Friday, February 10, 2012

What Lockdowns Tell You

Sometimes it's a disturbing thing, to be more writer than person.

Today there was a lockdown at my school - no one got hurt, the threat wasn't carried out, but we didn't know that at first, all we heard was the loudspeaker saying, "This is not a drill."

So, I thought as my friend called her mom from my phone, as the masses of students milled around to the northwestern gate of the football field, to where we'd all been evacuated. This is what it's like, when you first hear of a threat.

You think: no way, this kind of thing can't happen to me.

You think: oh, come on, it's Friday. Nothing bad can happen on a Friday.

You think: my last normal class was PE.

You think: it's a good thing I have a book with me.

You think: I'm not going to die without at least finishing my lunch.

You think: glad I'm not one of the ones who had to leave their backpacks behind.

You think: no one's taking this seriously. Why are they talking so loudly? Why don't I tell them to be quiet?

You think: it's because this doesn't feel real.

You think: I'm going to dissect this and put it into a story.


Sitting with the lights turned off, the guy to your left playing games on his phone and the girl to your right texting her mom. Ahead of you, a book that tosses around the words "deadly" with a glibness that you find you can no longer appreciate.

Thinking about someone you worry about, someone who you haven't seen since fourth period, someone who you'd break into a fortress to rescue, and hoping that that someone is all right.

Wishing you were taller as you and your friend try to find the rest of your class on the football field.

A moment that's the closest you've gotten so far to fear - people behind you pushing, shoving to get to the gates, and tripping over your feet and stumbling and finally, finally regaining your balance.

Standing back as others wait in line to get signed out, standing with your best friend from two years ago and thinking that it is a shame how far you've drifted. But not so far that you can't loan her your phone, can't pat her shoulder reassuringly and say of course she can stay at your place until her mom can pick her up.

Glimpses of people you know, who you didn't know you cared about until you see them safe, and then the relief that is like a cool breeze.

A bloom a gratitude when your sister's friend calls out to you over the mass of people that she's safe, too.

Then anger - why can't you wait? We're responsible for them, they're coming with us until their parents can get them from our house, stop walking so quickly, stop talking about how calm cool collected you were, you're leaving to go get bagels with your friends, are you serious? There will be that person: composed, and insufferable.

Rumors flying around you like swarms of mosquitoes. The story: someone - a name, you hear a name - sending an email to the staff, saying "I've got a bomb."

Ask around, and no one knows this person. Go home, and with the friend who you're taking care of look through last year's yearbook. Not there. The address book from this school year. Yes, there he is, there's the name you heard. Double check with the school email system - yes, you could email the suspect if you wanted, you could.

No one knows him. No one knows him. A story runs through your veins, and sparks down to the paper as you flip the pages of your yearbook, searching for traces you know you won't find.

So that's what being a detective feels like.

Drinking peach tea, trying to play the good host, offering pretzels and seaweed and sesame squares.

When your friends leave, going to the computer. Looking up the name of your school, and the word lockdown. Read the news articles, which are all the same, which don't tell you anything you didn't already know except that the suspect was cooperative. Yes, of course, you think. Who'd use their own school email address to send a bomb threat? He must have been framed.

How? And how is it that no one seems to know this person? You flip open the yearbook again, see all sorts of people you didn't know go to your school. What happened to him? To her?

For the first time, you do fear. Not the split-second panic when you thought you were going to get trampled, and then righted yourself. It is not a fear that adrenaline will help with: you're not scared, just paranoid.

No one knows him. No one knows him. How easy it would be, how easy it is to slip through the cracks.

And because you are a writer, while one part of you fears, while one part of you feels the earth shifting - Judas floors, you think, having just read The Traitor Game - another part of you nods, takes notes on the numbness, the disbelief, the glint in the darkness on rulers the troublemaker holds in case he has to fight, the swarming masses, the school empty as a broken eggshell, the horror of anonymity, the fear, the fear, the fear -

One part of you nods and thinks: yes, I can use this. Yes. Yes.

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