Thursday, February 14, 2013

We Are In Lockdown

We are in lockdown.

The police are on campus investigating an issue.

The children are safe.

These were not the precise words. They may have been arranged differently: We're in lockdown mode. Police are in the building and the matter is under control. The children are not in danger.

Or: We're calling to notify you that the school is currently in a lockdown situation. Police are here. The children are safe and there's no danger.

Lockdown. 

Police.

Safe.

It was 8:08 AM when my cell phone rang this morning, and it didn't matter what the hell the exact words or sequence of words were. Something, a robot, a machine, dialed my cell phone number because that is the number on the emergency contact list kept on record at the school that my children attend. The school is in lockdown, the recorded voice announced, the school is in lockdown, police are there, children are safe.

My bones froze. A second, maybe two, I could not move. Then, Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Taft Union, Chardon High. No, it can't be that. They are safe. Safe. Upstairs, Michael dressed for work. I ran, ran, don't remember the movement of my feet or ascending the risers, the rush was too great.

"Something's going on at school," I said to him, "but the kids are safe. I'm not panicking." I pressed my hands together, my wrists trembling, my heart hammering. Something whirred in my head, like the fan Michael turns on each night. White noise. A scramble. No, I won't get in the car. No. I will wait for more news. No, I will call my neighbor. Her son is in the same school. The same lockdown. The same police. Safe.

"What? Let's find out what's going on," he said bluntly—his sober response an attempt to  contain alarm.

I punched numbers on the same phone that had only moments prior transmitted horrific words. My neighbor hadn't gotten the message. I called another neighbor, another mother. She hadn't gotten the message. More whirring: How does this work? Who gets the messages? What does one do with the words? I'll call Lulu. No. What if she is crouched on the floor, in a corner, or under her desk, and her cell phone rings and the killer hears it? No! No. If she plays by school rules, her phone will not be on. It will be in her locker. No. Kids break the rules. She'll have it. But it will be on silent. I won't call. She's safe. Why are my eyeballs tearing? Is this magical thinking? No. I won't panic. Lu is safe. Max is safe. They are safe.

The woman who cleans my house every month showed up at the door. I'd forgotten she was coming. Information about the lockdown is trickling in via text, she tells me. She knows someone who has a daughter or a niece, a relative, at the school. Rumor. Conjecture. Guesses. This is not what the school wants, I'm sure. They want LOCKDOWN. Do you know what that means? It means the opposite of evacuation. It means you are in a situation known as a state of emergency. An emergency holding. You are put in a hole, a quiet cell. A dark, silent hole. Hiding. Something outside of the hole is threatening you. Something threatening is happening. You don't know what's happening because you are not allowed to communicate with anyone within or without the hole. The hole is a safe place where you remain down and locked.

Students began posting on Twitter: This is for realz! #lockdown; Valentines day and I'm stuck in the corner of TC #romantic #lockdown #BASICBITCHTWEET; this will be a valentines day to remember #codegreen; a senior went psycho and the popos had to come #wesurvived; Police supervised lockdown #awesome #CodeGreen.

Helvitica took on a new meaning. It was no longer a “neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form.” It was Hell, it was victims, it was combat arms.

On Facebook, kids were updating their statuses: I'm scared. I'm hiding in a corner. We're in lockdown.

As I read the messages I felt worry's weight amassing, my chest constricting. Children were scared, and others coped by making light of the ordeal, turning it into a farce, a bitch tweet, a romance, an epic moment.

cracked and sent a text to my son. I know Max's phone, if he has it, is on silent. It is never on ring. In a large whale-like bubble, I thumbed (praying this wouldn't be the one day his ringtone was on): Are you ok? School is in lockdown what's going on?  He thumbed back: Fine ya. A drug search, lk 5 cop cars.

Then Lulu's text: Ya, it might have been somebody with a gun... But we r all good now so it's fine. :)

My body arched into a reflexive exhale, a warm, wheezy stream of air tumbling furiously from my lungs. Still. Lockdown. Anything can happen. Anything, terrible things, have happened. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown... What kind of messages did they receive?

(So far, in 2013, within the first thirty-one days of this new year alone, there have been eight, eight, school shootings in the United Sates of America.)

At 8:32 AM, my iPhone rang and lighted with another recorded message from the school, this time notifying parents, guardians, loved ones, people, human beings who love those kids more than anything else in the entire fucking world, that all was fine. The children are safe. Lockdown has ended. Everything is under control.

