POINT OF VIEW: Parkland hits close to home

Some people stop off at the corner pub after work for pizza and beer. That’s OK for weekends, but doughnut shops are everywhere on my way home and also serve — who knew? — green tea and bagels.

A few days ago, I placed my order and asked the kid behind the counter the same question I’ve been asking everyone I meet since Feb. 14: What should we do?

The young man didn’t answer that question. What he said was that a friend had been shot, and, then he touched his chest and neck, or maybe it was his stomach and shoulder.

I started shaking my head because this was not registering, and he answered my next question almost before I finished asking it: She’s in the hospital, he said.

I kept asking questions, because, I guess, once a teacher, always a teacher.

If we were in northern Palm Beach County, how did he know someone nearly 50 miles away? He had family in Boca Raton and had met her during a visit. Was she going to be OK? As far as he knew; friends down there were keeping him updated.

After that, I mostly sipped and listened. When a customer walked in or he tapped his headset to let me know there was a drive-in order, I carried my cup back to my table and tried to think of something to say.

I learned that this was a part-time job, that he had a 4-point-something GPA and a scholarship to an out-of-state university where he would get started on a medical career. I congratulated him, and we shook hands.

He said he’d decided he might as well study because his mother rarely let him out of the house, except for school and his part-time job. He didn’t like guns, but he didn’t think a ban would do much good because there were already so many out on the streets. I wondered if that had anything to do with his mother’s house rule, but I didn’t say so. I told him what I always told hard-working, accomplished kids — that he was lucky to have her as his mom. He agreed.

Like many South Floridians, I will never come to terms with what happened in Parkland. I will keep emailing and phoning and speaking up. I will try to focus on that handshake. But I will never stop wondering what kind of country it is where you can walk into a doughnut shop and, when the kid who takes your order says his friend has been shot, you find you’re relieved to hear that, although it should have been just another school day — grab the backpack and head home — at least she’s safe in the hospital, recovering.

I did not ask him that question. I guess we’ll both find out.


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