Wait! Can you hear it? The collective pounding of hearts beating above tiny little ribcages? I can feel mine in my toes and in my belly. I feel as though mashed potatoes are lodged in my throat and suddenly can’t seem to swallow. I hear muffled movement. My scrunchy holding the end of a loose ponytail pinned under the collar of my t-shirt, while blonde strands cover my eyes and are glued against my cheek. I can’t see anything but I know my fingers are clenching someone’s shoes. I feel shoulders and arms crammed against me. I don’t even know who is grasping at my elbow. My forearm becomes numb as they squeeze hard for what seems a very long time.
We are sitting. Huddled in the dark. Under the stage of an elementary school auditorium where chairs and tables are stored until an event bids them out of hiding. On this Tuesday morning, we are the ones hiding.
Down the halls and classrooms; more shuffling. There is crying and screaming. Just a few hours ago, what were petite sounds of laughter have been blown up to big and fearful wailing. I feel wet soaking in the leg of my white-washed jeans. A girl younger than me has just lost control of her bladder. The smell of sweat, urine, and tears concoct into a perfume of terror. I look over and notice a younger student I don’t recognize. Her snotty lips and eyes are glossily reflecting from the EXIT sign. I notice her quivering tongue mumbling the Rosary. “I believe in God, the Father almighty …” “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …”
Suddenly my shoulders tense to a loud “powpowpowpowpow!” I am jolted by the rapid echoing sounds like someone is setting fireworks off inside the school building. I hear a double door slam open and everyone is stumbling over one another to get up and run. I am running alone now. Banging my limbs against door corners and furniture as I fumble into another room. I dive behind a desk and chairs where I notice a disheveled child’s body stiff and still. Covered in blood and matted hair. Before I can even think about this horrific scene, my hand splashes hard in a puddle of his blood, creating a violent ripple as my palm hits the base of cement around his lifeless body. Suddenly I smell a strong odor of rust. I am scooping chunks of sticky red fluid; rubbing and flicking it on my body. I don’t even think I am breathing at this point. I’m certainly not thinking. I’m watching myself do this. It’s like I am floating over the scene in Miss William’s office. A place I used to come and talk about my feelings.
I feel panic while taking action as I cover myself in blood from this victim who was killed within the last thirty minutes. I watch myself desperately position my sweaty-sticky-tearful-bloody body. I close my eyes so tight but then soften them (so as to not give away this fake death). I lay there frozen, tense, and relaxed all at once. I lay there and wait. I don’t dare breathe heavy. I don’t dare move a muscle. I wait and I think about God. Grandma says, “If God existed, He would not allow such suffering in the world.” Out of desperation, I suddenly pray, “Pleasepleaseplease! Come and help us. Send someone to save us.” My pleas are interrupted when I hear a little boy on the phone – screaming for the police to come and help. His voice is cracking and high-pitched with urgency. He has been on the phone for a while, but I hadn’t noticed until just now. Why aren’t they coming? It must have been hours this shooting has been going on. What is my mom doing? She must be getting home from work. Did she try and come to pick me up and is being blocked by the police and firetrucks? What if my mom is here to pick me up and she can’t get in? My thoughts are racing so quickly that I can’t keep focused on any one of them. Even I start to believe in my faked death. Am I really dead? Time has stopped. Frozen. All I hear is ringing and fuzzy noise that I can’t make out. None of this makes any sense. I must be dead. Am I dead?!
If I am dead, tell them this is not just about mental illness. Tell them this is not a problem that can simply be solved by adding more safety protocols. Tell them that the problem is also access to rifles and ammunition. Tell them I am not sacrificing my life so that they can continue to bear arms. Tell them this is about privilege – about those in power being terrified of losing some of that power, even if it means protecting those who haven’t any. This is about entitlement, neglect, white privilege, systemic racism, politics, and money. It is about power and control. Tell them! Tell them that this is about power.