by Meg Poulin
On January 6, 2021, in the middle of an insurrection at the Capitol, I had to peel myself from the T.V and take my youngest daughter to get her ears pierced. The piercing appointment at the Black Diamond was her best Christmas present, and we arrived jittery and flustered. While at the shop, I could not stop myself from checking the news feed constantly. We picked out earrings. We practiced breathing through our anxiety. I tried to tell her she was ok, but really, nothing felt ok. A woman was shot by Capitol Police, while they measured and marked my daughter’s earlobes.
My mind conjured up constant images of our elected officials on their hands and knees in their pencil skirts and suit pants, ties dangling around their necks. I wondered if they were crawling, dizzy with panic, between padded chairs, fumbling to text loved ones. The lawmakers, now the quaking prey.
On April 20, 1999 I was a junior in college in Utah. I was twenty minutes into my aerobics class when my boyfriend flung open the studio door and lifted me right off the floor. The class came to a halt.
“What school does your brother go to?” he said, voice breaking.
“Chatfield,” I said. He insisted we leave. He drove me home, sat me in front of the T.V. And there were my neighbors, Clement Park, Columbine Library. On CNN. People I grew up with, weeping with reporters. The United States made its free fall into mass school shootings with Columbine High School, in my hometown.
My mother at that moment, was sitting with hundreds of distraught parents waiting in agony for news of their children, still unaccounted for. She was holding her friend Cathy’s han as they waited to hear if her sons were alive. My brother was a senior at the rival high school just a few miles down the road.
One of Cathy’s sons watched his teacher bleed to death. One of her sons was locked in a crowded closet, listening to classmates die outside the door. They were among the last kids to tumble out of the mouth of a school bus, bloody and traumatized, into their mother’s arms.
In July 2012, I was moving with my husband and three young children from Colorado to Connecticut. Just after midnight, while heading to the Denver airport, I pulled to the side of the road, hearing sirens. Not one or two rescue vehicles. A legion of sirens as police cars, ambulances and firetrucks converged on a movie theater just to the right of the freeway. Where I learned later, people were crouched behind padded chairs, crying, bleeding, dying. They went to a movie, and someone walked in with a weapon and opened fire into the crowd.
Watching the news the next day, I thought about the time my husband went with a friend to a midnight release of Star Wars. I could not help but think, It could have been my husband, dead among the popcorn.
On December 14, 2012 I was in a hardware store, buying a hammer, when I began to get texts from friends in Colorado. It was too early in Colorado for texting.
One texted, “What school do the girls go to, Megan!!!?” Another texted, “What town did you move to? Is it Newtown?” I Googled Newtown, Connecticut. It was 47 miles away.
I ran to my car, turned on the radio, and drove straight to my girls’ new elementary school. I fought the urge to snatch them from their classrooms as I listened to reporters relay an incomprehensible nightmare. Other parents began lurking around the school too, we ached to hold our children. After an hour of sitting vigil, my mom called wailing. The wailing of all the mothers everywhere.
In the spring of 2016, I arrived at the elementary school to volunteer in my daughter’s first grade class. The atmosphere was soupy with tension. Principal Cleary and several staff members were holding the doors open, their arms forcefully beckoning morning stragglers into the building. The principal called, “Mrs. Poulin!” as he gestured, leaning in as I approached. He said, “We are in lockdown. This is not a drill. I can’t tell you why.”
Gasping, I lurched for the door, my baby inside.
“Not a shooter, it’s ok,” he said. My mind went wild, searching for reasons to call a lockdown without a gunman. Inside, the hallways were eerie and silent, backpacks abandoned on the floor. A freckled little boy with bed-head was knocking frantically on a second grade door.
“My classroom is locked!” he cried. His teacher opened the door and pulled him in. I began to run. I arrived at Stella’s classroom door just as her teacher was yanking it shut. I reached for Stella’s soft hand, kneading it in mine.
“Mr. Cleary says we must stay in our rooms, we must be silent, first graders. But today, we do not need to practice hiding under our desks,” the teacher whispered. The children already knew how to hide under their desks, arms over head, eyes squeezed shut. I found out later, the lockdown was due to a medical emergency. A teacher, before school, needed an ambulance. A nut allergy, not a bullet wound.
In April of 2019, my middle schooler came home distraught. During a lockdown drill at school, one friend whispered something funny to another friend as they were getting into position. It triggered an illicit giggling fit, the hardest to control. They had to be shushed. After the drill, their outraged teacher told the girls in a career ending move, they deserved to be shot since they wouldn’t take the lockdown seriously. I was horrified, but I understood. This teacher was not meant to keep unruly teenagers from being shot dead in their classrooms. She was not trained to become a human shield, to teach on a battlefield.
A week later on May 7th, 2019, I was bagging a head of cabbage at the grocery store when I noticed a stream of news alerts on my phone. Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A school shooting. This time it was me, frantically seeking clarity.
I texted Carrie, a close friend in Colorado. Her boys were the same age as my girls. “I’m seeing headlines about a Stem School in HR, a shooting. Are the boys ok??”
When I saw her reply, “Yes, it’s the boys’ school,” I abandoned the cabbage and ran to my car. Nathan. Evan.
She texted me again. “Earlier today, Nathan suddenly started texting me,” she wrote.
He sent, “There’s a school shooter I love you so much I love dad.”
There is so much to examine about the riot at the Capitol building. The people who were curled on the floor in mortal danger, are now standing in that same space, arguing over what happened. Is this terror worth action?
Meg Poulin is a Connecticut textile artist and writer. She loves politics, the science of consciousness, childbirth, hypnosis and baking cakes. Her passion is in raising her three daughters to be strong, independent, expressive young women.
Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.
This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story of what it means to be human as an adoptee is important.