I was on the phone with my daughter Amy last September, early in my granddaughter’s second-grade school year. She said, “Simone came home from school and told me they did the lockdown drill today.”
I remembered her first year there, kindergarten, in the big old building that sits squarely in the middle of a block on a precipitous hill, and the day I was there for Halloween. All the girls and their teachers were in costume, gathering to walk in a bunchy line around the block and wave to parents and friends lining the sidewalks of the parade route, when the fire alarm went off. Solemnly following the adults’ directions, the kids filed out and sat down in pairs on the sidewalk around the corner. We visitors were noisily commenting that it was an odd time for a fire drill when two fire trucks pulled up and men in full gear jogged up the stairs and went inside. It got very quiet.
It was quickly forgotten when, fifteen minutes later, whatever had caused the flames in the kitchen was handled, the handsome firemen drove away, and the giddy parade of tiny lions and witches and ghosts skipped and straggled around a block as crowded with cameras as any Hollywood red carpet.
“She said it’s her favorite drill,” said my daughter.
“Why? What’s a lockdown drill?” I asked, beginning to feel cold.
“She said it’s because they only do it once a year, not like fire drills or earthquake drills. She said Mrs. D___ told them they don’t have to practice it as much because it’s not likely to happen.” Amy’s voice became Simone’s, speaking those five words with reassuring sincerity, exactly like her teacher had. I pictured her slowly shaking her earnest little head, her cheeks soft as milk.
I remembered the first few times I went with Amy to pick up Simone from preschool at Temple Emanu-El, how the young man in the dark suit stood with his hand on the locked gate, how he read my badge that said “grandmother” and my name and how he looked into my eyes, how I saw in his that he would, without hesitation, use the gun in the holster under his coat and offer his life to save the three- and four-year-olds chasing each other and pedaling cartoon-y plastic cars in the courtyard behind the bulletproof-mesh-covered fence.
“She said the lockdown drill is really easy. The teacher locks the door and closes the blinds on all the windows and the kids go to the corner of the room farthest from the door and sit on the floor as close together as they can get with no space in between. The teacher sits on the floor too, between the girls and the door.”
“Jesus,” I breathe.
I remembered Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School and Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson and Buford Furrow, Jr. at the Jewish Community Center in the San Fernando Valley. And, oh, god, James Huberty at the McDonald’s in San Diego near the border and all those witness statements I had reported in the living rooms of stricken, sobbing family members. I see little limp bodies smeared with blood, hear thin voices crying. I imagine Simone’s fear-twisted face, asking a question for which there isn’t an answer.
“Mrs. D___ said they would have to know how to do a lockdown if maybe there were a bank robber who was running away from a bank on Union Street and decided to come into the school and hide. That way, with the kids all locked in their rooms, the police could go through the school and find him and take him away to jail.”
“Ah, I see. The school is just a convenient hiding place instead of a target-rich environment,” I say. “That makes me a lot less worried.”
“Exactly,” said my daughter, “and it seems to have satisfied the second-graders, at least, who didn’t seem frightened by the idea of a bank robber looking for an empty closet to duck into, kinda like hide-and-seek.”
“We probably don’t want to know what they told the eighth-grade girls.”
We were quiet for a few dark seconds.
I said, “It might be a while before I get the picture out of my head of a maniac with a shotgun and a sack full of oily handguns and ammunition stepping slowly down the second-floor hallway, looking into the classrooms at the huddled kids in the far corners, deciding. But I’m glad they explained it so the kids aren’t picturing that, scared out of their skins.”
“I know. Me too. I mean, Simone likes the lockdown drill, let’s remember.”
“I still don’t exactly get why. Is it just because they don’t do it very often?” I asked.
“I think she liked the part where they’re all squished together on the floor and especially that the teacher is sitting there with them. Oh, and she did say that Mrs. D___ said that if the lockdown went on for a long time, the teacher might leave the room to go get the kids something to eat.”
“Ah, food. There’s the good part,” I smile.
“Uh-huh. You and I will be having nightmares about this for days while Simone is happy that they have what amounts to a cozy snack plan.”
“What a kid.”
Posted in: children and grands, favorites, human beans
Tags: adobe soup, bad guys, bank robbers, buford Furrow Jr., candace mann, columbine, cozy snack plan, dylan klebold, earthquake, elementary school, eric harris, fire drill, granada hills, gun violence, gunmen, halloween, innocence, james huberty, jared loughner, jewish community center, kid parade, lockdown, madmen, mass murderers, naivete, school violence, second grade, simone, violence
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