An email followed from the school principal which gave me only a vague idea of what happened within or around the school's brick walls. He wrote that their security procedures were put into place as soon as the situation called for it. A protocol was followed which required the lockdown. The lockdown ended uneventfully, the situation addressed.

"In these times we have to treat every concern with the highest level of response necessary to ensure the safety of all."

God. Help us.

The principal had been tipped off by some, I don't know how many, smart, thoughtful, concerned students as to a possible—a possibly very real—threat. He took these concerns seriously and responded the way the world must respond now: swiftly, peremptorily, judiciously. I am so thankful for this. But sad for the world. And I want the details. 

Details. As if the details will offer me comfort. Control.

Now, more stories unfold, evolve, about a quiet, long-haired boy sending messages into the world, trigger warnings, that he was coming undone. Loosened? Mad? Disturbed? Who knows! How many of us are confused and distressed and angry? I can't say what the boy did or articulated. I don't know, I don't wish to engage in conjecture. Truly, I don't wish to engage with anything at the moment. Just the keys of my laptop. It's all I can do to stay sane. Everything else I'd planned for today is finis. We are all so close to sudden ruin. Disaster. Immunity is nonexistent. Safety? Safety is an illusion. Vulnerable is what we are. We don't know what's around the corner. In the corner. Anything can happen at any moment. Any day. Valentine’s Day. While exchanging chocolates and candied hearts.

Joan Didion's words, echoing the experiences and sentiments of so many others, and of my own, haunt me:
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.

When my children leave the house I say two things:I love you. Be safe.” All I really should say is, "I love you."
            I love you, I love you, I love you.



[The above photo was taken with my iPhone at the local library—a former Monastery.]

28 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness Jayne, what a frightening text to receive! Oh! I'm so grateful that the babes are safe, which makes me realize how very vulnerable we all really are. Sometimes I wonder how me manage to stay sane, and then I realize that we were made for this—to live our lives outside of certainty.

    Funny those two lines you quoted from Joan Didion, were the exact two lines that have stayed with me since I read A Year of Magical Thinking. We are all here together aren't we? Yes. This brings me immense comfort.

    Sending hugs this Valentines Day.

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    1. Well, haven't I been seriously delinquent in getting back to all! Yikes, what' scary to me at the moment is how quickly 2+ weeks can careen by.

      Anyway, Leah, living our lives outside of certainty--I have this visual in my head, like certainty is a fuzz-covered solid mass and I'm running around it in a series of endless circles that move out further and further from the mass. Boy I'm breathless! But, yes, I'm glad we're all here, running in circles, together. ;)

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  2. Oh, Jayne. I can't even begin to imagine all the horrors that went through your mind. I was scared for you just reading this. It's not a fear easily described...the wondering....the hell of it.

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    1. I think, in retrospect, that I did alright managing the horrors. (Maybe my husband would say otherwise.) Those thoughts were there, for sure, but they didn't froth up and out entirely. I've found out, since the lockdown, that other parents didn't receive the recorded call and now I'm beginning to wonder if it weren't all some kind of delusion, or joke! Um, well, my kids confirmed the lockdown, but still... very odd.

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  3. Replies
    1. Oh, oh man, Dale. Thank goodness February vacation was just around the corner... :)

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  4. So awful. So unbelievably awful.

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    1. Sabine, it was, absolutely, awful as it was happening. And as awful as it was, I still cannot put myself in a place that would have been even more horrifying. Thankful is was no more than "just" a lockdown.

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  5. Oh scary scary. sad sad for our culture that a small concern triggers such an extreme response, must trigger such an extreme response.

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    1. It is sad for our culture, Ellen. Sad for this particular generation of kids, for having even the slightest concern about their safety in school. Or at the mall, or the movies, or...

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  6. Jayne, so sorry you had to endure this. They're safe. Sometimes we take this for granted in this dysfunctional world.

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    1. Dysfunctional is the word, Antares. They are safe, but I have this inner inquiry, a loop, that plays in my head--are they ever really safe?

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  7. The world we live in...where children are not safe at school. So sorry you had to go through this, but thankful it had a good ending.
    It used to be that principals were educators, now they have the weight on their shoulders of making tactical life and death decisions for hundreds of children. Sheesh!

