Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:05 PM
rbennettucm (11 posts)
The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting - A Different Perspective
Last edited Sat Dec 22, 2012, 02:22 AM - Edit history (1)
I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Stockton in 1984.
My house was steps from Billy Hebert Field and the silence of the off-season, catty-corner to the sorrowful tolling bells of St. Luke's Cathedral and it's daily mass, spitting distance from the endless sprawling paradise of magnificent Oak Park and it's many distractions...and three short blocks from my community elementary school; Grover Cleveland. I would have been there that year as a kindergartner were it not for the school district's age/birthday cutoff for incoming kids: Age 5 by December 31st. As a Friday the 13th baby born in January, I was barred entry into school within Stockton Unified that year. However, my clever parents stretched the family budget to the farthest reaches of solvency to afford kindergarten for me at a private school where there was no silly cutoff. They were all too happy to accept a precocious 4 year old, and her parent's money, for the one year I'd be their charge and then I could transfer back into my district, into Cleveland, and around that pesky age rule, the following spring.
Even though I had never attended as a student, Cleveland grew to be ever present in my mind as I started to understand the ramifications of transferring and began to recognize the looming certainty; that my first schoolyard friendships would not transfer with me. And then I turned 5 on January 13th. We had a birthday party with all my new school friends at my house on NORTH California Street - a cul-de-sac continuation of the main road that dead-ends at the southern edge of Oak Park but spills over again on the north side of Fulton Avenue, just a stone's throw from Sutter Street that borders the park on the west. Hardly anyone knows of THAT California St. and several of my new kindergarten friends' parents got lost on the way to my party (despite my having written down directions and included a hand drawn map in every invitation). Everyone was late and I was distraught, but even if everyone had been on time, January is such a terrible month for a child to have a birthday party. The freezing Tule fog had only just dissipated by the time guests were scheduled to arrive and still the icy mist of morning hung in the air and dulled all the world in wispy grey spray so that even the pinata that dangled indoors from the apex of our living room's unfinished ceiling studs (thanks to an adoring father's clever pulley design) seemed muted by another dank winter day in the Central Valley.
I not-so-secretly wished (out loud) that I had been born in any one of the 10 other months that would have granted me occasion to have my first BIG KID birthday party at the park - the one I could see from my roof! - instead of sad, gloomy, cold, damp January and the poor indoor-party consolations and approximations of the preferable, but seasonally restricted, birthday extravaganzas. I wished. But it was still my party, so I wore a maroon crushed velvet dress with long sleeves and cheap lace at the wrists and hem - the only dress I owned since I usually wore whatever was easiest to pull myself into that wasn't already caked in whatever filth I accumulated from my last excursion. The delicate bow adorning the hair band I wore was a shade or two darker than the pink streamers that draped in twirled, lazy lines across the room, but that I had managed to plan accordingly to a color scheme at all was clear evidence of my amazing progress in my quest to understand "girly" things - a huge success. The party favor bags were tied shut with curled ribbons and I counted them over and over, again and again until my first guest arrived. This was the moment I knew I was officially a big kid; the moment my friend - a friend I made ALL BY MYSELF and not through my mom or dad, and not some cousin or other family member, but my very own friend - had come to my house, a house that was so very hard to find, for MY party, a party that was NOT going to be at the park, on a gloomy Sunday in the middle of blustery January all to celebrate my being 5! And it was because I went to school that I could have this party. I was reinvigorated. More kids showed, some didn't, and we played silly inside games my dad made up, ran around my house like wildlings - shrieking as we went, even managing to make some sport of the weird ceiling-mounted pinata.
