Here’s something funny. Not funny ha-ha, not at all – funny weird. Or maybe not funny at all in any way. Maybe just depressing.
Planning your 20th high school reunion (not just that part, although that’s weird enough on its own, as is the notion that I am involved in planning a high school reunion) while watching all of these high school kids from Florida speak so passionately and eloquently about the need for some kind of gun control – and remembering so clearly that Columbine happened just a year after I graduated.
I also remember that there were at least four school shootings my senior year, 1997-1998: In Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oregon. I wasn’t really worried about any of them; I was worried about getting into college, picking the right dress for graduation, fighting with my boyfriend. I knew everyone at my high school, and I had no real enemies, and it just wasn’t on my radar at all.
It was on my mom’s, though. I remember her crying about the Arkansas shooting in particular. “They were just so young,” she kept saying, referring to the 11- and 13-year-old shooters.
“Yeah, it’s sad,” I said dismissively. “But Mom, it’s fine. It wasn’t even in Louisiana. I’m OK. It’s fine.”
Then Columbine happened my freshman year in college, and that one got to me. Maybe it was just the sheer number of students killed, or maybe it was because I was watching so much of it live in my dorm room, or maybe it was because the initial information about the gunmen (much of which turned out to be wrong) made me almost oddly sympathetic to them – I was friends with the trenchcoat-wearing anti-jocks in high school.
My main thought in the days after – because I was a cynic even then – was that I was so glad I wasn’t in high school anymore. Because it was really obvious to me that what would change would be how students were treated – more restrictions on the kinds of backpacks you could carry, more zero tolerance policies regarding ill-advised jokes that immature teenagers are prone to making, more security that makes it feel like a jail instead of a school – and nothing about guns.
And then, years later, came Sandy Hook, which knocked me to my knees because my child was the same age as the victims, and I suddenly understood what my mom had been feeling back in 1998.
I briefly had some hope that Sandy Hook would change things, that this would be the turning point, that something could change after 20 first-graders with sweet eyes and gap-tooth smiles were murdered in their classrooms, along with six devoted adults trying to protect them.
I don’t just think it’s a gun problem. It’s also a culture problem. But I don’t just think it’s a culture problem. It’s also a gun problem.
And now I watch these Florida kids, so young, so full of righteous anger, and I am cheering them on, but I also want to protect them from having their dreams crushed. I know that sounds patronizing, but I am so doubtful and discouraged that anything is going to change.
My parents both called me last weekend in tears after watching Emma Gonzalez’ speech. They were so hopeful. I’m not hopeful, not really.
I don’t know if it’s because my parents are older and wiser and lived through the civil rights movement and saw that change can happen, even if it’s never perfect, that progress can be made. I don’t know if it’s because I came of age in an era of school shootings and thus accept them as inevitable, intractable issues. I don’t know if it’s just that even as a toddler I was more of a skeptic than my parents.
As I plan my 20th high school reunion, I realize that so many things have changed. I was an ambitious neurotic teen who wore short shorts and drank too much coffee. Now I’m a complacent neurotic mom who wears knit tops and drinks too much coffee and wine. I’m a PTA secretary. I wear glasses and have stretch marks and crow’s feet. All of my peers have changed, too, in ways both physical and emotional. Our high school – and in fact our entire hometown – has been destroyed and rebuilt.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is gun laws.