The text message said “Kids’ school on lockdown shooter on the loose” and all the blood immediately drained out of my lips, my hands, my feet. I read it again. The blood pounded in my ears which was odd because I could feel it leaving my face.
I was in my office at school and some instinct told me I was not well, I needed help. I stood up and walked into the hallway. No one was there. Everyone was in class. I weaved towards the stairwell. Andrew found me. Sweet crazy Andrew who last year in Grade 9 English had discovered graphic novels and figured out allegory all on his own. Andrew who brought me that novel and said, “Miss, I really think that this bear and these lions mean something else.” Andrew who could see beyond the page to discover the unexpected. Andrew saw me. He saw beyond the teacher. His eyes widened in alarm and he ran to my side. “Miss, are you ok?”
No. There’s a shooter.
No, I’m not ok. There’s a shooter in my children’s school.
Finally, “No,” I said out loud.
Poor Andrew, gawky Andrew who had grown inches over the summer, put his hand on my arm. “What should I do?”
“I think I need a grown up” was all I could manage.
Andrew said, “I think you need to stay with me. Come on, Ms Potts.” He grasped my upper arm and led me gently not to the nearest classroom but, he later told me, to the nearest teacher he trusted. He knocked respectfully and when the teacher came to the door he said, “Ms Potts is not ok.”
I was not ok. My colleague came forward and my legs gave out.
I don’t remember much after that.
I was in my office. My colleague was there. She was giving me water.
I was in one of the good chairs. The principal was there. I was telling him about the shooter. No, he said, no, no shooter in a school. My phone. I showed them my phone. They saw the message.
They checked the computer. Yes, there had been a shooting. Someone was dead. I couldn’t breathe. Near the school, it was near the school.
It was not in the school. I could breathe a little. I took little breaths, I was gasping. “Breathe!” said my colleague. “Breathe.”
I breathed. I could breathe. I could hear. Shooting. Monument. Went towards Parliament Hill. How many shooters? Where were they? Not in the school not in the school not in the school. The voices told me not in the school not in the school not in the school. I could breathe a little. I could hear again.
I started to cry. I am crying as I write this, years later. I cried and then I breathed. My hands were trembling, no, shaking. My fingers were white. My chest ached for breath.
I sat there for a long time as we made sense of what was going on. The reports were unclear, hurried, breathless. But none of them mentioned a school. No shooter was in the school.
Our office was crowded, crowded. I needed to walk. I walked. The Vice Principal, the curmudgeon not the kind one, saw me. “Come in, come in,” he hustled me into his office.
“Why are you so upset?” he barked. He does not like upset; he does not like tears.
“My children,” I said. “Their school is on lockdown,” I said. “A shooting,” I said, “only one kilometer away.”
“Nonsense,” he growled. “None of our schools are on lockdown.”
“But this one is, this one…”
He was impatient. He does not approve of overreaction. He believes in data, in facts. “What makes you think that?”
The text. I told him about the text, the news.
He bristled, “News media.” Harumph, grumble, growl. “Let’s review the facts here, Amanda. There are facts.” He turned his computer screen toward me. “This is the Board’s current status of schools. You can see as well as I can that no schools are on lockdown.”
I was getting a little angry at him. His stupid growling voice. His insistence that he was right and I was wrong.
“I see that, but I actually don’t believe it,” I snarled back.
“Ridiculous.” His pronouncement seemed final. Then he looked at me, almost unable to understand that I would not believe the screen in front of me, “Hold on.” He picked up the phone and called someone. “Are any of our schools on lockdown?” he barked. “No?” He looked directly at me. “Ok, thank you.” He hung up.
“There. Now, use your head. The public, the media, they don’t know what ‘lockdown’ means. They think everything is a lockdown. ‘Lockdown! Lockdown!’ It makes a good story. It scares everyone. Look at you!” He was on a roll. “You know better. We have levels! We have plans! Here, for example, at our school we’re on ‘shelter in place.’ Does a reporter know what that means? No! No, and they don’t care. They write “lockdown” and everyone goes to pieces. Your children’s school is on “secure the school.” They are safe. You need to calm down.”
He paused for a breath. I was getting angry. I needed to calm down? *I* needed to calm down? To calm down! I felt my jaw set. Energy coursed through my veins. I was just about to say something rash when he interrupted again. AGAIN. He is always interrupting. Oooh… that man.
“Now. Have you eaten lunch? Can you teach next period? Because if you’re not going to teach, I need to get someone to cover for you.” He was no longer looking directly at me. He slid his eyes over and sneaked a peek at me. He waited.
I was mad and then I started to laugh. I was still a little freaked out, but I was no longer in shock. I’d seen the school status, I’d heard the phone conversation, I knew he was right – and he’d managed to get my blood pumping again. I thought about my Grade 9 class. I thought about how scared they might be right now – the news had shooters running all over Ottawa, though later we would learn that there was only one. I knew my room would be safe for them, and I knew we could talk about it. I took a deep breath and said, “Yes. Yes, I can teach.”
I stood up to leave, started to walk out, turned and said, “Thank you.”
He nodded, already distracted by the computer screen, “They’re fine, Amanda. They are completely safe and fine.” And he went back to work – and, carefully, so did I.
My children were fine. They were more than fine. Their amazing teachers, a mere one kilometer from a shooting that rocked Canada, carried on without telling the kids what was happening. The kids came home from school saying things like, “Guess what? We got to watch a movie today!” They didn’t have a care in the world. I hope that I can have their teachers’ strength in the midst of a crisis. I wrote their teachers and support staff a thank you note. It wasn’t nearly enough.
Slice of Life, Day 20, March 2018
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.