Returning to High School Under the Shadow of a Shooting Threat

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As a new freshman and, therefore, a fresh high school graduate, I’ve been looking forward to visiting my old haunt during fall break, since I started college. I remember being a student then and seeing all my graduated friends and the older students coming back to see their old teachers, and it always seemed like the coolest thing ever. As the days ticked down and midterms pushed by, I began to make plans to go back too -- and I couldn’t wait!

Until I happened to scroll through Twitter, waiting for my mom to pick me up from campus. A friend of mine had tweeted something like, “I hope [our high school] checks every bag for the next week.” All I needed to do was look up the name of my old school, and then it popped up: a warning was scrawled on the girl’s bathroom not to come in on Friday because the person would kill everyone in his or her sight and then himself or herself. 

Needless to say, the visit I had been so excited for was shadowed. I was one of many kids who, throughout high school, was plagued by nightmares of mass shootings. Every lockdown drill, my stomach would curl inside-out. Countless sleepless nights I spent laying awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering what I’d text my mother if I was stuck in a dark corner of a room, waiting for my doom. Graduating high school was a relief -- no more standardized testing, no more waking up at 5:30, no more fears of leaving for school and not coming back at the end of the day. 

And yet, here we were. Upon the return to my high school, my old anxiety returned and for good reason.

Despite recognizing my boyfriend and I, the ladies at the front desk rattled off the etiquette. The tension in the air was palpable. We were reminded we could only visit what teachers we had confirmed with in advance. The bell rang for lunch, and, usually, kids would stream out from every corner, every door. Today, the school was a ghost town. The stream was more like a trickle. Usually, during transitions, it was necessary to raise your voice in order to be heard, but even I, with my poor hearing, could pick up on my boyfriend's soft-spoken voice quite easily. 

My old French teacher said it was a weird day for me to visit. I was still happy to be there, happy to see her, but she was right. I had a really tight-knit French class for three out of four years, and I remember how terrifyingly sharp the mood of the school felt after Parkland. Madame, the French teacher, is a very petite, unintimidating woman, but I recall with such awful intensity the talk she gave us the morning after. My French classroom was on the fourth floor, the top of the school, and if anyone ever came in with a gun, it’d be most difficult for us to escape. I’ve thought about this before, and clearly she had too. The typically stone-strong teacher got tears in her eyes when she told us, if anything ever happened to us here, to run. To run as fast as we could, as far as we could and not to wait. She knows the protocol is to huddle in the corner to wait for help (or harm), but if we could go, if it was safe to go, we should. All of that came flooding back to me as she sat across from me and we debriefed over the past few months -- some things, like the grammar posters on the walls or the steely look in her eyes, never change.

I don’t really know what my point was in writing this. It’s not a rallying cry. I suppose I’m just resigned to it all, at this point. I went to look up how many children were murdered at Sandy Hook, just to say that if we couldn’t institute legislation after that we never will, but the Wikipedia account sent me into shakes, even in the comfort of my own home. It’s a terrifying world we live in. I still pray, sometimes, that something will change, that maybe those in power will realize that human lives have more worth than money funneled by the NRA, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m writing this because I’m scared.

I’m writing this because I’m tired of being scared.

I’m writing this because I am so, so scared.