Last week started as usual. Monday, get the boy ready for school, I myself depart for my classes in the late afternoon. Repeat until Thursday. I don’t pay as much attention to the news as I should and on Friday I was completely unprepared to hear of a shooting at a high school in a town in the area. A shooting where 4 students were injured and 2 died during what was supposed to be lunch period inside the school. My mind reeling, I continued reading and saw the image of the shooter provided by the news agency- a gorgeous Native boy, smiling at the camera in a shot taken before the shooting- and just cried. At the time speculation was rampant as to the why’s and exactly what happened. I couldn’t read any more of the article; I was stuck staring at this boy who felt he couldn’t deal with life any longer and chose to injure those around him and then kill himself. He KILLED himself. He was in the 9th grade and a well liked boy in his community, but my brain couldn’t stop repeating: he killed himself. I immediately thought of my gorgeous Native boy- my witty loving happy go lucky 10 year old who is in 4th grade sitting in front of the television watching his shows on the Disney channel, oblivious to his Momma standing in the kitchen crying quietly as she prepared dinner, grateful beyond words that he is safe.
How did this happen? What do I tell my son, how do I explain this? Or how to explain the fallout from this sad traumatic event that rocked Marysville-Pilchuck High School on Friday, or the coverage on just about every news station of the shooting? How do I explain suicide and murder to a 10 year old? I want to know the answers to all of these questions and so many more racing through my mind that I as an adult could not fathom happening to my family, to my son. I finished cooking dinner, grabbed a cigarette and stepped outside into the blowing wind and rain in the darkness and smoked my cigarette and cried for the parents of the boy who used the gun, for the families of the children who were shot.
I spent the weekend hearing updates about the situation, catching bits of news conferences as I tried to change the channel before I could hear too much, all the while thinking about my son. I learned that the Ferndale school district (my family’s second choice for enrollment) just one day before the event at Marysville-Pilchuck High’s fatal event conducted an active shooter drill, complete with the SWAT team showing up in full armored gear as well as children from the school itself encouraged to participate with a student volunteer from nearby Whatcom Community College as the active ‘shooter’, in an event that took law enforcement over a year to plan and execute all for students’ safety.
I think I am a biased parent in that my family has lived on an island in rural southeast Alaska for the past 20 years, my son having his entire educational career occuring in a town with a population of almost 9,000 and only reachable by boat or plane. Our remoteness is one of the reasons why we lived there. I am going to college here on the peninsula and am familiar with living in large urban areas, my son is not. To be honest, I am still horrified that my son is here in the States, I feel like he is exposed when he leaves the house, waves at me when he boards the bus, and goes to school. This week, I keep thinking how those children kissed their mothers goodbye to go to school, made plans with their families only to never be seen alive again after going to school-a safe place. I am afraid my fear of the ugliness of our current society and the rampant disregard for basic human interaction like courtesy and respect being displayed in full color any time of the day on television will bring more attention to my son about the harsh and deadly time we live in.
This morning as my son was waiting in the driveway for his school bus, I took his picture: smiling, clutching his back pack wearing his winter hat and coat, his shoes with the neon laces. I hugged and kissed him, told him I loved him and watched him get on the bus to school. I said a prayer and made a reminder to myself to not turn on the television, clean the house, smoke a cigarette-do anything to try not to cry at the mindless waste of bright life that was taken on Friday by an unhappy boy.