By the time I started to hand out the favor bags I had almost forgotten that I was destined for another school soon - one that each of my friends and their parents would drive past on their way back to the fancier neighborhoods they lived with other well-to-do people who sent their children to expensive private elementary schools, as a rule. I was the exception; an interloper; temporary. My friendships were based in that other community and this had been the first time my home life collided with my budding social life and future exceptions would be exceedingly rare. I wonder what they saw as they drove west on Fulton and maneuvered beyond the awkward disjointed intersection at El Dorado Street on their way to Pacific Avenue where they would meet the scenescape of U.O.P.'s outer edge. I wonder if any of them noticed the unremarkable elementary school they would have had no other earthly reason to be driving past but for this party at a house in a neighborhood far from Quail Lakes Estates. I wonder if they glanced at the deserted playground of a winter weekend and thought it strange that it had no rear fence. Our private school had one. Maybe they were too busy fiddling with the curled ribbons that kept secret the contents of the favor bag I'd handed them as they left. Maybe they were too busy chattering about my party and how much fun they'd had. Maybe. All I know for certain is that when they passed, and they must have passed, by the school, which they may or may not have noticed, having just left a celebration of childhood, doubtless still spinning from the sugar overload and buoyed by the frivolity and silliness and innocence and an entire afternoon of childish play, there remained fewer than 40 hours to be enjoyed in the childhood of each student present on campus when the gunfire erupted - and for 5 innocent kids there were only as many hours to be lived at all.
I turned 5 on the 13th of January. On Tuesday, January 17th, 1989 five children I might well have been celebrating with at my party that Sunday before - my classmates, had the circumstances been only ever so slightly altered - were brutally slaughtered in a hailstorm of gunfire and chaos. I wasn't there. I had a different life outside of the community I lived in. I was in the community I was on loan to, my parents paying for the privilege to have me among the privileged and while I was safe that day when lunchtime came and I set out to play on a playground far, far away from the horror of Cleveland, I could not escape the proximity of my home to the aftermath and the pure terror I felt rip through and shred some part of my own innocence when I came home later that day (though certainly not as catastrophically as my would-be schoolmates at Cleveland). Everything was different overnight. I went from a 4 year old who had many questions for her parents about the presidential race between Bush and Dukakis ( such as why it should be a requirement of someone who wants to be president that they be a fast runner? Aren't there other qualities that we should prefer in a leader? ) to a newly minted 5 year old who understood ,much too soon, that safety is measured on a sliding scale and that terrible things happen everywhere and can happen to anyone. Even to children. Even in the places we feel most at ease. Even at home. That 5 year old knew something no child should ever have to learn, but many do; this life is fragile and fleeting and random. I didn't know anything about the scale or scope of the grief that ensnared the nation or the fury the followed. I only knew I could hear the wailing of the mothers of the dead as they held their days-long funerals rites behind my house, at the Cathedral. I knew that news people were blocking my route to school, that we drove another way that took much longer, and that I subsequently had more time to remember why we our lives would never be the same. I only knew that the fences that went up at all the schools were permanent, that they didn't make me feel safer, but that it was probably better than nothing to keep dangerous people with really big guns and really poor mental health away from the places we children would congregate. I knew nothing of the debates over guns. I knew nothing of the 2nd amendment or the NRA. I knew nothing about assault weapons classifications, or banana clips (Purdy had several still loaded on his body), or 100 round drums (like the one Purdy did most damage using). I doubt that any of that would have mattered to me even if I had known and understood.
