Sheep, Shepherd, Wolf.
Trigger Warning: Includes Graphic descriptions of gun violence.
March 3, 2018
We don’t call it active shooter, she says, explaining to her brother how 2nd graders do it differently than 4th graders. We call it sheep, shepherd, wolf. And all the teachers are the shepherds. And the bad guy is the wolf. And the kids are the sheep.
Just like that, so matter of fact, she shares with me how she learned today to run quietly into the prairie if the man with the gun is not following her. But if he is following her, she must run in a zig zag and scream very loud, as loud as she can.
She is seven.
I feel myself begin to cry and stop. I feel myself almost throw up and then stop. We are pulling into the parking lot. I just picked them up from school and we are stopping at the grocery store before driving to get the youngest, who is just five, from preschool. I brake, I place the car in park, I notice a faint trembling in my hand as I turn the key in the ignition, lean against the steering wheel, breathe. I could pull her from school, I think, but that doesn’t take care of the movie theatres and the shopping malls and the summer camps and the health clinics and and and...
Instead I step out of the car, and as we walk into the store, I pull her close to me.
Mysteriously, as it seems to arise in me from nowhere, I see the footage of a street, and a body’s shadow running. The footage is shaky because the camera is held by the body whose shadow is running, crouching, quietly running. This goes on for some time, I don’t remember how long. Then there is the pop pop of gunshots, I don’t remember how many but someone knows, and the camera tips forward and over, as the body falls to the ground. That was over ten years ago. I know someone, I almost tell her, I know someone who died from a gunshot wound. I loved someone who was killed with a gun. I almost say but I don’t say.
Today was enough. Her own fear is enough. Mommy’s boundaries are porous. Later that evening, as a frightful confirmation that the tragedy of my psychic ability is fully intact, I will get notice that this weekend PBS is airing a documentary about the murder of my friend, Brad Will, a journalist who was shot in Oaxaca while covering an uprising. His camera was rolling when the sniper shot him in the chest.
But at this moment, we are still walking into the grocery store.
I ask, were you scared during the drill? She says, I was so scared I didn’t come back right away. I say to her, it sounds like you did very well. I’m proud of you. I’m sorry you have to do this.
Let’s pick out some grapes, I say.
I am grateful to the school and the staff for this heavy, heavy lift. I’m glad they taught my child how to run in a zig zag line, when to be quiet and when to scream. I can hold the truth that I do not want her to know this but I also very much want her to know this if knowing could make any difference at all in the split second decisions she will have cause to make when the wolf, rabid with hate and pain, comes through the door.
But secretly to myself I accept the harder truths that are otherwise. Because zig zag lines do not help if the gunman has an semi-automatic assault rifle. Because in any case she might be the child who bars the door, riddled with bullets to save her friends. Because she might be found draped over someone else’s body, and that other body is the one that is shaking but alive. Because maybe she survives but she doesn’t really, because what happens to a child who watches their friends and teachers bleed to death?
And as a parent, should I fantasize that she survives? Which of her classmates should die in her place?
There is bile rising in me. Raging that it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable that our children are burdened with the responsibility of learning survival skills inside their schools, how to turn their schools into barricades, because our society will not do the only thing necessary to stop this from happening.
We call it sheep, shepherd, wolf.
I look at her again. If we did not live in America, I would say she is innocent of the metaphor, and she doesn’t know how the wolf has only its teeth, how the wolf can spew no slivers of metal that would shred her spleen and liver. I would say the shepherd and the sheep and the wolf is a comfort, like a rhyme, or like a song.
I would say that, but it isn’t true. It isn’t true that she doesn’t know. She knows all too well that it is just a metaphor, and therefore, in part, a lie.
Just like she already knows about the middle passage.
Just like she already knows that most adults are not to be trusted.
We don’t call it active shooter, she says. But she knows that is what it’s called.