Youth Ed is an op-ed series by the student-run digital space, Yellowhammer Youth, that seeks to highlight what Alabama public schools are not teaching.
I can’t stop seeing it. The blood, I mean. It’s the same every time: crimson red, hot to the touch, and gushing from the heart. Sometimes it is my best friend, sometimes even my favorite teacher, but most of the time it is me. I follow every step of every drill I’ve ever learned, they’ve locked all the doors and shut each window; yet there I am on the floor, frozen in time, another front-page for the news. I wish someone could see me; I wish someone could stand in my shoes.
I have memorized every outcome of this scenario because some primal survival instinct won’t let me forget it. I beg for it to splay across my mind as I sleep, destined to be effortlessly forgotten upon waking and yet this is rarely the case: this dream will forever haunt me with my eyes held open. Second block really brings it out of me. Maybe it’s because of the general carelessness of my teacher or that two-fourths of our classroom are floor-to-ceiling windows but either way it flows from the depths of my subconscious like a worn-out movie reel where I always seem to have the starring role. I know the kids that sit beside me feel the same. I heard them talking during the first time we had our drill that year, “what if they break open a window? Do you think the lock will hold?” The truth is that this fear is neither a stranger to us nor are we foreign to it. It has us by the very tethers of our souls, forcing our thoughts and movements into a systematic rhythm akin to that of ancient tradition and yet it presents itself so new with each flare.
The fear that I will be the victim of a school shooting is an ever-present third party in my life, weighing in on each and every decision that has brought me to this very moment. I see the gun when I wake up, I feel its bullets when I kiss my mom goodbye each morning, I hear its powerful blast as I drive into the parking lot and I taste that metallic flavor only blood can supply with each bell that rings. I live daily with the guilt that I have begun to sort my friends into a list of who I would die for and who I wouldn’t. I eat less food knowing that it will be easier to fit in cabinets that way, just as they did for Sandy Hook. I tip-toe around each student, never knowing if the next Dylan Klebold will be the quiet boy in the back of the class or my curious lab partner who is always getting into things. My biggest secret is that my most prominent characteristic is a fear that was never meant to be my own.
In Alabama, this terror is tripled; each citizen either has a gun or knows someone who does. Our administrators can even have them at school. Don’t misinterpret me, for I do not wish for all guns to be taken, I just wish for someone to stand in my shoes. I wish for them to realize that if prayer can’t fix this fear it most definitely won’t solve this threat. I wish for them to stop saying that “all lives matter” except for when it’s students on the floor. I wish for them to know my fear. I wish for them to have each hiding spot in whatever building they frequent most mapped. I wish for them to know this pain as I know it, creeping, controlling, all-encompassing. But again, that is never the worst part. It is the fact that we are not understood by our legislators or heard by our officials. It is that they do not even try. They sit in their distant offices down in Montgomery and they look at these tragedies all around us and they say nothing. They, along with our teachers and our administrators and our school boards. They do nothing. They only try to plan for when it happens, not how to stop it. They will also be the only ones shocked when it happens here too.
In some macabre way, I find it ironic that he always goes for the heart. No matter what class we’re in or how we try to hide, he senses it with laser precision. When the natural pulses are replaced by bullet after blazing bullet and the memories bleed out as carelessly as they were made, he knows that final beats will be for everyone slain not only to a gun but to a careless administration. My momma used to say that the definition of insanity was repeating the same actions and being surprised by getting the same result. By this logic, we’ve all gone mad. If we keep treating this as the stagnant issue that it definitely is not, we will never get that safer result we are all hoping for. So, Alabama, will you be the change? Will he get the final judgement for lives you were too absent to value? And when that day finally comes for me, a member of our state’s youth, a cornerstone of America’s future, when I fall lifeless to the ground at the hands of inaction, will you will wish you had listened to me? Will you wish you had stood in my shoes?
This is dedicated to those that have been folded in with the waste, to those we lost. It is also a plea for something more for a country that has always prided itself on being something better.
Written by: Olivia Blanton / @o.blanton / @just_olive99
Edited by: Isabel Hope / @isabama / @isabamahope