Somehow, the longer I spent trying to make sense of what happened, the less sense any of it made. I talked to my parents and teachers and counselors for hours at a time attempting to glean insight, understanding, and closure, but none would come. I feel often that I have gained none still. Some things can't be classified and categorized so that they might fit within the boundaries of our limited understanding of the world we know PRECISELY because the world we know is dramatically altered as a result of whatever is it we are trying to force to fit. There had been no single incident like Cleveland before and we, as a society I think, had no basis for comprehension much less compartmentalization. Sadly, in the years since Cleveland Elementary was brutalized there have been a great many school shootings - and there are now many shortcuts we are comfortable taking in the grieving process in order to quickly classify and categorize the horror so we can move on and try to forget how vulnerable we feel when events exceed the limitations of our reason. We begin to circulate new, fake, terminology for coffee table pop-psychology and complex human traits are then reduced to buzz words that elevate the importance of trivial characteristics and qualifiers such as "Bullied," "Goth," "Narcissist," "Terrorist," "Attention seeker," "Reader of The Anarchist's Cookbook," etc. These fractured traits are woefully inadequate for the task of encapsulating the essence of the WHY?! Equally impotent are the silly sing-song oversimplifications of gun control advocates frequently heard in harmony with the screeching of the gun rights advocates and their absurd wishlist of deregulation and arms proliferation. Such attempts to reduce the multidimensional plague of school violence to some single causal source can bring us no closer to true comprehension of that which is largely incomprehensible. Running to our respective corners and yelling back and forth about political wedge issues is much easier and more familiar than acknowledging the powerlessness that results from our ignorance and incomprehension, but the politics of the moment, no matter how passionately they may be argued, cannot right what has been wronged or salve the wound that only time and distant perspective can heal. I also wish for easy answers, but there can be none. I, too, want desperately to believe that we have it figured out and can all rest a little easier knowing that we can, and will, prevent future atrocities, but this hope is a fantasy, and this proposed eventuality is an illusion borne of despair and dissimulation . That is not to say that there is nothing to be done, not at all; much should be done, and it should be done immediately, to quell the rising tide of gun violence. Unfortunately, the process will likely be unending and our victories will likely go unnoticed - like the innumerable daily successes of vaccinations, we are not easily persuaded that there existed a danger if we never had to face it. Still, it is my great hope that we will confront the issue head on with our best and brightest at the helm. It is critically important that we keep the honest intellectual conversation far away from our wildly feckless politicians, their inanity, self-importance, and especially their abundant desire to turn good ideas into hollow legislation.
May those who are suffering in Connecticut and beyond find the fortitude to journey through this time of incredible grief and begin to construct their new versions of normal with as little distraction by the political punditry as possible. May they each, in the face of such pressure and persistence by the rest of us, be unyielding in their determination to rebuild and repair and see the rest for what it is; fear and insecurity of those who've not had to suffer the losses, fear their inability to guard against joining you in such sadness, and will do and say almost anything if it would afford the power of foresight/ability to preempt misfortune - even though such intuition and ascendancy are not nearly possible. My thoughts are with you and your children. I wish you peace.
12 replies, 1196 views
The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting - A Different Perspective (Original post)
|Jack Rabbit||Dec 2012||#4|
|Jack Rabbit||Dec 2012||#7|
|Ms. Toad||Dec 2012||#9|
Response to rbennettucm (Original post)
Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:10 PM
NYC_SKP (61,533 posts)
And I'm glad you are here to tell about it.
I fear that very few here in Stockton even remember that day, sad to say, and that even fewer across the country do.
I remember all of it well.
Response to rbennettucm (Original post)
Sat Dec 22, 2012, 12:08 AM
CaliforniaPeggy (111,238 posts)
2. What an amazing first original post...
I am in awe of your skill at telling the joys and terrors of your childhood.
Thank you, and I look forward to reading more of your posts...
Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #2)
Sat Dec 22, 2012, 02:59 AM
rbennettucm (11 posts)
3. Thank You
I must credit JackRabbit and his thread "The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting and the Persistence of Memory," for inspiring the tone and direction. I've been feeling for months that I needed to write out my experience, but I was having extreme difficulty getting started...being authentic. JackRabbit's sharing of his very personal journey gave me exactly the right push and I'm glad that my words were focused enough to reach someone and land.
Again, thank you for your encouraging words.
Response to Jack Rabbit (Reply #4)
Sat Dec 22, 2012, 03:09 AM
rbennettucm (11 posts)
5. They were well deserved, no thanks necessary
It was because of your post and my well timed Google Search that I found this site at all, not to mention the rest. I am deeply grateful for the inspiration you provided as well as leading me to exactly the right place to share it. I feel much lighter now that I've purged what I've been so long waiting to get out...
Thank you, again, JackRabbit.
Response to rbennettucm (Reply #6)
Sat Dec 22, 2012, 04:03 AM
Ms. Toad (11,699 posts)
9. Kicked and Recommended.
Usually done as a post without any content, for the purpose of moving the thread back onto the first page of the forum. (Any new post moves the thread back to the first slot on page 1 of the forum.