I arrived 45 minutes early to pick Archer up from school on Friday. I watched the news and I cried and I watched the clock and got in the car with the twins and when we got to the school there was no parking because everyone was there. All the parents were there early. Quiet, arms crossed, sunglasses under dark clouds as our children filed out of their classrooms with their smashed homemade cookies in plastic bags, loud with holiday songs in their mouths.
"... last day of school!" they said to each other and we all swallowed hard with empty stomachs.
"We have the right to bear arms," they say, with exclamation points, caps lock.
And when they do I picture their arms. I've always pictured arms. Large and hairy, soft and freckled with bangles and tattoos and watches that collect time.
I picture arms on bodies outstretched in sweaters and pea coats, bare and burly, linked with girlfriends, folded across arm rests, winged and flapping in the snow.
I have always, since I was little, pictured this.
"We have the right to bear arms," they say with their credit cards sliding across the registers at Wal-Marts.
"You have the right to bear harms?"
"ARMS EXCLAMATION POINTS CAP LOCKED!"
In April 1999, I was a high school senior. The day that teen students opened fire on their high school in Columbine, my mother was crying. She was crying and she was afraid and I didn't understand.
I knew what had happened but it didn't scare me. It didn't scare my friends either. It was a horrible thing that happened somewhere far away. That was what we all felt and thought. We went to school and felt safe. We went to school dances and football games and felt safe.
We felt safe as our parents pressed their faces against our windows, checked in on us, offered to pick us up early.
Everyone keeps sending me links to how best to "talk to my child about the tragedy" but nowhere have I read a list of ways I can best break the news to myself.
How do we break the news to ourselves?
When we talked to Archer about what happened, he didn't cry. I cried and he told me he knew why I was crying and he understood. He couldn't believe that someone would kill children. I agreed. He was sad for the sisters and brothers and I understood. We talked about mental health and we talked about gun control but mostly we just talked about how lucky we are. How lucky we are to have every moment of every day and how lucky we are to share it with each other and now we're going to pick up Fable from school because I want us all to be together right now.
But how do we break the news to ourselves?
Yesterday, when I was with Fable and the twins were napping, Hal and Archer had a similar talk about guns and how some people believe they keep them safe. That the boy who killed the children had a mommy who kept guns in the house and that is what he used.
"Some people think that guns are okay to own. Some people think weapons are okay for self-defense."
Hal wanted to explain to him why this is not the case so he told him about the time he was car-jacked at gun-point on Archer's 1st birthday and that is was a very scary, horrible day but that daddy was okay. That if he would have tried to defend himself with a gun... someone would have gotten hurt, or worse...
"I was okay. I let him take the car. I was okay."
You cannot stop violence with violence.
Hal and I are watching the news side by side. We are both crying. We are angry and we are crying and we are angry. We are yelling at the TV we are so mad. We are mad and we are sad and everywhere we look we see arms and we are so sorry. We are sorry for the children and the parents and the people who cling to their weapons as families cling to families and it doesn't make sense.
I'm trying to understand but it doesn't make sense.
No more, we scream.
But what does that even mean and how can we stop this?
I spent all day Friday signing petitions and donating money. Refreshing twitter and shaking my head and turning off my phone and turning on my phone and trying to decide if I should write a post because I feel like I just wrote one about this exact subject and what the fuck? WHAT. THE FUCK.
My mom keeps calling to check in on me.
"I remember that feeling so well. It's so hard when you have children the same age... It was hard for me. I was so afraid," she says.
I can't hear her because I'm too busy watching the news.
"Don't be afraid," she says.
Are you fucking kidding me?
How do we break the news to ourselves?
I don't know! CAPS LOCK EXCLAMATION POINT.
And then I think about what my mom said and how she must have felt and how I didn't understand why she was like that until now. Until RIGHT now. When I was Archer. When she was the one arriving at school early to pick me up even though I had a car and could drive myself.
I think about all of the mothers and the fathers and everyone who has ever been reminded not to take what they have for granted. I think about the friends I have who have lost children and the parents of the friends I have lost.
So I do.
I let them go and turn off the news and unwrap my head around all of the things I've spent the last two days trying to understand.
I give up.
I can't do it. I can't understand. I am helpless. I am sick and sad and helpless and grateful and angry and hopeful that some good, some change (please!) will spring from this tragedy - that somehow, some light will find a way to filter through the darkness. That maybe (maybe?) our grandchildren will live in a different world than our children unfortunately do. That the arms that they bear will be the soft and freckled kind, outstretched in sweaters with bangles at the wrists, folded across arm rests, winged and flapping in the snow.