Just Write: I’m Building a Bunker

January 15, 2013

Just Write is just what I needed today.

This past Thursday, an unwitting teenager walked into a high school bathroom stall and found a bomb threat scrawled on the chipped and graffiti-laden walls. That same day, a “Hit List” was found at the same school, containing 30 names of students, many of them athletes, hand-picked to meet the business end of a gun.

This school is fifteen minutes away from us.

This school is also one of the highest-ranking high schools in the state for academic achievement.

This school is also attended by our beloved babysitter A*, who has taken our girls to movies and to purchase Christmas ornaments and sled down big, snowy hills with hot chocolate as a chaser. A is magic with the girls. She’s been a part of our family for three years.

My husband called with the news.

“You really aren’t going to want to hear this,” he said.  “But I need to tell you. At the high school…that list? One of the names on it was A.’s.”*

I  started breathing like a small dog and then launched into orbit–disbelief, anger, fear.

What the f%$k? What the Hell is going on here?

This is a good girl. A scholar and an athlete with a wicked sense of humor. Beautiful in both person and spirit–stunning, in fact.  A girl who has kissed my girls’ bruises, tucked them in tightly when the sun goes down and lulled them to sleep with soft stories. This girl is a blessing.

Now she is a moving target.

She also happens to be of mixed race.

I can’t think about that for too long because it makes me scared and I hopehopehope that race has nothing to do with it.

As fucked up as the existence of a “hit list” at school is in the first place, there’s a little whisper in the back of my head.

This whisper reminds me that Miss D. got called a “Sand Nigger” in the second grade, and a boy wouldn’t sit next to her “camel ass” on the bus, and the numerous times I’ve been asked by young classmates right in front of her face: “Is she adopted?”

If I let my mind go there, it leads me back to teaching on the day of Columbine. One of the first reported deaths was Isaiah Sholes, an African-American scholar and athlete, and the media jumped on it, reporting prematurely that this school shooting was racially motivated.

I will never forget that afternoon, when the mother of one of the few black kids in residence at our school–also a scholar and an athlete–burst through the school entrance and ran through the hallways, calling her son’s name. She was frantic. Her son, a senior, never returned to school that year. And how could I blame her?

Even though Columbine was not racially motivated, I think of the woman who pushed a man in front of a New York subway because he “looked like a Muslim.”  I think of the Sikh, working in a convenience store, who was shot in the face the day after 9/11. I think of the dozens of places of worship torched to ashes.

I’ve tried to instill in my girls that being of mixed race is a gift and an opportunity. Through their determination, dignity, quick minds and kind hearts, they can exemplify that humanity isn’t about skin color. Brown eyes see just as clearly as blue.

But sometimes I wonder. Have I blessed my girls with opportunity or have I given them a backpack of rocks to carry their entire lives?

Part of me wants to build a bunker and hide out with my hatchlings bundled tightly to my chest, even though I know it’s impossible to live that way–that by living like that I let fear win. Living like that teaches my children that fear is more important than grace or courage.

I don’t want that for them. I don’t want that for A., either. I wish she had spent this past weekend carefree and outside, instead of sitting across from a police officer, going over every aspect of her life, trying to provide any kind of link to the other 29 scared teenagers who gave interviews.

For now, there are no answers. We may never get any.

But this is my neighborhood. These are my schools–ones I have hand-picked for my children because they’re excellent academically and…safe.

My kids are safe at school. I have to believe that. I have to trust in that. I need to have faith that when I send them away on a yellow bus in the morning, I’m putting them in safe and capable hands.

Fear won’t win.

But it casts a shadow that I can’t deny.


*I chose to use A. instead of a name out of respect for her and those close to her, who are still reeling.

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