Michelle Martin

What am I to say?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

When I heard the news about the shooting of 19 fourth graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, I was at work. I came across a tweet, just saying that that there was an active shooter at an elementary school.

I didn’t pay much attention. There are plenty of school shootings in the United States: 331 since the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, 24 so far this year alone, according to the Washington Post.

The last one before Uvalde was here in Chicago on May 17, an accidental discharge of a gun left in an 8-year-old’s backpack at Walt Disney Magnet School. One student suffered a graze wound.

Anyway, when I saw the tweet, I hoped that it would turn out to be like that, one or two injured, a blip in the national news. I had work to finish before leaving to pick Tess up at school.

But when I got to her school and checked the news before the bell rang, it was clear this would be worse. Fourteen children dead, the headline said, and at least one adult.

I didn’t say anything to Teresa when she came out and got in the car. I didn’t say anything when we got to the house, and she took some time to rest while I continued my workday from home.

When we left for swim practice, she told me about the fire drill at school that day, and how much she dislikes fire drills and lockdown drills, how she tries not to go to the bathroom at school because even now, in sixth grade, she is afraid the alarm will go off when she is alone in the bathroom.

Her teacher told the class what to do if a lockdown drill happened when they were in the bathroom when she was in kindergarten.

I didn’t say anything after swim practice, letting her play her music in the car instead of turning on the radio.

But I couldn’t avoid the topic anymore when we got home, and President Joe Biden was on the television, trying to comfort a grieving nation. By then, the numbers were in. Nineteen students, all in the fourth grade, and their two teachers, as well as the 18-year-old gunman.

She watched the president, but then we turned off the news. We hugged her, and sat with her while she did her homework, and eventually we went to bed. My Facebook feed was full of friends who are parents, mostly of younger children, wondering how they would send their kids to school the next day.

I didn’t reply to any of them, because what could I say? You just do.

I sent my older kids back to elementary school the Monday after a 20-year-old man killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and I sent Frank back to high school and Teresa back to elementary school the day after a 19-year-old gunman killed 14 students and three faculty and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

That’s not even considering the other mass shootings, at festivals and concerts, at a Walmart or in a neighborhood supermarket.

I can’t say that this time things will change, because they haven’t yet. I won’t say things will never change, that we as a nation will never find the moral courage to do something to restrict access to high-powered weapons capable of killing people by the dozens in a minute or two, because that would be giving in to despair.

So I don’t say anything.

The next day, when Teresa left for school, I told her I loved her and to have a good day, as I do every day. She said the same back, as she does every day, and bounced out the door to the car where her dad was waiting.

For her, this day was no different. This is just the way the world is.



  • gun violence
  • family life