You know what I was doing while the shit was hitting the fan? I was giving gentle reassuring smiles to a class full of first graders.
My daughter, Boots, is 6 years old (3 days short of sharing a birthday with Newtown victim, Jack Pinto; his mom was probably going into labor as we were leaving the hospital.) Boots developed this cute little habit of wearing big fluffy sweatshirts and sweaters and when she'd get cold, she would pull her knees up to her chest, pull her arms out of the sleeves, and sit curled up all warm and cozy with everything but her head tucked inside of her shirt. She was doing that at her desk on Friday, when suddenly she lost her balance and slipped right off her tiny first grade chair, exacting a full face plant onto the hard tile floor.
Her teacher said she was very brave, as she pulled herself turtle-like back out of her hoodie and picked herself up. It hurt, but not so much, Boots thought. Then, she looked around. All the children were gasping and had alarmed looks on their faces. They started talking about blood, and that's when Boots looked down at her hands that she had been wiping her eyes and nose with and saw that her fingers and the cuffs and her shirt were covered in blood. It was pouring out of her nose and mouth. I'm sure she started to cry.
The teacher quickly came to my daughter's aid, paged a helper to watch the class, and escorted Boots to the nurse's office where they removed the bloodied hoodie, cleaned her face, gave her ice, and called me to come and get her. My mother happened to be at my house when the call came, so we both climbed into her car and drove to the school. When we got there, Boots was lying on a cot waiting for me. Her coat and backpack were next to her along with the hoodie which someone had put in a bag. I filled in the sign-out form, collected my daughter and her things, and stepped into the hallway just as about 20 tiny first graders, in their nice 'straight as a first grade line can get' line were passing. It happened to be Boot's class and each child looked at her and then me with sad eyes and a furrowed brow which begged, "is she going to be ok?" One little girl put two fingers to her lips, the universal first grade sign for "I love you." A little boy stepped quickly out of line to give Boots a hug, and had to be ushered back by the teacher before any of her other students got the same idea and six-year-old chaos ensued in the hallway.
When their eyes met mine, I smiled reassuring smiles. She'll be ok. It's ok. Everything is going to be ok. No need to worry, children. No need to fear. It's all ok. Everything's fine. Everyone's safe. Everyone's well. I'll take her home and patch her up, good as new.
We went outside and climbed into Mom's car. Boots sat in the back with her icepack anticipating the Happy Meal that Nana had promised in order to cheer her up. The radio was turned down to an inaudible volume, and Mom and I chatted as we pulled through the McDonald's drive-through. We ordered ice creams to go along with our burgers and Bootsie's Happy-in-a-Box. I looked behind me and checked on her periodically as we made our way back to the house. Her nose was swollen, and obviously painful. I was worried and wanted to get her home, give her some Tylenol, and tuck her into the armchair with a cozy blanket and an episode of My Little Pony.
When we got to the house, I grabbed the Happy Meal box and Boot's backpack, helped my baby girl into the house, and said goodbye to my mom, completely forgetting the blood soaked hoodie lying in a bag on the floor of Mom's car. I got Boots comfortable in front of the TV, which at our house, rarely shows anything that isn't Netflix or football, and settled myself into a nearby chair to check Facebook.
And, there it was. News updates about Newtown were popping up about every other status. Details were still vague, numbers not yet reported, a grade school... young children... and as statuses were updated with more and more news, tears began streaming from my eyes. My stomach turned. I felt sick. Muscles tightened. No, no, no.
Eighteen kindergarteners.... no, 20.... six and seven year olds.... first graders. Six and seven year olds are first graders. First grade children, not mine, thank God, but first grade children exactly like those I'd just seen with concern in their eyes and two finger lip "I love you"s. Dead. Was blood the last thing they saw? "A parent's worst nightmare" is a vast understatement.
I couldn't hide my sadness so I told my children what had happened. Boots surprised me when she said, "I'd have run to the fire station. Some of the kids ran to the fire station."
"How did you know about this, Boo?"
"I heard it on the radio while you and Nana were talking."
I didn't realize she could hear the radio in the backseat. She knew about it before I did.
I spent Friday evening curled up on the couch watching Christmas movies, checking Facebook on my phone, and throwing away mountains of wet Kleenex. The kids curled up with me. Boots sat in my lap. We snuggled and giggled at the movies while I continued to check the news and secretly dry tears and wipe my nose.
The next day, my mom posted this to Facebook:
Took Bubbz to pick Boots up from school yesterday. She fell on her face and got a bloody nose. Left a bag in the car. I brought it in. It was the jacket she was wearing when she fell. The cuffs were blood soaked and the front blood spattered. I'm sticking it in cold water washing the blood out and listening to the news in the background thinking "oh my God, oh my God." Hearing all that tragedy while washing that tiny blood soaked jacket.... Just about done me in.So close, so close, so close, and only barely far enough away. Even though the distance is 743 miles, it was out the back door instead of inside the house. So close. Too close.