I had all intentions of going to the March for our Lives.
I rescheduled brunch with my friends to dinner the Friday before so I could go. I grabbed poster board, thought of signs in my head, planned what I was going to wear. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up early enough to make a good breakfast and fill up on coffee before heading down Saturday morning.
But when I woke up, I knew I couldn’t go.
I thought back on the morning of 12/14/2012 when I found out about the shooting at Sandy Hook. Two kids that were in my group at the camp I worked at were fourth graders and I immediately thought of them. I thought back on being thankful I had a half day at work because my brother was visiting. I remember the bus ride home feeling extra-long and finding out via Facebook that my previous vice principal was the current principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I thought back to patiently waiting for a list to come out with my brother before we even thought of going out for the day. I remembered how relieved I was that none of my kids were listed. We kept the news on like it was going to give us some sort of fresh information or closure, only to find it was a horrific field day. We mutually decided that we would turn it off for good after President Obama’s speech. I was able to talk to him about my guilt surrounding my relationship with my vice principle. For so many years, I villainized her only to have her give her life for her students. A few nights later we went to a vigil held in the West Loop and stood with our mayor, Jesse Jackson Jr. and fellow Chicagoans. We heard mothers speak about the children they lost to Chicago’s gun violence and met a man who was awkwardly standing alone, noticeably not from here. I asked him where he was from, and he said he was from Ridgefield, the town next to our hometown of Danbury, CT. He mentioned that he was traveling for business and heard of the small vigil online. In a sea of Chicagoans who knew about the dangers of gun violence, the three of us stood there to represent our little part of the nation.
I couldn’t sleep for weeks after the event. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids I knew who had their innocence stripped from them. My heart hurt for the families who weren’t as lucky, and for the grieving town. I thought about my rough relationship with my vice principle and felt horrible for her husband, a kind and adored teacher at my second middle school. Christmas was quiet that year. The streets were filled with memorials and wreathes were filled with angel ornaments and green ribbons. Green ribbons were worn everywhere – whether we were out at our local bar or at church for Christmas Eve mass. Everyone was a lot quieter and more aware of the people around them. The East Coast felt a lot more like the Midwest, everyone was slowing their pace and holding longer conversations.
All of this came back to me rather surprisingly Saturday morning. I wanted to go out and walk for my vice principal and my sister in law’s community but I couldn’t put myself there. While I had people I could go with, I felt like I would be alone. I couldn’t motivate myself to go to the march and be the only person I knew with a more intimate relationship with the issue at hand. It was different than any other march – with the other ones I felt like part of a community, but this one I felt like I was going to be alone. There aren’t many people from Fairfield County in Chicago, and while I knew there would be others impacted by violence there, I just couldn’t bring myself to march alongside my friends who didn’t fully understand how I felt. It wasn’t their fault, and I would never wish the feeling upon anyone else, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go. If I had a family member or friend from my hometown, I’d go in a heartbeat. If the march were in Hartford instead of Chicago, I could even go alone. But I couldn’t even muster up enough strength to see everyone’s Facebook and Instagram posts. I stayed off social media for the day. I just couldn’t go there on Saturday. As a person who is already walking down memory lane in writing about how I treated my dad at that age, I couldn’t revisit the words I said to and about my vice principal. I just couldn’t open that box. So I stayed home, worked out, watched a lot of dumb TV and went to the grocery store.
I’m not proud of not marching. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the individuals impacted by gun violence who spoke, went to DC and showed up in their own cities. I know that it’s not easy. It’s exhausting. After five years of demanding action, we’re still fighting the same fight with little progress and more victims. I do feel like it’s different this time. I think the energy of the teens who are coming to the forefront, both in Florida and Chicago, is going to be a steady and resilient force. Instead of sinking back into their everyday, they make this their number one priority. Without jobs or families to juggle, they can focus their time not spent at school on this issue and get a lot more done than adults can.
While I feel shitty about not going, I’ve made peace with it. I understand that sometimes our best intentions are met with reality and that we need to take care of ourselves. That there will be people to stand in for me. After spending the weekend thinking about it, I decided that I needed to find a different way to help. For me, it usually comes in the form of writing. It’s my way to get my message out to my community. To hopefully make them think a little about what they can do. And I realized that by speaking about it, I’ve inspired others to be actionable where I couldn’t bring myself to. And at the end of the day, that’s something.
We all need to find out where we fit within the issues that are important to us. Where can I actually help? Maybe it wasn’t marching. Maybe if I went downtown, I would have found myself a helpless mess and hopped right back on the El to head back home. So instead I spent the weekend thinking, listening to podcasts outlining the teens talking about gun violence in Chicago, and figuring out a way to help within my new community. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is a young person killed every week within blocks of my apartment. It’s mostly senseless gun violence. Kids killing kids over territories, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking too much like someone with a hit on them. So many of the victims are between the ages of 16 and 21. They’re children. But their deaths go unnoticed because of their race. If they ever make the news, they’re labeled as thugs instead of children with lives ahead of them. It’s horrific, disgusting and just unfair. Kids shouldn’t be afraid to walk home from school.
This morning The Daily had an episode interviewing Chicago teens who are working against gun violence in their neighborhoods. One of the kids said that he was angry that no one cared before kids in affluent neighborhoods starting getting killed. They met with the Parkland kids, who heard their grievances, and committed themselves to working to ensure the kids of Chicago are heard. I recommend listening to it. It made me realize that instead of feeling so far from home when these things come around, I can find a way to help prevent the gun violence happening in my own backyard.
And when all else fails, we just really need to fucking listen to these teenagers.