The view from 96 miles

It was 10:49 a.m. when the first screenshot hit my feed.

A photo of a photo of a fragmented notice from my hometown: A stolen Honda CRV; two “individuals;” potentially some weapons. Talk about an old teammate, a high schooler who has a shaky history with alcohol and –– in some unfortunate alignment of events –– talk of a robbed liquor store. A goal to get a child’s hands on a gun and to bring that gun to the backs of their peers.

I stared at green bubbles that wouldn’t deliver to a building with Wifi that was notoriously delayed, and inside a younger brother sitting in a classroom three hours away from the one I just ran out of.

There is a kid who wants to shoot up his class. He’s been in my house, he’s pet my dog. Our younger brothers are friends – or at least they were. I can’t keep up with high schoolers. There’s a second name; one I only loosely recognize, an image of him holding a gun that shows this wouldn’t be his first time with a finger on the trigger. I stopped keeping track of my hometown the second that I signed up for three years of calling Connecticut my new home, and haven’t looked back once until the morning of Wednesday, April 19.

Now I’m shaking, dizzy and confused from 96 whole miles away. The kids inside the school are laughing in the background of my phone calls; they’re making jokes on social media— I’ve seen the memes that they managed to spin out by the top of the next hour.

There are 14, 15, 16, 17-year-old kids who are completely numb. They have grown so used to the idea of a gun in the hands of a child that even when the issue stands on their doorstep, it’s fine. Derealization is perhaps the most real experience of mankind, and to still be scraping by on the edge of numb is baffling. Even after spending four hours of my life completely sucked back into the whirlwind of my hometown, it’s hard to grapple with the fact that we’ve become the latest close-call.

I will never understand how you could have “expressed an intent” to harm the kids that I grew up with; that you grew up with. To have police show up and stand guard over 1,500 kids “out of an abundance of caution.” To decide that it’s safe to tell parents that there is “no immediate threat” being posed to their children. What do these phrases even mean, and why are they suddenly at the center of my world, instead of staying halfway across the country on the news?

It’s like the rest of the world is some sort of Pangaea, and the United States is in some little bubble of an island where tragedy is always just a click away.

Nobody tells you how even from 96 miles away everything starts to spin, and how things are still spinning. My call log is full and the screenshots on my phone are ones my brain is itching to delete. My finger lingers on the trash can icon glowing up at me.

My camera roll shouldn’t look like a prop from a horribly done Netflix exclusive film. My messages shouldn’t read like some dramatic plot line to a Wattpad story, or some underfunded PSA for gun regulation or school security.

I never minded being the older sister, until the younger brother was calling to tell me that his own former teammate (and his accomplice) had stolen a car, allegedly robbed a store, potentially compiled a hit list of teenagers who would now walk around knowing that they would have held primary interest if the two boys had managed to obtain their desired weapons and make their way into the building. Their lives would have been first, and tomorrow they will have to walk down the same hallways through which they were personally escorted from their classes, perhaps in the middle of an exam, or perhaps just before their slated lunch. I wonder if they were hungry, or falling asleep at their desk, or cramming for whatever subject they would be shuffling along to next. My brother could have been on that list.

It was 12:20 p.m. when I got the text: “confirmed in custody.” They were caught on a parkway, multiple town borders away from their targeted destination.

After spending an entire morning texting people I’ve drifted from, because suddenly it doesn’t matter what our last convo was, because seriously, are you okay?

This week, the notorious senior assassin was underway. Students were sneaking around, concealing water guns and trying to outsmart each other. Nobody was going to notice the difference between the item in their hand until the stream of water was replaced with a bullet. Until it cut through the air, they likely could have blended in.

But it’s fine, because at this point, what’s another false alarm, anyhow? Nothing actually happened, nobody actually got hurt. There are no children to cart away to an ambulance, no memorial service to be had. Tomorrow, school can carry on, because the statistics didn’t change.

It won’t matter that there’s a younger brother who has to walk down the halls that his older brother attested, or a mother who hosts meditation groups for her friends who will be left wondering how she didn’t notice, or how she failed to stop him. There’s an entire family who will have to answer questions from police, from the school, from concerned members of the community. There’s classes of kids who will look at the empty seat (likely in the back) and wonder if they ever did anything to place an invisible target on their backs, and others who know that they had earned a place, their names spelled out in a lineup compiled by a shaken mind.

But again, the numbers won’t change, and at the end of the day on April 19, a town in New Jersey did not add a tick to the tally board. There was a school shooting in Maine, just the day before, but here we won’t be lighting any candles, so the problem still stands at arms’ length, right?