There is an empty police cruiser parked in front of my son’s school. It is always there. It’s not a deterrent to anything because anyone who has ever visited the school even once, day or night, sees the empty cruiser there, parked in the same spot.
I drop off my son pretty early in the morning and pick him up fairly late. I’m not at school very much when it’s actually in session. Sometimes, when I am dropping him off, I see the police do an exchange of cruisers. Two guys come in one car, one moves the parked cruiser and the other parks another cruiser in the same spot, then gets in the car with the other dude and they leave. This takes all of about 30 seconds.
They don’t even look at the school. Maybe they drive by it during the day. Or even go inside. I don’t know, though I have never seen any type of uniformed officer when I am there for daytime events – classroom parties or PTA stuff. My son says there aren’t any people like that in the school that he’s aware of, but his awareness isn’t great.
With each successive school shooting, it is more and more terrifying to drop my son off at his elementary school. I take a mental picture of what he’s wearing each day in case I have to identify him quickly … at some other point in the day. I use every bit of my theater degree to act normal. To act like his being silly on the way in is annoying, to keep the routine and seem calm, to patiently wait while he hangs up his coat and bookbag. I sign him in and say hello to the extended care ladies, get the kid set up with his breakfast.
I look around the room for a minute and imagine it is a horror scene. It flickers like a before and after picture, and then is gone a moment later. I swallow hard.
He follows me into the hallway, climbs on a bench and jumps at me to catch him, where we hug and say goodbye. He’s getting harder to catch, at 52 pounds, but I’m still able.
I watch him walk back in the room and think, every day:
Please don’t let this be the last time I see him alive.
It is not normal. Except now it is. For more and more parents.
Sure, I’m worried about him getting the flu, it’s particularly bad this year. We wash our hands a lot, I talk to him about not touching his mouth or face too much, staying away from kids who seem sick. I make him change his clothes as soon as he gets home and wash his hands so he’s not bringing it home here. I have a compromised immune system and the flu could kill me.
These are things we do that we can control, or that make us feel like we have some control. If we get the flu anyway, it’s more likely than not we’ll survive it and be ok, with rest and medicine.
It occurred to me when I dropped my son off how many parents feel just like I do during drop off. I think that number is growing and growing. We’re so frustrated and angry that this the parenting experience, that sooner or later we’ll have to tell our child exactly what’s happened in our fucked up, gun-obsessed country that’s caused them to participate in “lockdown” drills or ALICE training, the latter a probably futile attempt to gain a few more precious seconds of life so the bad guy (GUY. ALWAYS A GUY.) might be able to be taken out before he mows down everyone in the school. And now the older kids, from the Parkland school, tweeting their completely justified anger as they are living it – those who survived, and it’s a really terrible way to be a student, and a really terrible way to be a country.
I thought, I wonder if I just sat here all day in my car, with a sandwich and a book and a big thermos of coffee, maybe if I just sit here all day, I can prevent it from happening here. Nobody’s paying any attention to the empty cruiser, and they certainly wouldn’t pay attention to some middle aged lady sitting in her car.
Maybe we could take shifts, people who don’t work or who only work part-time, watching the fucking school, guarding it, trying to somehow give the little kids inside a normal fucking childhood and normal school day, every single day, all throughout their schooling.
Of course, even if we did, we could leave school, go to the mall or the movie theater, or to church if you’re a church person, and get shot to death there. Because nowhere is safe.
I sat in the parking lot this morning after I dropped off my son, staring at the brick building, willing it to somehow be impervious. I looked and looked at it.
Then I wiped my tears and drove home, in silence.