Why had Christina yelled at Nicholas this morning? The answer was simple: because Christina was running late again as usual. They had a morning routine now. While his mommy was showering and dressing for work, the independent kindergartner packed his own lunch, prepared his backpack, and patiently waited by the door. Since his daddy had moved to California, it was just them now. It had been a rough adjustment that sometimes ended in late night screaming matches over the telephone. As Christina imploded, Nicholas tended to become more sullen and withdrawn.
“Mom, he says he’s fine,” she would tell her own mother, Rebecca, who overnight had to become a backup mother/babysitter/chauffeur/ little league coach, and tutor. What Christina and Rebecca had – perhaps it had lost some its luster over the years, or some of its sentimentality – but still it held them together, made them keep picking up the telephone each morning and every night – and several times in between. With Christina’s father living in an Alzheimer’s facility now, the mother and daughter solely relied upon one another.
As her OnStar telephone was ringing inside of her Cadillac SUV, Christina pushed on the hands-free button and immediately began venting about the rushed morning, her wet hair, and how she had fought on the telephone all night again with her ex-husband, Peter. She was already getting wound up for the old, familiar lines from her mother. She realized how quickly she was rambling and immediately paused to allow Rebecca to at least get one word into the one-sided conversation.
But instead, a man was on the phone, with a grizzled, stuttering voice. “Mrs. Thorne,” he said softly. “Now, Mrs. Thorne, you’ve got to listen to me.” It was a policeman, a man named Joe. She had seen him at Nicholas’s school one day talking about gun safety and emergency precautions. He said that he had something terrible to tell her. Then he took a ragged breath and said it, and she felt her throat catch and her hands fly to her face. Suddenly, she found herself in the oncoming lane of traffic. Her head was swirling as loud horns and beeps careened around her. As the large SUV smashed into the barricade, the bright sun shining through the sunroof was extinguished as her vehicle was violently turned upside down. As the bright illumination faded into blackness, Christina had the overwhelming sensation that her life, which she had until this very moment taken for granted, was over.
Christina stopped holding on to the steering wheel, and instead passively watched as one of her wheels rolled past her window, which was now inches from the pavement. As she stared, transfixed on the wheel rolling away from her, she never even saw the car speeding behind her. She then felt another thunderous crash from behind, the powerful grating as metal twisted metal. Behind her now, she began to slowly realize that her vehicle was sitting upside down in the middle of morning rush hour. Drivers who were caught unaware were stopping short against one another, brakes squealing and smoking.
In the shocked moments of silence after Christina’s SUV came to rest, she put her hand up and realized her lip was split and bleeding. An older state policeman gently rapped on her window. He knelt down beside of her window and gingerly pulled her out of the crash. As he helped her to the side of the road, she kept trembling and muttering Nicholas’s name. She told him her son was killed. As the paramedics arrived and began to carefully examine her, they too were confused by her words, thinking her little boy had been killed in the crash. They ran over and began carefully searching through the wrecked vehicle, even shining their flashlights under the seats. They could see Nicholas’s candy wrappers, chewing gum foil, and a few toy action figures, but there was no sign of any little boy.
“Ma’am, there is no one in the vehicle. We have searched and can’t find any little boy with you,” said an overweight paramedic with a round face and red, curly hair.
“I know,” she said. “I know.” Still dazed and groggy, but attempting to explain, she pointed to the OnStar button on her key fob. At first, the paramedic didn’t understand, and she simply wrapped a blanket around the bloodied woman and tried to warm her. Her body was beginning to go into shock. As Christina leaned against the kind paramedic, she began to hear other radios squelching and cell phones ringing. The ambulance was ready for her. As they strapped her securely onto the gurney, she saw the remaining policemen running to their cars and speeding away. And then she remembered again, and she sat up and vomited. She wondered if she might be dying now, from some hidden painless internal injury she’d just received. She felt as though she was about to float above her body, and then she heard the radio inside the ambulance. Everything stopped, frozen in time.
“Oh my God, NO!” Please God not another one!” the paramedic exclaimed. “There’s been another school shooting – at the Green Oaks Child Developmental Academy. 23 kindergarten children are . . . they’re all dead,” she sobbed as she looked down at her hand.
As Christina lay there and her eyes met the paramedic’s, every coherent thought came racing back to her and she squeezed the EMT’s hand so tightly that she lost feeling in her fingers. She handed the EMT her keys as she softly whispered, “My little boy . . . my Nicholas. My telephone rang, but I couldn’t get to him and I . . .” She was driving and answered the phone. The man with the shaky voice told her how sorry he was. She heard his voice crack as she heard “gun” and “kindergarten” and “Nicholas” and I’m so sorry . . .” It finally washed across her, like a crashing wave of despair. At first, she thought it was the ambulance siren wailing, but then she realized what it was. It was her own sobbing, which had become a violent wailing, which then gave way to screaming. She wasn’t screaming because she was hurt or bleeding. She was screaming at what she had just lost.
This short story is dedicated to all of the victims of senseless gun violence, and in particular, to all of the young children who were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary.