end of his speech, I had cried and cried. It's just too sad.
My mom came and picked my sister and I up from my father's house and she took us to hers. There we discussed what happened, shared our horror. Expressed our sadness.
I looked out the window in my room as I went to sit down to write this.
To the human eye, and organ that makes sense of light and converts it to images, this sunset was just like any other sunset. It wasn't red, it wasn't golden. It wasn't remarkable in any way.
To the human brain, this was the end of a day, the beginning of a weekend.
However, to the human heart, this sunset marked the end of twenty eight stories.
The end of countless dreams parents had for their children.
The end of the lives of six brave, brave faculty members who will forever be remembered as heroes.
The end of the lives of twenty children, children who will never again be held in the arms of their loving parents.
Instead, they will be forever cradled in the arms of Jesus. He's holding each and every one of them, and He will protect them from now on.
If there is anyone who understands, it's God.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."-- John 3:16