My Mom And My Boyfriend Are Teachers. Every Day, I'm Scared They Won't Come Home.

"That’s why I’m telling this story. Not because it’s mine, but because it is every American’s."

Every morning before my younger sister and I left for school, our mom told us, "I love you." It was the last thing we heard before dashing out the door. 

Even on the days when we'd had a fight because of something that must've felt so important at the time but doesn't matter now, she never let us leave the house without saying "I love you." Always a bit of a worrier, when my mom said "I love you" it wasn't just because she did, but because it might be the last thing she ever said to us. 

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On any given day, something dangerous could happen to us, though I'm sure she was mainly concerned with bus and, later, car accidents to and from school. She wasn't worried about what might happen once we got there. School was a place that she, as a teacher, felt comfortable, safe. A place that wasn't so much a place but a part of her identity as inalterable as her dark brown hair or hazel eyes. 

That is, until the day a bomb threat was called into my high school. It turned out to be nothing more than a threat, but it showed the cracks in our rural, middle class, supposedly safe community. 

If something so sinister could happen there, it could happen anywhere — and it has.

On Feb. 14, 2018, "I love you" were the last words my mom and I exchanged before ending a phone call. That shouldn't be notable, but it is only because of the 17 other people who also told their parents, their siblings, and their friends "I love you" for what they never imagined would be the last time. 

"I love you" is also how I sent my boyfriend, a teacher at a charter middle school in Brooklyn, off the next morning. It's something I did long before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School because, just like my mom, I can't help but think, "What if?"

What if it's the last thing I ever get to say to him? What if it's the last memory I get to hold on to? What if that's all I have?  

It's not enough, but I say "I love you" anyway because the alternative is unthinkable.

Because every day, I’m scared that two of the most important people in my life won’t come home.

When someone asks me about my mom or my boyfriend, "teacher" is often the first word I use to describe them. It's more than what they do; it's who they are. The word fills me with pride, but fear, too. 

My mom is a teacher at the kind of schools, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, where "this kind of thing doesn't happen," despite the relatively easy access to — and high opinion of — guns in Pennsylvania. I grew up in a hunting community and culture, the second amendment right so respected that the first day of hunting season was considered a school holiday. 

While Pennsylvania is ranked the 33rd most gun-friendly state by Guns & Ammo, even a cursory glance at the laws shows they are rife with loopholes. It doesn't matter if a person under 18 can't lawfully possess a handgun (without proper supervision) because in 68 percent of school shootings, the shooter got the gun from a parent or close relative's house, according to a federal study examining 37 incidents of school violence between 1974 and 2000. 

 Katie Ward / A Plus

My boyfriend is a teacher at the kind of school where "this kind of thing happens all the time" on the street perhaps, but not in the school itself. Long before the Parkland shooting, his school implemented additional security precautions, though he and his students do not have to walk through metal detectors, like so many others in Black communities and communities of color. 

For many other minority students in low-income neighborhoods, systemic racism has made it more likely that they'll pass through a metal detector than their better-off and white peers —  even if the schools are equally safe, according to findings by researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of California, Irvine based on a study of nationally representative school data. While the reasoning may vary, these are the prison-like environments in which many Black and brown children grow up. 

It's important to acknowledge that while a mass school shooting in a White, affluent, gated community has brought the topic of gun control to the forefront of our political debates, Black children were killed by firearms at 10 times the rate for White children and Asian-American children, between 2012 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Overall, firearm-related fatalities are the third leading cause of death for U.S. children, according to the CDC, but the Children's Defense Fund reported that in 2010, 45 percent of child gun deaths and 46 percent of gun injuries involved Black children and teenagers. 

For too long, too many communities have had to live with the fear I’m only now experiencing.

As I write this, in anticipation of the March For Our Lives and in the wake of the shooting at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland, I know that no school is safe. 

In 1985, 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, a Black elementary student, was killed in gang crossfire while walking to Jenner Elementary School in Chicago. That incident was so devastating it made national news, but Dantrell Davis and the family he left behind is not who we think of when we think of a "school shooting." 

