And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Despite the news indeed, this week in our small city. On Monday, Waukesha exploded with news and nerves as not one, but two high schools were put on lockdown with gun threats. In one, a pellet gun was involved, the suspect shot by a police officer and sent to the hospital where he remains in stable condition. In the other, details are sketchy, with a suspect arrested in his house.
I live in the middle of downtown, and throughout the morning and afternoon, sirens went off and police cars whizzed by. Helicopters hovered. There were reports of swat teams and ambulances.
I no longer have anyone in the high schools, but it was still unnerving. And through it all, one question remained unasked and unanswered. I swallowed it and waited.
My daughter Olivia graduated from high school last spring. I found myself relieved that she was no longer there – she attended both high schools involved. But then I found myself feeling guilty for feeling relieved, because there were still all these other kids behind the locked doors.
I think the whole city held its collective breath that day. We didn’t begin to breathe again until lockdowns were lifted, children were released, press conferences were held, and reports that arrests were made and the only injury was to the suspect with the pellet gun. Then we all looked at each other uncertainly, not sure how this happened, not sure what would happen next, not sure what we could do to keep this from ever happening again.
And still, I didn’t hear anyone ask my question. I remained silent, unsure if I should be feeling what I was feeling.
It wasn’t until that evening, after everything was done, that I spoke to my daughter via Facebook Messenger. I caught her up on the events at the high school she attended for her freshman and sophomore years, and then at the high school she attended for her junior and senior years, where we moved her because of the extent she was bullied in the first high school.
The suspect with the pellet gun was from this first high school. A school that left us with no wonderful memories, but instead, a need to leave and find wonderful memories elsewhere.
My daughter, small on the screen in front of me, brought both hands up to her mouth. Her eyes widened. And then the first thing she said, the first thing she asked, was the question I’d been silencing.
“Mama,” she said, “what about the boy? The boy with the pellet gun. Is he okay? What was he going through that he would do such a thing? Is he getting help?”
She released the question I was scared to ask. The question that made me wonder if I was even feeling the right thing. The day had been filled with newsbreaks, showing people exclaiming, “Put him away! Lock him up! Why didn’t the police officer just blow him away?” and others saying, “I’m going to homeschool from now on,” and “It’s time for us to move away.”
To where? And how does that help anything?
I didn’t ask the question out loud, under the pressure of the overwhelming public response. I worried, with everyone, over the well-being of the students hiding in darkened classrooms, the faculty that tried to protect them, the school resource officer and police officer forced to make an awful decision. But I also worried, silently, about the boy with the pellet gun at one school, and the boy arrested from the other school, with so many details left unsaid.
And now my daughter said those words out loud. Is he okay? What was he going through that he would do such a thing?
The horror on her face reflected not just the act, but what was behind the act.
My heart burst for this girl, my girl, whose compassion knows no boundaries. Her sheer humanity makes me grow prouder each and every day.
May we all follow in her example. May there be many, many others like her in her generation.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.