in The Little Differences, September 27, 2020

The tragedy was this:  my daughter’s friend was shot and killed in the early morning hours of January 1, 2017 by another student from her school who hid in her bedroom until she came home from a friend’s house and then proceeded to attack her.

The shock and the terror and the disbelief descended on our house, and the other houses of family and friends.  A poisonous brew of rage, despair, and what ifs were piped into every corner of our community thanks to the tragedy.  These teenagers attended the school where I taught, and the sobbing in the hallways and in the classrooms was audible for many weeks into January.  Tragedy management was newly written into every teacher’s job description.  Fresh lines of worry, the evidence of their own grief, were cruelly etched on their faces by the most savage of job requirements.  As in so many other cases, they buoyed their strength to hold themselves up for their students, postponing their personal grief for a time that might be more convenient to mourn a murdered student.

Tragedy was the undercurrent of the funeral and the candlelight vigil that followed.  Tragedy was everywhere, it seemed, because a beloved child was killed.

Tragedy was found in other places, ones that I wish I could characterize as obscure.  The truth is that a nation now callous to gun violence, brings these places of obscurity to the front and center of our communities, to our virtual Main Street, and this is the tragedy that still scares me, nearly 4 years later.  It’s the tragedy of inurement.  It’s the tragedy of the acceptance of violence.  

Later in the day on January 1, 2017, it fell to me to tell a friend, whose children were not on social media, what had happened to prevent them from finding out only at school the next day.  The response was sadness, of course.  This person is not a monster.  But, the follow up comment was, “well, I guess it’s one of those things, isn’t it?”  

No.  It is not. 

The tragedy was present the next day at school when, in my grief, I had to co-teach a ninth grade English class and I heard a young man shout out, “yeah, but we don’t know what she had done to him.”  

As if. I couldn’t look at that student the same way for the rest of the year, wondering what life memos he had received in his short 14 years that would make any action culminating in the murder of a 16-year-old girl acceptable in his eyes.  

At the funeral, another mother I know came up to me and said, “it’s so awful but I just can’t help feel guilty that I am grateful it’s not mine (my daughter)” as she hugged me around the neck.

I held back my impulse to push her away and yell at her- I really wanted to.  Because, she was ours.  She belonged to my daughter and to her other friends and to our school and to the hospital where she volunteered and to the world.  She belonged at home, with her parents, safe in her bed. 

Four years later, she belongs at college.  She deserved to live a long life, with the ups and downs that come with the human experience.  Heartbreak, college graduation, love, friendship, caring for an ill family member; she was deprived of the chance to live a full life fraught with the challenges and the delights.  

The critical mass of insidious tragedy is fatal to our society.  When we become so callous to the ongoing tragedies and then the aftershocks, we take a large step backwards from the community- one that we are all part of by virtue of our existence.  

This was but one tragedy.  It happened in an affluent suburb on the east coast.  It was four years ago.  Make no mistake about it.  The ripple effect is measurable today.  The post traumatic syndrome is real.  The loss is real, and it is felt deeply. 

The tragedy is that many communities deal with this every night, where more families than not have lost their sons, their nephews, their brothers.  Black on black crime, some people call it and dismiss it as if it doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of us.  We are inured and have been for decades.   These communities are scarred with many losses, and after 50 years of this scarring, it doesn’t seem to me that we have to look very hard to see the results or if we should wonder if we should all care a bit more.  

Tragedy visited my life, and I live with someone who is still very much coping with the aftermath. It should have never happened and I will not stop being completely outraged that it did.