We are a nervous bunch in our household. I suffer from free floating anxiety and, although undiagnosed as of yet, I see many signs of it in my 11-year-old son. I hate that for him and don’t even get me started on the mom guilt I feel for passing this shitty baton on. Interestingly enough, I actually worry about my youngest guy the most, as at least my older son is very vocal about his anxieties. My youngest tends to white knuckle everything, and he’s had a lot to white knuckle, as we’ve been through a pretty heartbreaking divorce over the past few years.
When it came time to walk them to school this year, I was sick to my stomach. I would be like this anyway but, this year, I decided to use my address instead of my ex-husband’s address to give them a chance at a fresh start at a new school. So if things didn’t go well, I felt like it would be on my shoulders.
It’s been a week and a half and we’ve got a really good thing going. We are within walking distance and, although I’ve already nearly driven us a couple of times due to complaints, I’ve held firm. These ten minutes gives me, my anxiety-mini, and my white knuckler time to shake out the nerves that plague us. We talk about school. We talk about life. We even talk about the nerves and how it’s normal (to a certain extent). Yesterday, I could feel the nerves emanating from my older one, and I made sure to reiterate our mantra: Being nervous is normal. Everyone gets nervous. And I told him I loved him.
As I walked home by myself, I was overcome with emotions. I was overcome with love but, when you have anxiety, you can even turn that into a bad thing.
“What would I do without them?” I thought. “I think I’d just curl up and die,” I decided.
Again, I’d probably have these thoughts anyway thanks to my faithful friend, Anxiety, and her dick brother, Depression. But the thing is, in this day and age, one has to realize that this could be it. The Last Day.
As an empath, I feel like it’s my “duty” to read every detail about these mass shootings, the victims, and, in particular, the school shootings. Like if I don’t, I’m not bearing witness to the fact that these were humans, just like me … with loved ones to come home to, chores that would go undone, birthday presents unopened, lives stopped with the most violent exclamation point one can ever imagine.
I remember reading that one girl from Sandy Hook had gotten into a fight with her mom over what to wear that morning. I remember reading about how Noah Pozner’s mother purposely left the casket open despite his jaw being blown off, as she wanted the Governor to see the full effect of the assault rifle. I recall wondering if the principal at Sandy Hook had dry cleaning she was going to pick up after school that day. What a random thing to think about. I remember watching one interview after Sandy Hook and the parent let out a guttural moan when her alarm went off to remind her it was time to pick up her dead daughter from dance class.
I went and saw Fred Guttenberg — who lost his daughter, Jaime, in the Parkland school shooting — speak this past year, and watched him agonize over whether he told her he loved her on that last day. I’ve read and seen interviews with a lot of these parents and they agonize over whether their kids knew how much they loved them. Of course they did, but we’re parents. This is what we do. This is our job, and part of that is to keep them safe, so how do you not feel like you somehow failed?
These days, you read daily stories about teens writing, “I love you, Mom” in lipstick on their arms during lockdown drills. You see texts to parents about active shooters and you know that these parents want to lose their minds but they know this is “go time” so, instead, they’re saying things like, “Hide. Lock the door. Barricade yourself somewhere. Don’t make a sound.” Can you even imagine? Until we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of these parents, nothing will change.
These kids have persistent nightmares. They live in fear every day. Imagine having to learn, deal with surging hormones, navigate the social scene, deflect cyber bullying, and get to practice on time when, in the back of your mind, you have at least the vaguest inclination that this could be it. The Last Day.
Every time it happens, I put myself in the shoes of those parents … waiting in crowded gyms and other locations to find out if they were one of the lucky ones. And even the lucky ones aren’t out of the woods, as they will deal with PTSD and survivor guilt their kids will feel for the rest of their lives. Some of these kids will go on to die by suicide because the pain is too much to bear. Some of the parents who lost kids will do the same, even ten years later. Time does not heal all wounds; that we now know.
I’ve gotten involved in Moms Demand Action, and it’s helped to see us move the needle, even if only a little. As part of another organization that I belong to that calls for sensible gun reform, we launched a rather depressing shock campaign last year. We created postcards with our kids’ photos on them to send to our legislators, asking them to consider that this could be their last school picture. I decided to take a risk and share mine on Facebook. I think it got one “like” and one person even commented that it was a bit too much.
Is it too much though? Isn’t it too much that we send our kids off to school every day not knowing if this is it? Isn’t it too much expecting our teachers to become human shields and to know how to staunch a bullet wound?
I try to remember to say “I love you” every day. I take a mental picture. I breathe in their hair, their very essence, during my hugs. I want to live in a country in which I don’t get confused about which shooting we are referring to. “Wait, was that Odessa or was the Garlic Festival? Tree of Life? Dayton? El Paso?” I think to myself. The faces of the victims all blend together and that is the worst part about it.
I want to live in a country in which we don’t have to think each morning: This could be it. The last cereal bowl you argue over getting in the dishwasher. The last reluctant tooth brushing. The last sweet but oh-so-guilty smile when you’ve busted them on electronics. The last too-tight hug around your dog’s neck. What will you remember about The Last Day?