Sheltering in place
What is the effect of constantly bracing for the next blow?
On Friday afternoon, I received the following texts from my kids’ school:
Notifications from the parent group chat starting pinging as we each offered up whatever puzzle pieces we had.
One parent at the library across the street messaged that they had all been asked to remain inside the library and not go outside.
One parent who had picked her kids up early said police had rushed everyone inside the school just as she drove away with her kids.
Another parent arrived to pick their kids up and was told they were not releasing anyone from the building.
Listless, I stepped out onto my balcony and looked up to realize the helicopter I’d heard circling the neighborhood was a police helicopter.
Another parent posted a screenshot of a tweet from the Austin Police Department:
Moments after the first text came in, before I’d even had a chance to thoroughly read it, my husband was out the front door on foot to the school. As more details dribbled in from various corners of the internet, I went from a detective-mode, objective fact-gatherer to a sobbing heap on the pollen-coated tile of our balcony.
This was it.
This is the before-and-after moment of my life, I thought. The worst thing is happening right now. I am in the epicenter.
I tried to imagine what would come next. I imagined being called to identify my husband’s body, or my children’s bodies, or all three. I imagined waking up alone in an empty house the next morning.
And the next morning. And the next morning.
I felt like throwing up.
I tried to comfort my friend who was out of town for work and texting me, “I am in Dallas and really worried. Will y’all please help me understand”
I didn’t want to tell her I was laying on the ground crying uncontrollably.
“Parents who are at the school say everyone is safe inside” I texted back.
Up until that first text from the school, I had spent the entire day toggling between the Twitter feeds of the National Weather Service, local meteorologists, and the county emergency service, who all predicted a once-in-a-year weather event coming right for us.
“Baseball-sized hail. Hurricane-force winds,” they warned. “Find safe shelter now.”
The sky behind the police helicopter rapidly darkened.
Emergencies were converging.
A gust of wind blew a kid-sized, rainbow folding chair across my backyard, scattering empty plastic Easter eggs from its cupholder.
I heard a low rumble in the distance.
A jagged slash of light cut horizontally across the sky.
A sharp crack split the air.
Was that thunder or a gunshot?
It was at this point that I decided there was no way I could continue on with hosting the event I had planned for that night. “Tex Support” was supposed to be an evening of “joyful comfort and connection for Texans who are struggling with Texas.”
I texted my event co-host to say that on top of feeling nervous about asking people to drive into a possible tornado, I couldn’t imagine leaving my babies at home “after the scare we’ve had.”
After trying to remember what I’d dressed them in for school that day in case I would need to describe to an officer this one’s Pokemon shirt or that one’s pastel striped skirt with the little shorties underneath so she could do cartwheels without her undies showing. Had she let me give her pigtails that morning? Imagining waking up and their beds being empty. Imagining the mini chocolate chip muffins I’d bought them for breakfast eventually getting moldy in the cupboard because no little girls would be there to eat them the next morning or the next or the next.
Too much to put in a text. So: “the scare.”
I tapped from the parent group chat to weather Twitter to the browser on my phone to Google “SWAT” and “Austin police” and "S Lamar.”
The Austin Police Department detained four people after a SWAT call on South Lamar Boulevard that involved the theft of several high-powered military firearms and rounds of ammunition.
APD said a call came in at 12:21 p.m. from someone who said their unit in a storage shed was burglarized. The caller told police several high-powered military firearms were stolen along with several rounds of high-powered ammunition.
A few minutes later, my husband walked in the front door with my two daughters. I picked myself up off the floor and ran downstairs, eager to hug them and reassure them they were safe. Were any of us safe? Had the SWAT team found the guns? Lock the front door. Lock the back door. Lock the side door.
My girls were giggling and running around and asking for Pirate’s Booty and did not need my comfort. They did not want to pause playing pretend to hug me.
They had been through so many active shooter drills, they were completely unfazed.
I was the one who needed comfort. Was I being dramatic? Did I imagine a threat where there wasn’t one?
The thick gray bank of clouds like a sky-dam burst and the rain came through all at once like a wave hitting the house. When the skies opened up the tension released and rolled out across the horizon along with the thunder. We threw open the doors to watch the storm and let the awe of it wash over us.
There was no baseball-sized hail. No 70mph winds. No tornado. Not outside, at least.
But inwardly, I’m still sorting through the emotional debris of simultaneously cresting phantom catastrophes. The electrical surges, the power outages, the flooding, the sinking, the snapped limbs… the aftermath that exists only in my mind.
I guess it was nothing.
I guess we just go on as if nothing happened.
I guess nothing did happen.
The next morning as my children ate their mini chocolate chip muffins I gasped over a new headline:
“A Texas man fatally shot 5 neighbors after he was asked to stop firing in his yard”
My anger swells, washing away the sheepishness I’d felt in the wake of my fear.
I was right to be afraid. The bogeyman was real. He just didn’t get us.
When we gaslight ourselves into doubting our fear, we start to normalize horror. We start to see it as both commonplace and unavoidable but it is neither. Moms Demand Action is organizing nationwide events this Mother’s Day to push for an assault weapons ban. Join them.
As always, follow my Instagram for inspiration and regular posts about how to take action for change of all kinds.