I keep having this dream.
I’m sitting at my desk, at work, and my phone rings. The caller ID tells me it’s my wife, Rachel. I answer the phone with an upbeat hello and there’s the heavy silence of someone who’s there but cannot speak. After several attempts to collect herself, she says we need to get to our son’s school. There’s been a shooting.
Time jumps, the way it does in dreams, and we’re in the car and we’re trying not to have a wreck and we are a wreck and we’re at the school and students are spread out across the front courtyard, looking lost and confused, and parents are calling out names and searching faces, trying to find that one that is, in those few moments, all they care about and all they know.
We’re parking our car and we’re out of our car and we’re a part of those parents and we’re calling his name and we’re not seeing that face that is partly hers and partly mine and a police officer is walking towards us with one of Harrison’s teachers and the officer will not look away and the teacher cannot look us in the eye.
I wake up in a cold sweat, my heart racing, my eyes wet. I try to take a breath and when it finally comes I remember that my son is asleep in the next room and everyone is safe and my life is good.
It is then that I remember those parents who go from a sleeping nightmare to a waking one, the realization that their child isn’t safe asleep in the next room — their child is gone — and no one seems to care enough to do anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
So it happens again, in school after school, and city after city; students that protested the causes of the last school shooting wind up victims of the latest one. My recurring nightmare is our recurring nightmare. We keep saying “Never Again” again and again and again.
I think about how difficult it has become for me to go to sleep, knowing what may await me, and I think about how difficult it must be to go to school, knowing what may await them.
We send our kids to school knowing there might be a monster lurking, locked and loaded and ready to go off. Our politicians’ “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow, but only because they’re offered with the same smile and wink that accompanies a whispered “don’t let the bedbugs bite.” They don’t treat the threat like it’s real. They think it’s only a bad dream. But it is real. And so our thoughts and prayers are real. Thoughts of parents like us, with children like ours, who ought to be asleep in their beds rather than buried in the ground. Prayers for the parents like us, and the children like ours, that the nightmare will stop recurring, and we’ll finally be able to rest in peace before we rest in peace.