I first knew Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as the dream school in Parkland my mother wanted my sister and me to attend. We were fortunate enough to be too poor to afford housing in Parkland, so we attended a school 30 minutes away in Boca Raton. I now know Douglas High by its stone walls that trap the echoes, screams, and terror that ripped through its halls last month.
As the horror unfolded, I sat calmly in my AP Language class, writing. Suddenly, I jumped at the screech of the fire alarm, much like the one Douglas High had experienced earlier that day. Moments later, a second fire alarm in Parkland rendered students confused, their confusion quickly turning to terror. As I packed up my school bag to go home, students at Douglas High hid in closets and cowered under desks; teachers shielded students and protected their children; bullets grazed and killed both.
I only knew once I got home and saw footage of police outside of a high school I imagined was far away — I was wrong. The volume was muted. While children ran through the halls and wove around the corpses of their classmates, I was handed chocolates on the couch as a Valentine’s Day gift. Their horror was muted. Still, I heard them.
The next day, I went to school clad in red. Everyone did. Our neighbors were weak and bleeding, so we traded our gold colors for their red, and we stood with the strength that they could not summon. Children arrived at school fearful and tense. In every class and during every break, our conversation shifted to our fallen families in Parkland.
In fourth period, we learned of reports of gunfire at a school within walking distance of us. We had family there, we had friends there. Fear rose in us. For 10 minutes, conversation broke our math lesson as we tried to get word from our loved ones. Cops were parked outside their school in Coconut Creek. Relief washed over us when we learned the report was a false alarm, but anxiety lingered nonetheless.
During lunch, we watched videos on SnapChat of police cars outside of our friends’ classrooms. Parents flooded the main office with pink slips to pull their children out of school. The humid air turned tense.
During fifth period, my gym class was cancelled and we were herded into the gym to keep us from lingering in the fields, in the halls, in the locker rooms — vulnerable. Children called their parents to go home, and the air filled with a cocktail of grief and anger and fear. Our friends, our families were in danger. The pain of our communities invaded every electronic device in the country. Adults criticized children on Twitter for being Generation Z kids, only capable of taking videos for the internet, never mind the flood of calls to the police. The leader of “America the Brave” placed the blame on the community, still suffering the tragedy of 17 shining lives ripped from their grasp. The leader of “America the Brave” would rather talk about mental instability than AR-15s in the hands of children. The leader of “America the Brave” would rather send prayers and wishes than keep assault rifles out of the hands of civilians. The leader of America the Brave would rather be a coward.
What happened 30 minutes away from my school is an absolute tragedy. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, families and friends are suffering from unutterable anguish. An education is not guaranteed in this country, and neither is the safety of our students.
I should be worrying about my chemistry project, I should be worrying about the SAT, I should be worrying about my upcoming AP exams, I should be worrying about all of the artwork I still need to complete for my portfolio, I should be worrying about applying to college; I should not be worrying about whether or not I will see my sister at the end of the day, I should not be worrying about if my mother knows that I love her despite my shortness with her, I should not be worrying about who would tell my father that the last moment he would ever get to kiss his daughters passed two months ago, I should not be worrying about the ghastly song of an assault rifle tearing through the blood-curdling screams of my classmates — just because I went to school.
No patriot can watch the grotesquely regular massacre of children and decide prayers will suffice to heal the damage.
You want to make America great again?
You start with the uniquely American slaughter of students.
You do not turn away from America’s murdered children.
You do not cast blame on weeping communities.
You act like a patriot.
America’s children are screaming.
Can’t you hear us?
What happened 30 minutes away from my school is an absolute tragedy.