Instead, we think a school shooting only occurs when a "safe" place is made unsafe. But the pervasive nature of American gun violence has proven that safety is an illusion. The schools where "this kind of thing doesn't happen" are no more — and may actually be far less —  "safe" than the schools where we're told "this kind of thing happens all the time." 

We need to stop pretending there is anywhere “this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen.” There isn’t.

There is only where these things happen, and where these things happen more often — until we decide there isn’t.

Katie Ward  / A Plus

I can only write about what I know, which is limited by my privileged perspective, but everyone knows someone who, on any given day, might not come home because of gun violence. 

While mass shootings may only account for 1.49 percent of gun deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 37,353 total gun deaths in 2016. The majority — 22,938 — were suicides. The other 14,415  are Americans who will likely be killed in gun homicides this year. 

A disproportionate number of victims will be people — specifically men — of color. Black Americans make up 14 percent of the U.S. population but, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Research, are victims of more than half of all gun homicides. That's before taking into account the nearly 2,000 police shootings annually in recent years, where Black people, like 22-year-old unarmed Stephon Clark, are far more likely than their White counterparts to be killed in encounters with law enforcement.

Firearms also play a key role in intimate partner homicides, with more being committed with guns than with all other weapons combined over the past 25 years. In 2011, more than half (53 percent) of women murdered with guns in the U.S. were killed by intimate partners or family members. When a firearm is accessible, those with a history of committing domestic violence are five times more likely to murder an intimate partner.

It should be noted that domestic violence is a frequent factor in 57 percent of mass shootings (61 of 107 incidents) in America, as Everytown for Gun Safety has determined that in 61 of 107 incidents, the shooter killed a current or former spouse or intimate partner or other family member. And while women only account for 13 percent of victims of gun homicide nationwide, they made up 51 percent of mass shooting victims between 2009 and 2014.

All told, the total number of gun deaths and violent injuries in the United States will near 100,000 this year. Compared to the average estimate of just over 100 people who died each year in mass shootings (defined as incidents in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter) from 2009 to 2016, my fears seem unfounded. As The Guardian rightly points out, "The US could end all mass shootings today and its rates of gun violence would still be many times higher than other rich countries." 

That’s why I’m telling this story. Not because it’s mine, but because it is every American’s.

Because when you look at the racial disparity, the suicide rate, the tie-in with domestic abuse, when you look at the ways this uniquely American form of violence has become ubiquitous, baseball is no longer our national pastime. Shooting each other is. 

Even so, it's not easy to grasp the everyday implications of gun violence until it happens to you. That's why mass shootings aren't just massive in their destruction, but in their reach. You may not know someone who lives in a community of color. You may not know someone who has suicidal thoughts. You may not know someone with a violent partner. 

But everyone knows someone who goes to nightclubs. Everyone knows someone who goes to concerts. Everyone knows someone who goes to the movie theater. Everyone knows someone who goes to church. Everyone knows someone who goes to school, whether to teach or simply to learn. Everyone knows someone who, on any given day, might not come home — because none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

On Feb. 19, 2018, students held a die-in demonstration at the White House protesting the government's  inaction on gun control, in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Shutterstock

We can all tell a story about gun violence. That's the problem, but it's also part of the solution. If you can march on Saturday, you should. If you can donate to organizations advocating for common sense gun control, you should. If you can vote, you must.

But when thousands of people are killed by guns between now and November, you may feel powerless. You may feel scared. That's when you tell your story. Tell it to your friends, your family, but most importantly, your legislators.  

There may be futility in sharing stories with those who don't want to hear them. I understand that, but I can't stay silent. So consider this my open letter to my legislators in both the state and federal Senate and House of Representatives.

Lindsay Geller / A Plus

It probably won't change anything; I know that. My vote is my real voice, and I'm prepared to use it come November. 

But in the meantime, I'm a writer. I like words (three in particular). I like to believe they have power — to brighten someone's day, to broaden someone's perspective, to tell someone you love them, to bring someone home.  

Cover image via Shutterstock / Nicole S Glass.


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