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    1. Leonora, that's a great point--the amount of responsibility on the part of our educators is huge. But, I would think that any educator, especially in an administrative role, at least in today's world, is aware and prepared to carry such weight. Still, it's dismaying. So much for fire drills.

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  8. Dear Jayne,
    it really froze my heart - and I have tears in my eyes - such a horrible uncontrollable situation! So very, very happy that all kids and teachers and staff are safe now, thank God.

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    1. Thanks, Brigitta. Talking to other parents who didn't get the call it's clear that the actual call, the voice message, is what made it all so much more horrible. Different from finding out at the end of the day, after your children are safely home and seemingly very much the same as when they left early morning, that there was a lockdown. :/

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  9. Jayne, so glad all is well. Definitely a scary time for you and yours.

    When my son attended college, we were on a list of texts and phone messages - the same emergency warnings that the students get. Up until this one night, all we had gotten over his four years there was a few tornado/weather warnings for the campus. In his senior year, we get this phone message at around 4 am to "stay inside...shots fired on Jordan Ave..." My muddled sleepy thoughts line up - Well, what's on Jordan Ave? Frat Row is on Jordan Ave. (My son lived in a fraternity house) Heart stops. I'm thinking there's a madman running down Jordan Ave, shooting everyone. I call my son. Thankfully, he is safe at his house, but there were cops down the street in front of another fraternity - yep, the Animal House. I'm breathing again. When it was all clear, apparently someone shot a gun into the air at a frat party down the street. Yeah, try sleeping after a call that states "shots fired" on the street where your baby lives. The ordinary instant...it never ends, Jayne.

    Thanks for sharing your heart.

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    1. Loree- Your note makes me wonder if messaging information in real time is a good idea. Yet, because the systems are there, I think schools are bound (I mean, expected, obliged and, well, burdened) to do it. And I now know exactly what you mean by those thoughts lining up. That sinking feeling. Glad it all worked out in your son's case, too. :)

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  10. Most interesting post. Extremely insightful. Really captures the emotion of such a moment.

    When I was a child we did "duck and cover" drills in school. That always struck me as rather odd for obvious reasons and the idea of seeing a flash of light from the west (Omaha / SAC Air Force Base was not that far away) was always somewhat unsettling.

    Every age has something I suppose but this day and age of gun maddness is especially awful. Seeing Congress struggle with what seems to be basic common sense laws is frustrating.

    Won't ramble but found your words to be extremely reflective of the real emotions people have in such a situation.

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    1. Russell - I don't remember ever doing those kinds of drills. Fire drills, certainly, but duck and cover, or the like, I don't know. But then, I'm sure, at the little Catholic elementary school I attended in the late 60s, early 70s, we must have had some sort of "hide" drill. As a write this comment now, hmm... I'm remembering being shuffled into a long, narrow closet that ran the length of the back of the classroom. What was that? I can't remember! I guess whatever it was, it wasn't too terrifying. I would imagine, in your case, the possibility of getting hit by a fireball of who-knows-what would be highly disconcerting!

      Seeing Congress struggle is obscene. Common sense, people. But where big money prevails, common sense is often blurred.

      Thanks for stopping by, Russell.

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  11. Replies
    1. Thank you, Joe--nothing like a horror show to inspire.

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  12. that's truly horrifying. i'm so happy the this ended without incident and everyone is safe. when will this end? didion's words are portentous for sure.

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    1. Me too, Amanda, happy as can be!

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  13. Jayne: I read this and felt that I would have reacted the same way you did. I'm so glad that everything turned out safe and sound. Relief!

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    1. Thanks, Michael. You know, even though we are 2 plus weeks beyond the incident, it still rattles me when I think about it.

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  14. I am having trouble breathing after reading this. You write very powerfully. My heart was racing to sprint to the school. Life indeed changes in an instant.

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    1. My feelings were pretty raw as I wrote this piece, April. I mean, I wrote it within hours, well, maybe even minutes, after the lockdown. Certainly, I was making notes w/in, oh, I'd say the hour. So, I wasn't so sure about hitting the publish button at three in the afternoon (and sure enough, I had to return to fix up plenty of typos, etc.), as it never seems wise to write, at least publicly, thoughts that are still packed with emotion. In any event, I have to admit, I did want a certain rawness felt by the reader. So, sorry for your breathing troubles!! Goodness--I wasn't intending that! ;)

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