I had the day off today, and was finishing my Christmas shopping.
I was dragging through it, not much in the mood. My life had been upheaved by Sandy, and little seemed like Christmas at my house. My block is still a depressing mess. Nobody has decorations up. Half the families we know and love aren't living there. Rebuilding is taking longer than expected, and I hated it. The top floor of my home, where six of us are living, including my mother, is cluttered and cold, perpetually dirty from sand and muck tracked in and out. Patience and tempers are wearing thin. I am sick of not feeling normal.
Waiting in line at Walmart, I decided I was bagging sending cards this year. Who would blame me?
Then the woman in front of me turned and said "Did you hear?"
Oh god. Now what? Locusts?
"There was a shooting in a school in Connecticut. All these kids dead."
"What? Really? In a college, I guess?"
"No! Little kids. Elementary school."
She looked away as she put a coffee maker, a box of Legos, and some boots on the counter.
"So sad. I feel like calling my school to check on my kids, but that'd be crazy, right?"
Before I could compose an answer she was handed her receipt and was gone.
An elementary school? Why? Who? Little kids? It's always high school or colleges, isn't it?
Grade schools seemed sacrosanct, a haven of the best of your childhood memories. I had trouble wrapping my head around it as I walked to the car.
I had a couple more errands to run, but all the while kept trying to remember whether my daughter's elementary school doors were always locked. Did people have to be buzzed in? I thought so, but being a full-time working mom, who visited the school during the day relatively rarely, I couldn't remember for sure.
In Toys R Us, there was more chatter in the aisles: "Maybe it's part of a terrorist plot. Maybe there will be other schools."
I truly did not think it was part of a terrorist plot, but just hearing the words "other schools" made my mind race, trying to remember the details of the entries to JFK Elementary School. Where was the back door? Was that locked? Did it lead to a public area?
I checked the time: 3:20. My 9-year-old's bus dropped her off at about 3:35. Barely enough time to get home if I didn't hit any lights. I had set out that day knowing I might be a little late for the bus. But I didn't give it a thought. It would only be a few minutes, and I'd left the front door open. I had taken her routine safe arrival home casually, for granted.
Now I was running every orange light, trying a new route from the mall, guessing it might shave a minute or two off the ride. Suddenly, I could not bear her stepping off the bus with nobody to greet her. What had I been thinking? What kind of mother was I, not even considering whether I'd be home in time for a 9-year-old's bus?
As I approached my neighborhood, her bus was in front of me. I tailgated it down to the block before mine, when it made a right to loop around. I was able to pull up into my driveway before she stepped off. I saw her at the end of the street, stepping off alone. Not the usual gaggle of kids, since most of my neighbors were displaced. She slogged toward home, not looking up.
"Amelia!" I called.
She looked around, as if she didn't trust her ears.
Then she saw me and came running, arms outstretched.
Yes, corny, but that's what happened.
"Mommy! Why are you here? You're never here!"
She's way too heavy for me to carry, especially with a back pack, but I did it anyway. All the way up the steps into the top floor of my high-ranch.
"I just wanted to see you. I'm happy to see you."
Only one tear, easily wiped away, escaped. Not bad, considering.
"Don't cry mommy! Our house will get cleaned up, and grandma will move back downstairs. I keep telling you it will be OK!"
"No, baby. It's not that. It's nothing. I'm fine. I don't care about the mess. I'm a lucky mommy."
"You ARE a lucky mommy. Because. You. Have. ME!"