Monday, April 16, 2007

Drill down deep.

When I was in school, we had one tornado drill a year, and maybe one fire drill a year. Everyone has fire drills, but tornado drills are peculiar to FlyOver Country. In a tornado drill, kids are lead out to the hallways, away from windows, where we knelt, put our foreheads on our knees, and laced our fingers over "the most vulnerable parts of our necks" in an effort to protect our, what, carotid artery? from, uh, flying debris? I dunno, we were ten and did what we were told!

Now, by state law, my high school must have one drill per month (which usually means it's on the 30th or 31st, at whatever time is possibly least convenient). This being the Pacific Northwest and not, say, Nebraska, we're not so big on tornado drills. Instead, of course, we do earthquake drills. At this school, earthquake drills look eerily like atomic bomb "Duck and Cover" drills. Which seems to me, um... well, admittedly, I've never been in an earthquake (that I could feel) but still. Wouldn't, uh, outside, like, out from under a roof be a better choice?

In addition to earthquake drills, though, we have another drill. A Stranger Danger drill. I draw my curtains, lock my door (buy, uh, opening my door and using my key, which I'm sure I'll have no problem with should I ever get the "this is not a drill" announcement) and we all are supposed to do is huddle as far away from doorways as possible.

Which is awesome.

My school is an open campus, a little mini-college campus. I'm in one of the smallest buildings that's right next to the parking lot. There's no way to lock down the campus. Almost everyone's classroom opens right up to the outside. (Hey, great plan for Portland! No, really!) I'm sure, when it was built in the eighties, there was no reason to think anything about it.

Since the New Year:

In January, in Tacoma Washington, one student shot another.

Last week, in the surburb of Portland (the one that's oh, half-a-mile from my home) a fifteen year old boy, angry at his mother and two teachers, took some shots.

And worse, so, so, SO much worse:

Today, at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg Virginia, four students survived a classroom massacre by pretending to be dead.

Despite our lockdown drills, I don't ever really imagine this happening to us. I'm sure they didn't either. You can't operate that way. Any time my mind wanders into territory even near wondering about it, it skitters away and shies away almost instantly. The image of a stranger walking into my room with the intent to do me or my students harm terrifies me and angers me with such a protective fierceness that my mouth gets dry. Those are my kids. I've read People magazine stories about students overpowering intruders and it gives me chills. These are my kids.

"School Shooting" is now a term, separate and different from just, y'know, "shooting." Statistically, for all that, not something I'd call a movement or anything, but it's what I do, where I work, who I am, and scares the shit out of me.

And I feel completely powerless. And I ache for the faculty, students, staff and families at Virginia Tech. And I dread the revelations over the next few days of "if-only" and "I never thought". And when I think about it happening to my kids, my heart goes still.


kimberly said...

I so vividly remember the Thurston shooting- I was living in Eugene at the time and I remember everything about where I was and what was going on when I heard. It was so real.

And now today. 33 dead now. It's so frickin unbelievable. And yet, not all that far fetched. How is this possible?

I know that everyone on my campus has been shaken by this news. I think it's good that it scares us- this should never feel normal.

kch said...

I know. It's always there, in the back of my head, what if, what if, what if.

I signed my cell phone and andrew's cell phone for flashnet, a system my school district subscribes to for instant text messages--used for when school is cancelled (like, say, for "no water in the building"), but I did it the day after the Gresham shooting.

Andrew said, "If I get that, I'll call your cell phone."

I told him, I'd rather he didn't. If I could call, I'd call him, but if I didn't, he should call the school district. Because in the back of my head, I had an image of me in a room, protecting 25 teenagers, and what if my cell phone went off?

What if.

And it's always in the back of my head.

kimberly said...

And since when did we become the protectors? We cannot be old enough to be the ones in charge, can we?

Is there anywhere we can feel safe? Anywhere where we don't have _something_ in the back of our heads? Is this just the way the world is now? Or the ways it's always been, and I wasn't noticing?