It’s 5:30 am and my husband kisses me goodbye before he leaves for work in the cold, dark, predawn. I go back to sleep, snuggled up with the dog and whichever kids are in my bed. In the back of my mind a nagging uneasiness builds.
An hour later I text him good morning wishes. He likes a funny bitmoji, even though he calls me a nerd. The text is because I love and miss him, but also because I need a text back. I need to know that he safely made his 23-mile commute to the high school where he teaches. Anxiety is a real bitch, but I have learned to roll with it.
I have minor fears about his daily absence: a natural disaster, unlikely injury or out-of-the-blue heart attack. I worry, on rare occasions, that he will realize he got the short end of the stick and not come home to me. My concerns get shoved into a mental compartment, covered by the white noise of the day.
The most terrifying thought – the one that grips my heart and makes me dizzy – is that someone will walk into his school with an assault rifle. The frequency of mass shootings at schools is making this fear increasingly rational.
Last week an unknown student scrawled a message in the bathroom at his school threatening to shoot students and teachers. Law enforcement decided it was not a credible threat. There was no live shooter, no gun on campus. But the door cracked open and the possibility of mass murder at this high school has stuck its foot in permanently.
My fears slipped from safely compartmentalized to catastrophic. As I often do, I thought through the worst-case scenario. This tendency is oddly comforting when I realize my worry is insignificant: being late for a doctor’s appointment or embarrassed by a toddler’s public tantrum. It takes me under when I get to the thought of my husband being shot at work.
When I let my mind go there, I envision a blank-faced human, in a state of mind I do not understand, walking up the stairs towards Kevin’s classroom, armed with rage and the type of mass murder machine no citizen has a moral reason to possess.
I picture my husband’s face going pale and stoic when he hears the announcement: a lockdown is in effect, a live shooter on campus.
While he locks the door and windows, I hear him calmly telling his 16-year old students anything he can to herd them into a back corner of the room. I imagine him crouching in front of the group, his body positioned to take the first bullet, putting on a brave front while terrified inside.
In the huddle of students, I see the glow of cell phones as texts go out to parents: We’re on lockdown. I’m scared. I love you.
I hear my own phone ding. New text from Kev Dawg: There’s someone with a gun here. I’m safe for now. I love you and the kids.
I cannot, and do not have to, imagine what happens next. The news is filled with body counts and survivors’ gruesome stories. A guilt weighs on me, to be paralyzed with fear at only the thought, when many are traumatized by the reality.
How can I send my husband to work every morning? How can I send my kids to school? Is my daughter safe at preschool? How can any of us reconcile the plausible fear that our loved ones may be shot during math class?
I hug my husband tightly when he returns to me at the end of the day. By 5:30 pm I am absorbed back into the chaos of our beautiful everyday life. Kevin plays with the kids as we start dinner, swap stories of minor incidents, scheduling details, funny anecdotes about our wild kids. But now a threat to his life (deemed credible or not) was issued in the building where he spends 40 hours a week. I struggle to sequester my anxiety, and my day ends just as it began – with an unnerving fear of tomorrow.