I planned to work on my piece for the reading the next day, eat a nice dinner, but instead I lay down and I did not get up.
I took two advil ever two hours, and still my jaw beat and streamed with pain. I found some old mouthwash and swished with it. Over and over.
That night I woke up every two hours and took more advil, and I wasn’t sure it was helping. I had been so energized to march, but suddenly I was stilled. I started googling and calling dentists’ offices on the phone (a true sign I am in trouble, as I’d rather do almost anything than call anyone). I found a dentist open on Saturdays.
I lost my debit card last week, so I was going to have to go to the bank, then go to set up signs at the March for our Lives, then go to the dentist, then go back to the March.
This sounded reasonable as I sat on the couch between my sisters, eating the overboiled macaroni one of them had made for me.
In the morning, this was no longer reasonable.
My mom took me to the dentist, my sister went to do the duties I so badly wanted to do.
The dentist gently injected my gum, we waited, and when he returned, he had the offending tooth out before I realized it had happened. Out. Gone They don’t show it to you. They just say, “Doing okay?”
I was doing okay. It was at least the 6th tooth I’ve had pulled.
My mom took me to get my antibiotics. I shuffled along with my mouth full of cotton. She drove us to the March.
I got there. I got there and was cold, but heard the kids speak. And had my signs. And said hi to some friends And my gum stopped bleeding. I sat down on our blanket and leaned on my sister and closed my eyes for a bit. I was so cold, I asked if we could go to Winstead’s, a Kansas City hamburger institution.
I was not up to marching, cold and woozy from the infection, and I decided this was all right. Instead of marching, we set our signs in the window and the march marched by us. About 25% of the restaurant cheered when they started by. The table next to us also set up their signs. People waved at us, and cheered. Someone apologized to the waitress, because shit was kind of crazy, and she said, “I’m glad they’re doing it!”
I sipped my milkshake since I couldn’t use a straw. Dry socket.
I wished I could have done it all myself. Instead, it took my mom, my sisters, and about 4,999 other people.
These things, thankfully, we can’t do by ourselves, no matter who we are: the president (thank God), a senator, a charismatic teenager with a fire in the belly.
I was driven to a gathering of teachers, afterward, and I got up to read some writing about two of my former students who were shot. I could have done a much better job. If I had been able to keep my mind clear, the night before, if I had rehearsed my reading as much as I usually do. It was okay. I got to read. I got to say something about them. I am so glad I know so many people who wanted to listen, and to talk, about this particular pain that cuts through our country, again and again.
This is what I said:
Our students were rarely silent. During the PSATs, and on the very rare occasions Coach punished them with “silent lunch.” They certainly were never quiet in the gym, where we had pep assemblies. I only attended pep assemblies when the principal directly directed me to. Pep assemblies featured pounding music, screams, and as a special bonus, microphone feedback.
But that day, our students sat looking like wax figurines. It was the Madame Tussaud’s of our school, our faces a little too thin, eyes unlit, mouths loose and closed. Our social butterflies were pinned, static. Our class clowns were bare-faced.
Darreon was dead and Eric was paralyzed. The only sounds was Darreon’s girlfriend. She sobbed softly, then she wailed, and it sounded so private, so primal, I felt guilty for intruding.
Dead people look waxen. Eric was not silenced by medication, his spine clipped. He would need medical care for years.
The gym was not quite our gym. It was an imitation of our gym, a what-if come true. After years of cousins and siblings and parents being shot, now it was one of us. After all the anti-violence talks, the coaching in conflict resolution and making choices.
I held a white coffee cup with a black lid, took a sip of coffee and chicory and half and half, and then I thought: I can’t drink this in here. No food or drink in the gym. Of course no one cared.
I had taught Romeo and Juliet as a conflict between fatalism and free will. Shakespeare would not have been pleased. Romeo and Juliet could have chosen differently. Could they? Have not chosen to argue with or antagonize the kid with the gun? To drive faster? To not go to that game? Or did they, literally, take the bullet for someone else? I’d never know. Romeo and Juliet, I said, should have waited. Waited on their parents’ approval, waited for hte friar’s message. “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast,” the friar said. No one listens to the friar.
I had the students choose parts each day. Everyone could get a chance to read the part they wanted. Except for Eric. Eric was always the Prince. He wanted that part. It suited him.
Some adults spoke to the kids, as if we knew what to think, to say. No one had to tell the kids to be silent. They had been silenced.
In that moment, the kids were silenced.
They aren’t any more.