I was sitting in a classroom, my work day almost finished, marking math papers. She quietly stepped in the room and whispered about an 'emergency' call, and after I dropped my pen and immediately followed she turned to me and asked,
"You have an older son, right?"
Catch your breath, Karen. Don't panic. It's probably nothing. Still, I practically ran to the phone.
Kevin's voice on the other end sounded relaxed, and somewhat annoyed.
"There was a bomb threat, Mom. We've been in lockdown for a few hours. Just waiting for the police to give us the all clear. Don't pick me up, I'll walk home."
"No..wait, you're in lockdown? Let's meet down the road, then. I'm off in ten minutes. I'll come get you. And seriously, it's not really an emergency. You scared me to death. I thought you were at the hospital or something. You're fine-but thanks for calling me."
I find him at a fast food joint near his school and he spills the story once in the car. After lunch today, some message was apparently scrawled in the school about a bomb. They had been in lockdown since just after lunch, sitting in their classrooms, and just waiting for the police to check the school and give the all clear. Once the news sunk in, I could't believe my reaction. Not an emergency? What the hell was I thinking?
Kevin doesn't remember Columbine, but I do. I work in schools. The few days after seeing students run for their lives on TV, or Patrick Ireland pushing himself out a window and being caught by a SWAT team left me wondering; what do I do if there's a gunman at my workplace? How do I protect that defenseless child in a wheelchair? Do I haul them out of the chair under a table & throw myself on top? Do we run? Would we have time?
I spent the next few months scouting out every exit I could find. in fact, all these years later, I still look for the exits.
He doesn't know what it's like to try to hide twenty six year olds in a dark room during lock down practise and imagine what it's like to throw yourself in front of a gunman to protect other people's babies-not because it's your job, but because you really could not allow anything to happen to those precious little souls entrusted to your care. Their tiny wide eyes. Their innocence, and how hard it is to try to explain what we are doing without shattering it.
"I can't believe I'm going to say this to you. I can't even believe that we're having this conversation. I have never wanted to, but I'm going to tell you something. If you are in the hall, or the lunchroom, or a place near a door and there is an actual shooter in the building, you get the hell out. You don't hide in the library under a table unless there's nowhere to go. Go out a window if you must. When you get back there on Tuesday, I want you to scout out all the exits so you know where they are if you ever need to use them. Leave the laptop behind and just get the hell out of the building."
This is crazy. Why are we even having to discuss this? We should be talking about girls and parties and summer jobs, and instead we're discussing best survival strategies if a gunman invades the school. What the hell has become of our society?
"You know, I have an idea," I continue, "We need a code word. If a real disaster happened you may not be able to call. Let's have a code word. It will mean, "I'm safe & meet me at our designated place. All you have to do is text that word to my phone. I'll use it too."
Kevin nods. We talk about past school shootings, and he tells me only then that the supposed bomb was alleged to be right under his classroom.
"If it was real, we'd all be dead," he continued.
I don't even want to go there. It's too much.
There are lots of errands to run tonight-things that I need to get done. Important things only this morning, but now they seem ridiculous. Instead, once home I pull out M&M cookies and ice cream, smooshing them together into delicious sandwiches that we nibble at and then lick sweet melty ice cream off our fingers.
Errands can wait.
Today, I am enjoying being home with my son.