I’m not yet a year and a half into my career. It will be 2 1/2 years until I lose my first student, my first lovely, to bullets. I’ll be told I’m lucky it took that long.
It is December 2012, and on this particular Friday morning, my lovelies and I are huddled in the corner of my classroom. In a few years, when we do this, it will be because we’re hiding — as far away from the door as we can, silent and still. When that eventually happens, every time I will feign calm, and every time, because I never know if it’s a drill or a disaster, I will text my family.
But this morning, the first of winter, we’ve pushed desks away and pulled chairs together. We’re watching “Of Mice and Men.” “Yo, the book was better,” a lovely in the class before this one had said: A welcoming song to any English teacher’s ears.
Now, at the beginning of second period, sitting among my lovelies, I scan the room. I want to know who is where. I want to know what they’re doing. That they’re okay. I think only of what’s happening right now, and what will happen in a matter of minutes: the nationwide moment of silence at 9:30, one week after the tragedy. I’m not thinking of what already happened. Of the 26 killed, nearly all in classrooms. Nearly all six years old.
When we hear the announcement that it’s time to pause, to honor those who should not be dead, someone stops the movie. The room, the school, maybe the whole world, is in quiet mourning, but my mind suddenly thunders with thoughts. Of the massacre last week at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Of the lives lost damn near daily in Baltimore. Of the burdens my lovelies bear over and over, again and again, without nearly enough outcry.
I bow my busy head, seeing hands reach for one another. My vision blurs, and I recall, during his speech last Friday night, the president lifting a single finger to his eyes. I’m about to wipe my own when I realize both my hands, already, are held.
I let the tears sting. That day, and this one — over a decade later, when we’ve had so much time, so much reason, to change. But it feels like nothing has.
Kerry Graham is a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.