I am sitting on the couch at my sister’s house. My eyes are red from crying, but I am laughing with my nieces who are playing on the floor behind me, innocent and unaware. I keep glancing over at my daughter, who is napping beside me. She is beautiful, and happy, and sleeping, and safe, and I am so angry.
I am Victoria Soto. I am young, and I am scared, but I do not hesitate as I throw my body between bullets and the babies whose parents entrusted me with their care.
I am Tricia Benvenuti. The panicked calls are flooding my cell phone as I race to the elementary school that has become a warzone with my eight-year-old inside. Other parents — friends and neighbors — are sobbing and screaming and my feet won’t move fast enough as my mind is overtaken by three words repeating: “Please not mine.”
I am eighteen years old. I am sitting in my parents’ kitchen when I get the call, our local JCC day camp has been attacked by a man with an uzi. My friend, a counselor, has been shot along with three of her five-year-old campers and an administrator. It will be hours before I learn that they’ll survive. On TV, kids I babysit for are being led holding hands through the parking lot by officers with guns. The suspect is still armed and at large. Before he turns himself in a state away, he will murder a postal worker because he can.
The realization washes over me, taking my world view with it: You are not immune to this.
I am a first grade student at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Everyone in my classroom is dead. I don’t know whose blood is on me but I lay perfectly still and pray that the man with the gun thinks I am dead too.When it is quiet, I get up and run as fast as I can outside. I am so happy to see my Mommy — I wonder why she cries so hard when she sees me.
It is 1999 and I am outside of the holding center where the children have been taken from the JCC. The shooter is still at large and the police presence is thick. Through the chain link fence, a shocked acquaintance recounts the shooting, blood still on her white keds. We hang on every detail, anxious for news about our injured friend. A young boy wanders up concerned that he can’t find his brother. Teenage eyes search for adult answers…no one has told him his brother has been shot.
In my sister’s living room my nieces giggle with their American Girl dolls while my daughter stirs and edges closer. Breathes deeper. I bury my face in her hair and inhale her, memorizing the smell. I can’t read any more. My sinuses burn and my heart aches, and though I am here with my world still intact when so many are not, the eighteen year old inside rages at the inactive adult on the couch echoing the realization of that final day of my childhood in 1999: You are not immune to this.
I am every parent, every child, and every teacher in Newtown. I am every movie go-er in Aurora. I am every student in the library at Columbine. I am every member of those shocked communities. I am every mother who has watched her child leave and never come back. We are none of us immune to this…this plague that seems to spread quicker with each passing year. Things need to change. I haven’t been loud enough. I’m going to start now. Our kids deserve better than this.
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