“I hate lockdown drills,” I texted him. I sat on the floor with my back against the wall and my knees pulled up to my chest. The buzzer had just sounded to alert us all of the drill.
“I can tightrope in and come get you,” came the response. I smiled, even though it wasn’t really the time or place to do so.
I was sitting in the corner. It was practice, that I knew, and yet it was so eerily quiet that I felt a bit out of sorts.
The kids were all following directions. I remember years ago – before Sandy Hook and Parkland – when we used to do drills and kids would nervously laugh or goof off. No one does that anymore. Sometimes, if I’m in a room where we would need reconfigure the room to hide better, the students will help me move furniture. They always do it silently.
I wish it wasn’t like this, of course. I wish that it was like a fire drill, where kids talk too much and we have to go between their lines and tell them “this is serious!” and that they need to pay attention. I wish it wasn’t something that they read about on the news. I wish they didn’t think it was a possibility that they might someday have to do a real lockdown.
But of course they do. And so do we, as their teachers.
The shooting at Sandy Hook happened on a Friday in 2012. I remember it well, because it was the day of our holiday celebration at school and I didn’t know about it immediately. But what I remember so clearly is how horrified everyone was. The following Monday, seemingly every parent in DC walked their children to school. Shawn and I talked about it that morning.
“I’m just so glad we don’t have to talk about this yet with the kids,” he said.
I agreed. Claire was three and Austin was one, so they couldn’t understand. “But someday they will know,” I said.
It was a terrifying thought for us, but at least we didn’t have to worry about drills for our own children yet. So, of course, Shawn turned his worries toward me. He wanted to know my plan for escape and he wanted to make sure that we were doing drills at school.
“Of course we are,” I told him. “I’ll text you next time we do them.”
So I did. The protocol at school during an actual lockdown would involve texting my husband, “I’m in lockdown and I’m safe,” before turning off my phone. So whenever we did a drill, I sent Shawn a text that read something like, “We’re doing a lockdown DRILL. This is my text to you. Over soon I’m sure. Love you.”
And then I’d put down my phone and huddle in the dark with fifteen teenagers.
But then there were the times when I didn’t expect to find myself missing him. When I thought I was okay and I could make it on my own, and then out of the blue I would suddenly feel so incredibly insecure without him. Or when I just wanted someone to text to say, “I’m here. I’m okay. Now someone else knows that.”
I had a long conversation with my widower friend a few weeks ago about exactly this. “Well, you can always contact me if something goes wrong,” he said.
I didn’t think much about it at the time. I have lots of people I can call or text, and I’m lucky to have a great group of friends. But when I sat down to huddle with my students, I thought about who I wanted to tell.
And so I texted him. “I’m in a lockdown DRILL at school and I want someone to text that I’m okay. So…this gets to be you.” We went back and forth for a couple of texts and he volunteered his tightrope line, which broke the tension a bit for me. I put down my phone and led by example, though the kids already knew what to do.
Eventually, the drill ended and I actually felt like it was a successful one. It helps now that everyone takes them seriously. But they always leave me a little shaken afterwards because I let my mind wander in those minutes when we are sitting in the dark.
When Shawn died, I wasn’t sure how I would survive. But I did, of course. I survived with a lot of help and a lot of support, but I survived.
So now, it’s not just about survival. I’ve got that mostly down, whether I’m planning my finances or parenting my kids or huddled in a room with a group of students I love. Now I just want someone to text when I’m crammed up in that corner of the classroom, silently listening to the students breathe in and out.
I want someone to know I’m alive.