The First Ten Days After A Shooting At Your Daughter’s School: Or, what to expect when you are expecting the inevitable

Carved image of bird
Photo by Beth Kanter

Day 1.   

You realize the long, high-pitched wail coming from your dog’s mouth is not a sign of distress. She’s simply mimicking the sound you are making as you watch the news unfold that a man deliberately shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition into your daughter’s school at close range.

Day 2.   

You clutch your daughter much in the way one who is about to fall holds on to the edge of a cliff. Soon you will send her back to school, to the scene of the crime. You will have to let go of her again and again and again. 

Day 3.    

You feel acutely aware in your gut, in your brain, and in your heart that you are “lucky” compared to others who have been pushed onto this path. You contemplate the notion of luck. You swirl the word around in your mouth. It tastes wrong and is hard to digest. You imagine it boring holes in your belly much the way the carpenter bees attempt to make holes in the old pergola outside your kitchen window. They do not understand the sealant recently applied to protect the wood is keeping them out. You identify with the bees and the pressure-treated wood. 

Day 4.  

Your appetite becomes strange. You consume things that seem momentarily appealing like a vegan cheeseburger personal pizza, lox on pockletless pita bread, or runny eggs. Your taste for them is intense in the moment and then fleeting. You settle on room temperature Fresca and pretzel nuggets because they will not make you more nauseous than you already are all the time.  

Day 5.    

Words that never left a mark suddenly grow sharp edges that leave bruises when you casually bump into them. That date is still a moving target. Just send over a few bullet points to start. I like that he is someone who shoots from the hip. We were just shooting the breeze. She spent most of the day trying to troubleshoot that problem. We sure dodged a bullet with that one. It’ll be tough but we need to stick to our guns. Don’t jump the gun. Let’s give it a shot. She is the one calling the shots. It’s a long shot. It’s worth a shot. It’s a shot in the dark. (You hear shots everywhere.)

Day 6.    

Phrases you reach for to explain your experience also grow fangs. The news is triggering. We all seem to be sniping at each other. My nervous system is shot. (More shots.) 

Day 7.    

You take up counting at night when you can’t sleep. First backwards from 200, the number of bullet holes the self-described “AR-15 aficionado” forced into the heart of your daughter’s high school. Then backwards from 800, the number of rounds of ammunition found in the shooter’s sniper nest. (You pause to note that nest once was a pretty word.) Then backwards from the growing number of shootings this year, a number higher than the number of days so far in the year.

Day 8.  

You’re still awake. So you try again, this time counting forward to 3 million children, the number of young people in this country traumatized by gun violence each year. You definitely are awake when the sun rises. You are surprised that the sun has decided to come up again. You are not surprised when you hear about more gun violence. Horrified, furious, sickened, depressed, outraged, terrified, yes, but not surprised. You wonder how anyone can be surprised by it anymore. 

Day 9.    

For reasons you cannot explain, you try naming all of the kids on Eight is Enough. It takes you two nights to remember that David is the name of the oldest brother and by night three you can name them off like rapid fire. (Another jagged edged phrase to add to your collection. How many more words now can wound you?) Mary, Joanie, Nancy, Susan, Elizabeth, David, Tommy, Nicholas. You guess that there is meaning in this but are too tired to figure it out.  

Day 10.    

You cry and scream and howl. Into your pillow. In the shower. In your head in the middle of the night as you sing the Eight is Enough theme song like a lullaby. As you walk the dog. On the phone to your partner in the middle of the day. At the newspaper, which has abruptly stopped reporting about the shooting at your school because it has moved on to another or on to other stories entirely. At the people who do nothing. At the voters who stay home. At the Senate and Congress. At the Court. At the talking heads. At the alerts on your phone. At the understanding that nothing has or will change yet everything in your world, in your child’s world, has changed forever.

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