Columbine Essay

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He whistled his little whistle, picked up his book bag, and we trundled off. Depending on how late we are, we often wait in a line of cars, each nudging forward along the arcing drive, dropping one kid at a time in the single reliable designated spot. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill, but that was more than I could afford to help, so I reached for my wallet.

I nearly bumped into a tall man on the sidewalk holding a hat out in front of me.

I peeled off my clothes, lay down, and thought about my son.

Don't worry, I told myself, you'll know what's best. By TOM JUNOD The idea of losing a day bugged me from the start. I didn't understand how I could board a plane in New York City on April 19, 1999, and step onto the runway in Sydney, Australia, on April 21, 1999, without having to experience — to even pass through — April 20. Sure, I knew that I was basically flying far enough around the world to kiss the sun's ass as it fled before me, but still...

One of the chaperones farted in his sleep, and we boys laughed till it hurt. Late in the afternoon at some historic site, sky full of flurries of fat flakes, the girls turned on Mary and the boys fell upon John and stoned the outcasts to their knees with snowballs. I happened to have been throwing snowballs at cars at the time, plain luck. People say I'm crazy to drive that distance for a weekly wine class, but when you finda great teacher, you make sacrifices. I did a thousand stomach crunches, because when you're eating lunch at Daniel, you don't want to leave anything on your plate. I asked if she'd seen the documents I'd left on the kitchen cabinet so she could register our son that afternoon for kindergarten in the local public school. My son got on the phone and told me how his friend at preschool had given him a toy Superman. After I hung up, I wondered if it was best to take him out of his happy little preschool, where he'd made friends, and put him in a public school. A mother described awakening in her home to the screams of her children; one son was being beaten in a corner, another was on the floor with a soldier's knee driving into his belly.

Managed to get our hands on a little alcohol and tobacco, engaged in flirtations in the hotel halls. We were from Florida and couldn't take the excitement. I'm walking in the swamp behind my house with my dogs and something snags. The day before, I'd driven five hundred miles on hardly any sleep and arrived in New York exhausted. I told him I loved him and that I'd start back as soon as the wine wore off. She'd just come back from the Balkans and was talking about what she'd heard from Kosovar refugees. You can almost understand a kid going berserk for three minutes and spraying the cafeteria with bullets. And I thought about the intensity, the need for intensity so intense you have to stage it. But as I waited to introduce myself to the winemaker after dessert, I felt that same old pang. It's not just three minutes of losing your mind, like I think the last one was. And the kids coming out of the mosh pit, coming out bloody, and their friends hugging them because, thank God, thank Jesus in heaven, they got out of there alive. Because, anyway, we're adopting from China, have already sent the paperwork in. They shot the black kid in the face, they are saying. I'm not equipped for this image, this image of a daughter I don't yet know shivering under a desk in the library when the berserk kids come in. She should have a brother who doesn't play sports there with her. I want it just like all those people in the waiting room at the fertility clinic wanted it, the waiting room with the big fish tank with all those beautiful, bored fish. The swamp is full of prehistoric fiddlehead ferns unfolding for me as they did for the dinosaurs. It's ninth grade, we're all on a train, a field trip to D. There are these two kids, call them John and Mary (which happen to have been their names), least popular of all, two Christian souls among the lions. Dessert was a warm bittersweet-chocolate-and-banana tart with creamy caramel-banana sorbet. "A lot less than a second." "Like an eye blink," he said. I leave only when I'm sure this man has said hello, when he's used my son's name — Gus — to welcome him in. Just before climbing out, he showed his cards, asking his real question, the thing he's worried about. " "I don't think so." I shook my head, pursed my lips as if it were a reasonable proposition, and said, "No. When I gave him the one-dollar bill, he was too crushed to say thank you. Now another robot was riding the hawk, beating it on the head, taunting the hawk as it careened downward. "I think a snap might be longer." "You can't measure a snap," he said. I watch until he passes the principal, who waits at the doors every day, greeting each child by name, drinking his coffee from one of those massive mugs you see nowadays. "Oh, man," he said, "I haven't eaten in a long time," and the gauntness in his eyes told me he wasn't lying. The building was a school, I could see, and then I could really see, everything thrust forward all at once, in a light I can only think of now as bronze and absolute. And for one moment, for however many countless slices of a second it took, I had this thought: I know those bricks. There were letters at the bottom of the screen, smaller pieces of the story, telling me things, large things. Hell with it, I told myself — you teach him where to put his apostrophes. Then I noticed that the screen had an unusual clearness, and the building was too new, and there was a huge parking lot of the sort you'd never see in Kosovo, certainly not nestled next to a blossom of three baseball fields. We leave our children there in the face of all we know about things, in the face of all the things they will learn there. and a lot of other things that didn't make me feel too good about today's registration. As I walked, I thought about how I'd graduated from a public high school without knowing where to put an apostrophe. I wondered if my son would pay attention in a public school. Made them weep till they howled and the snot flowed. I closed my eyes and said a prayer for Paola, a seven-year-old girl who recently lost her sight and is trying to hold on to her life after a bone-marrow transplant. I made phone calls, dressed, and headed to the restaurant for the eleven o'clock tasting. So, yeah, I go back to high school sometimes, just a little while, most days, April 20 being no exception. It'd been a long time since I'd gotten twelve hours. I don't know what later became of Mary, but John Schmidt only made it a few years beyond high school, and then he blew his brains out.


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