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I wasn’t there the day my school went on lockdown and eighty percent of the students in the school district left early, but if I was, I imagine it would’ve been something like this.
I walk into school with my best friend, trying to explain to her, for the umpteenth time, the appeal of reality television. We make our way upstairs to the middle school section of the secondary center - because for some odd reason, our town doesn’t have a separate middle school - and pause when we reach our lockers. The narrow hallway is crammed with our classmates, just like every day, so we cough dramatically from in front of our respective lockers to get them to move out of the way. A few lockers down from mine, my friend taps her foot impatiently. Finally we gain access to our lockers, grab our books, and walk into homeroom.
Having stopped mid-episode summary before, I continue to babble about some show she doesn’t watch. I stop mid-you-would-not-believe-who-went-home at the tenseness in the room. Our homeroom teacher is standing next to her desk with a few of the other seventh grade teachers. It’s more than standing and chatting that they’re doing though. There’s this nervous energy enveloping them, and one of them is rubbing at the back of their neck. Another‘s eyes seem to be involuntarily flickering towards the doors. I exchange a glance with my friend, a what-in-the-world look, but continue what I was saying.
As the clock ticks closer to the late bell, more students flood into homeroom, and I hear whispers about a gun. A gun, in our school, and the kid that has one.
“Didn’t you hear, he wants to shoot his friend? Holy c***, I wonder if they’re going to lock the school down,” someone says, practically bouncing in their chair, like we’re going to be on TV or something. Like this is a good thing.
“Are you sure? Maybe it’s just a rumor,” a girl asks, nervously tucking her hair behind her ears.
“Nah, I heard it’s a senior who’s after his ex-girlfriend,” a guy says, correcting the first person.
“Wait, are you guys serious? An actual gun?” I blurt, completely undermining my own feeble attempt at pretending to not eavesdrop.
For the next five minutes, I drop all pretenses, and listen to the gossip that’s around us all. It’s just like a drama TV show, only no one actually knows what’s going on.
When the teacher takes roll, we’re missing eight out of twenty two students, and even though I’m sure the whispers are just rumors, I can’t help but wonder what those kids who stayed home know that I don’t.
They’re not telling us everything, that much I’ve figured out by first period history class. I whisper to my friend, and she says she’s heard the same rumors, only she heard something about a partial lockdown of the school. I don’t really know what that means, but I know the word lockdown means nothing good. That’s only confirmed when I go to the lavatory and see twice as many hall monitors and teachers around the halls, almost like they’re standing guard.
We make our way through school that day like sheep, walking to our classes. And until fourth period, in spite of the nervous tension, no one’s really afraid. Because it’s just whispers, overheard by teachers and told by students. But by third period, an official announcement has gone out about the partial lockdown, and it’s in third period that everyone has slipped their cell phones behind their textbooks, texting their parents an SOS. Someone, please, save us.
Kids start trickling out of classrooms, as their parents come to pick them up. Each class has less students than it should. One of my friend’s classes is down to six kids. The hallways are easy to get through, as we’re no longer forcing our way through shoulder to shoulder.
We’ve been allowed in the hallways to go to classes or the lavatory, and that reassures me, because while our school may make mistakes, they’re not stupid enough to let kids roam the halls if there’s an actual gunman wandering among us.
The cafeteria has the same nervous energy rolling waves over the few of us who are left. Upon walking into the cafeteria though, all those kids whose parents had come to pick them up are finally noticeably missing. Half the tables are abandoned, creating a ghost town effect.
It isn’t fear we‘re feeling, because we all know well enough by this point that whatever is going on (because we’re all still not quite sure what is going on) is contained enough that we’re safe. It’s more like this darkness has encroached upon our naiveté, because this is the thing of TV shows, not something that happens to us, in our town, at our school. I laugh and make jokes, but still, the whole tables discusses the what-in-the-world feel of the day. It’s suffocating us.
Next period, even though I haven’t called my parents, even though I wouldn’t have been able to if I wanted to, because I left my cell phone at home, my mother picks me up from school. She had heard about the lockdown on the news, and one of my friend’s parents had called her, telling her that they were pulling my friend out too.
I’d thought my classrooms felt empty, but when my mom tells me eighty percent of the school district’s students have left, I’m still shocked. My mother goes to sign me out at the front desk, and we’re stunned - even though we probably shouldn’t be - by the line of parents down the hall. Eventually, the dozen or so harried parent scribble information in the sign-out book and head out of the school, followed by their kids. I nod at my classmates and friends, and we walk out of school, with the same quickness as the rumors had trickled in it.
The parking lot is packed. As I tell my mother about the strangeness of the day, her car, along with twelve others pull out of the lot.
Twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. And then there are none, except for the next round of cars rolling into the lot.
The above story never actually happened, and the details probably aren’t all that accurate in meshing with what actually happened that day. Whether an announcement about the lockdown and what was really going on ever went out, if any teachers told their students what was happening, what the actual whispered rumors were, who was nervous, and who felt safe, I don’t know, but that’s what I imagine it would‘ve been like to be there that day, when panic and rumors caused more than half the students of my school to no longer feel comfortable being there. It’s my picture of that day, pieced together by a hundred stories, and it‘s all I can imagine that day would’ve been like if I was there.
In actuality, a minute or two before I would’ve walked out the door to head to school that day, my mother got a phone call. On the phone was someone who heard from someone who heard from someone that there was a gun threat at our school today. She asked me if I wanted to go to school in spite of that. I shrugged, because I was thirteen years old, and really, who wanted to go to school if they didn’t have to?
Instead of going to school, I watched some TV, went on the computer, and wondered what was happening at school. My parents went out at one point, and when they came back, they told me they had driven past my school, and the parking lot was overflowing with parents’ cars. While eating lunch that day, I watched my classmates pour out of the school, as the news reported that eighty percent of my school district had gone home early.
No one really knew what was going on that day. All they knew was that the school was on partial lockdown. All I knew was that one of my friends said a kid had been in the hallways with a gun, which, of course, didn’t make sense, because no one would’ve been roaming the halls that day if it was true. But that’s what she had heard, and that’s what she knew, and that’s just one rumor that went around school that day.
Someone heard from someone who heard from someone. But what none of those someones had heard, was that a kid in town (Isn’t it strange that nearly three years later, I still don’t know his name?) had run away from home three weeks earlier and stolen his uncle’s gun. He had sold it weeks before anyone told anyone that a kid was going to come to school with a gun. It’s no one person’s fault that the nervousness spread so easily that day; no one wanted that to happen. In a way, it’s almost everyone’s fault, because almost everyone whispered something to at least one person.
It wasn’t a shooting. It wasn’t even close to a shooting. But a little sliver of my school’s innocence was gone. It’s the closest I think my safe school has come to not being one anymore. When some graffiti was taken as a terrorist threat the next week, the whole school had the day off, and every so often, on random days, some students have to walk through a metal detector to get in school, and even though it’s been more than two years, we still aren’t allowed to have backpacks that aren’t clear at school.
Even though it’s been more than two years, I still think about how ironic it is that the panic traveled through our school so quickly, like a game of telephone, - each person mangling the original story just a little bit more - when the kid everyone was talking about hadn’t even shown up to school that day.
I wasn’t there the day my school went on lockdown and eighty percent of the students in the school district left early, but if I was, I imagine it wouldn’t have actually been that big of a deal in the long run (After all, nothing happened), but it could’ve been.
And even though we all chuckle about how stupid and pointless all the panic and that whole thing really was, that kid could’ve really been in school that day with a gun.