Taking advantage of Freemon’s spurt of better health, we left Friday the 18th to spend a long weekend with our daughter and son-in-law in Houston. Nearing Marshall, Texas, we heard a news bulletin: Another school shooting in Santa Fe High School near the coast. Number of dead and other details unknown. Over the weekend, the story unfolded on Houston television stations; the news from this nearby town taking precedence over the royal wedding. Today, Monday, I called my editors and asked they pull the earlier column I’d sent. I felt compelled to write this piece.
Galveston, Texas. The usual upbeat atmosphere of this seaside resort is missing today. There is a somber mood over the island. I guess everyone is thinking what might be going on in a small community just west of here as students and faculty remember Friday morning…
Screams. Pools of blood in the art room. The fetid potpourri of gunsmoke and fear. On hearing the news, I felt a chill, but not a shock. Watching all the television coverage, I felt sadness, but not disbelief. I felt at a loss, but not for words. We have the words. We’ve practiced them countless times. Massacre. Horror. Grief. Thoughts. Prayers. For some of us, the greatest horror we feel is our utter lack of it. Even school children seem unfazed. In a TV interview that runs over and over again, a young girl with long brown hair and shy, downcast eyes explained to the reporter how she remained calm during the siege that left 10 people dead. When the reporter asked if she thought, “This wouldn’t happen at my school,” she shook her head with a slight smile of awkward resignation. “It’s happening everywhere. I guess I kinda expected it would eventually happen here, too.”
Let her words settle like an anvil.
The assumption of safety we innocents tried to return to after Columbine in 1999 is no more. Children are no longer asking “how” or “why.” They are waiting for “when.” They don’t struggle to comprehend. They simply accept the morbid reality of the day: “It’s my turn.”
On the nightly news, the Washington Post revealed that since Columbine, 214,000 children at 216,000 schools have experienced gun violence during school hours. Guess there’s no real way to measure the number of children, beyond the dead and wounded, whose experiences may leave them profoundly affected and even traumatized.
Just as we know the ritual that directly follows the shootings, we know what soon follows these. A vicious war of words and gun statistics and mental illness. Lip service from politicians on all levels. Promises to stop this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. It ends, as always, with entrenched resistance to common sense.
Oh, it can end with good reforms–restricting sales of military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines, more effective gun storage, stronger background checks–some dismiss as attacks on the Second Amendment. As if the forefathers intended deranged teenagers to have access to weapons of war, enabling them to maximize the body count in the school art room.
If nothing else jolts you today about this blood stained scene cloaked in the numbing guise of normalcy, let it be this: It was Sante Fe’s turn this time. Soon, it will be someone else’s.
Perhaps it will be your town’s turn. How sad that evacuation drills and metal detectors have become rites of passage for today’s youth. Many of us believe that greater vigilance around issues of mental health, bullying and social isolation are important components for prevention. I, personally, believe that social media which gives notoriety and, yes, celebrity to twisted acts and minds shares the blame. Please know that this piece today contains my thoughts and were not written by the staff of the newspaper you are reading.
The town of Santa Fe is a bedroom community south of Houston with a short drive to this calm gulf I’m watching as I write. On its website it touts itself as “The ideal place to raise your children. The city that honors the past and imagines the future.” It is a semi-rural town of
13,000 where community pulls together, friends and neighbors, families and strangers to help each other in time of need. Ironically, the last time Santa Fe made national news was a legal dispute over student-led prayers over the PA system before varsity football games. The case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court in 2000 where the justices ruled the practice un-constitutional. Most of the town’s residents were saddened then, too.
Much of the past 10 months has been spent helping flooded neighbors recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Now, residents wonder how they’ll heal from this. As one lady wept and said quietly, “You can always rebuild from water. But you can’t get your kids back.”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She responds to all e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org