When I say, “Goodbye, have a good day” from our car in front of your school, I don’t really mean that. I mean, instead, “Please survive.”
I hope after the shooter climbs the eight-foot-tall chain-link fence and runs across the grass field paratrooper style where you played dodgeball earlier that morning, that your classroom door is locked. When he shoots through the window, I hope that you’re out of range, sitting near the floor in the class library’s beanbag chair, reading a book about saving the bees because, as you know, so much is in jeopardy.
And, if in spite of the flaccid barriers we’ve put in place to protect you while you learn how to multiply, to write a persuasive essay, to be kind to the new kid, you still find yourself balled like a fetus under your desk, please pretend you’re hiding from me. Pretend I’m coming to squirt you with a water gun, hand-feed you a carrot, or tell you that you’re in trouble for leaving dirty socks on the kitchen counter. Pretend you’re waiting for lunch, ravenous, wondering what I packed. Imagine a feast of cotton candy.
When he breaches the vain mist of “thoughts and prayers,” and he stands in your classroom like the militiamen in the video games we won’t let you play, pretend it’s Halloween. Think of Sweet Tarts, rotten teeth, and the little worries we talk up to hide our leviathan fears.
When he announces, “Goodnight,” think of moons and stars and how we let you stay up late wearing those hideous glasses to watch the lunar eclipse. When the shots fire, pretend you’re under a cloud of chrysanthemum fireworks, or you’re dancing to a song I disapprove of, or a percussive-driving beat is playing behind you as you sing to a stadium of fans.
When your teacher lies on the floor near the row of honor roll certificates she’s pinned to the wall, pretend the class is outside on a beach field trip and she’s resting in the sun, working on her tan. Pretend she will sit up for a drink of water and spill it down her blouse like she did her mug of coffee that morning. Pretend teachers are human, too, because it was hard enough seeing her in the grocery store the other day.
As friends fall, pretend they’ve tripped over a sandcastle on that same beach while running and whipping belts of seaweed in the air like flags. Pretend they’re going to pop up as you get close and throw wet sand in your face and reverse the chase, a mad dash into the water you feel cooling you as you lay next to your motionless best friend.
Pretend life is cinema in which praying hard brings people back. Pretend resurrection happens outside of scripture. Pretend there is a movie crew to clean you, feed you, and make sure you get paid for all you endure as the leading actor in a movie nobody can bear to watch.
Pretend all the holes in your classroom will be repaired overnight, a week tops, like the time the room flooded after a monsoon and everything was replaced and you got boxes of new books.
Pretend something good will come of this. Pretend you and your best friend will be like, “Wow, close call,” and you will dance together and shake this day off like sand, like water-gun droplets. Like it’s a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.