Gun violence in small towns. In short, we hear about it every day.
I pull my teal, tie-dye sweatshirt over my head and flashback to that day. It is a rainy Tuesday seemingly like any other and I am working in the practice. However, on this day, they notify us that the local high school is locked down because of a threat of a shooting. We later learn it is anything but a threat. To be clear, we live in a very rural area peppered with tobacco farm barns, oysters, and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Ours is a community that is a hodgepodge of families that came over on the Dove and those serving our country, moving in and out with the tide.
Fast forward and on this fifth anniversary, I am donning my teal in remembrance yet again, remembering her run after her toddling brother through my office, long hair gracefully swaying behind her, a gentle affect and smile that lit up the room. She is unassuming with her mother’s ocean blue eyes and a kind spirit. She scooped him up as he went to open the bottom drawers, just a toddler, curiosity getting the best of him. Her mother and I made small talk, not a care in the world, never imagining. Gun violence in a small town. It happened in mine, could it happen in yours?
In the time between then and now her mother and I have become kindred. Not just because we treated her siblings but also because I didn’t leave. It is an interesting phenomenon, grief. The grieving mother who has a child who has met a violent, tragic end, who is allowed space to grieve. But at some point, we expect them to pick up, move on and get over it. In the beginning, there are crowds and candlelight vigils. There are police, politicians, and pastors. Newspaper coverage and t-shirts are everywhere. During this time I watch them. They are stunned, shocked, it is an effort just to breathe. And when the numbness wears off and the reality sets in, when the real work begins, what happens? The cemetery starts to pick up her ornaments and knickknacks, her friend circle changes, and people disappear. Everything changes.
She has spoken to me about the pain of friends who have fallen away. The difficulties in moving on, struggling to move things, clothes, just on. And yet, the world continues. That day the child who went to school took a gun and took away not only her life, but robbed her family and friends of their hopes, dreams, and feeling of safety. As she picks up the pieces, puts on a brave face, and pushes forward I ask, where is her community?
I send flowers for the anniversary only to find that mine are the only ones on the table when I arrive with dinner. A dinner that I called to ask to bring not even three hours earlier. How does this happen? Why do we penalize the mother of the victim? Is it too painful for people to be around? Do they see too much of themselves in her children? Do they not know what to say? Or are all of these excuses?
Consequently, today I wore teal. I show up for her, I would show up for you. Because that is what community is. It isn’t always convenient or pretty or even something we want to do on a Sunday. But it is the right thing to do. To my friend: above all, I love you and am here for you. I will always help you write your advocacy speeches, never forget her, and I will not stop talking about her. Please wear teal and think about my beautiful friend.
Closing thoughts: If it can happen in our rural, small community, it can happen in your child’s school too. It is my hope that you and your children are never impacted by school gun violence. In sum, the fallout is tremendous not only for the families directly impacted but for the threat to safety and security for all who enter the halls of the school and surrounding area. If you have firearms, I implore you to lock your guns and ammo away from each other. Gun locks, lockers, and secure storage are mandatory. Children should never have access to firearms without direct adult supervision. To conclude, gun violence in a small town happens every day. Please consider checking out the resources below to see how you can help.
Update: Write your representatives. Make calls. Let your voice be heard. Demand change. These babies deserve it. We all do.