I always want to know about the hearts that break more than I want to hear about the one who breaks hearts. I want to believe in safety and peace and wake tomorrow to know that the shooting in Marysville -- which marked the 39th school shooting since January 9, 2014 -- will be the last. I need to know this is the one that changes it all. I need to believe hearts will swell and it will never be otherwise.
Actions like this begin with a break, a shift. Be it a chemical brainwave or physical shockwave, every move leads to another. Death starts long before the safety is off.
Sometimes the beginning of the story writes itself without anyone taking note; the pages appear long before the crime's been written. The story is always there. It lives, and I believe it breaks, too, while no one watches.
Social media tells me, Six minutes ago, a school shooting began 70 minutes from your location. Victims unknown, shooter at-large. High school in lockdown.
I slide my chair from the table. I am a victim. We are all victims of this, I think.
My stomach turns. I lie down on the floor, my constant go-to response to all that's too much to hold me upright.
It takes hours for the hour to be 4 p.m.. Our oldest daughters walk through the yard, soccer cleats and artwork in hand, umbrellas tracing the dirt beside the front porch.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," I say as I hold each girl. I say "I love you" like it's some sort of magic, protective shield. I want to wrap the girls in these words.
"Something wrong?" Asks Betty.
"Yeah," I say. "You know where our American Girl Dolls were born on the mainland?"
"Oh, Merry-ville!" Says Lucy.
"Yeah," I say. "There was a school shooting today."
I trace the basic details along the lines of fact and tragedy.
"Oh," says Betty.
"That's why we live on an island," says Lucy.
"Lucy! Sadness and things we can't understand happen everywhere," says Betty. "Even where American Girl dolls are born!"
"I think I'd like some time to myself. I think I'll watch the birdhouses from the window," says Betty.
Twenty minutes passes. Lucy and Olive find themselves in Play-Doh and tiny plastic dinosaur figurines. I sit back, earphones on, and lose myself in a song stuck on repeat.
"Oh, no! Mama! Something else terrible has happened," says Betty. "A bird. I watched it. It flew towards me. It flew into the window. It's dead."
It takes some time to notice the bits of yellow feathers along the head's top. He's a Golden-crowned Kinglet. We smile at the symmetrical way the claws are clenched. Betty is scared to pick up the bird. "Well, this bird is a baby. I watched it hatch. I feel really bad for the mom of the kids who died today at the mainland school. I can pick up the bird. I guess." She hesitates, traces along the wing with her marker-stained finger.
We stand in the northern corner of our yard beside the playground.
"Have a nice time wherever you go. I'm sorry I don't know where that is," says Betty, "wherever that is, maybe I'll see you one day," tears hanging on along her jawline.
"Thank you, small bird, for hatching in the birdhouse we all painted," says Lucy, and "I kind of want to keep him, he's so soft and beautiful."
"No, he deserves to be placed back into the earth," says Betty.
"I loved you even though I didn't know you," said Olive.
My husband shovels black dirt atop the small bird.
"Have fun in the hole, bird. I'll think of you when I swing," says Olive.
Inside our home: I can't hate the kid, says a friend through a text. And just like that, I see it clearly. She goes on to explain, this story is even blowing up on the diabetes forum. Parents in the group know his family.
We are all connected. Small treads.
I see this clearly in his profile picture making its cuts as it falls around social media, share by share. He looks barely 16 and as if he's at the south end of this island. There's orca whales in the distance, Lopez Island on the horizon. He's in the orange Grundeen overalls -- the mark of serious, regional salmon fishermen. He looks like my neighbor's son. I click off. Up pops a story about how he's recently delivered a shot deer to his grandmother. The article briefly traces the beautiful cultural significance of delivering the gift of meat for warmth and comfort for an approaching winter. My mind flips images of pickup trucks and gravel roads and antlers in western Washington. He was prom king. I hear the screams of high school football games, scan the look of a starched, first formal suit. I see him. I see all of him as all the boys his age I know. I know he never feels seen, never really was seen for who he was.
I see him, I think, and this is where it begins. Somewhere, somehow, love fails him. He isn't seen. Ending at this 39th school shootings doesn't begin with a gun on a higher shelf or a locked cabinet. It doesn't start with armed guards in crosswalks or half days spent installing bulletproof glass. Love fails him, somewhere. He isn't seen, somewhere. Sure, he's a victim. Maybe this morning, he is the first.
It all makes me sick.
It'd be easier to see my way through this tragedy if I could only funnel blame and disgrace and anger into a single, highly visible individual. But, I'll choose to begin with the idea that love failed him.
At one point today, the phrase how many victims of today's school shooting? was the most commonly Googled question. If only it had been, how can we all receive love?
Today we are all victims. The children he shot, the moments this story steals from our time on earth living peacefully and pleasant. The 39th school shooting in America. To trace it back to the first one, Pennsylvania's September 28, 1850, is staggering; a mind-blowing collection of narratives and images and loss.
It all makes me sick.
When I see another newspaper front with the picture of another beautiful student shot and killed in the classroom/cafeteria/hallway, I'm just going to roll around on the sidewalk. It's too much to take upright. When I see another Time magazine article about the shooter, analyzing medical files with excusive interviews, I'm going to roll around in the aisle. I'll cover my eyes with reusable grocery bags. The media keeps reporting it all the exact same way. Every. Single. Time. Seriously, the media needs to tell it in a new way.
"Hey, Little bird. I see you. I see all of you. I'm just sorry it took me so long. I'll keep my heart open, my eyes wide from now on," I say, as dirt falls atop the feathers.
After the ceremony, I lean into the fence. "I can still feel the feathers," Betty says.
"I know," I say.
"Sometimes, it's all too much," says Betty. "And I'm scared for the kids who were hurt and killed at school today. That should never happen. And this bird! It just flew out of the nest. I was looking at the clouds, thinking about guns and kids and school and then... [sobs] the bird flew from the birdhouse into the window I was looking out. It was so close. I could feel it. I can feel it [sobs]."
Across Rosario Strait, the streets are full of candles, flowers, teddy bears. I see these images and I see pain trying to find its way to love.
I feel this as a school board member, a parent and a community member. I can choose to review our policy on lockdown procedures and check in with our counselors for more student reach. But I think I'll follow Betty's lead.
"I am brave enough to pick up the bird," says Betty. It is scary. His heart isn't beating. Wow, it's beautiful. It's delicate with such beautiful colors."
"Yeah," I say. "That's love."
"I think after this I'll sit at my window and imagine birds, all the ones that didn't unexpectedly fly into windows. I'm going to draw until my hand falls asleep," says Betty.