Bad Guy With a Gun
We have been studying Hamlet, but now I am sitting in a classroom with twenty five seniors
in the dark.
We are on lockdown.
It is a drill.
I am sitting in the dark with twenty five eighteen year olds.
Old enough vote. Old enough to serve the military. Old enough to fight and to die.
In fact, for the last two days, naval officers and marines have stood in uniform at the front of our school, laughing and joking and recruiting.
I heard some of this conversation.
One young woman laughed at them. She’d quit, she said, by the second day, when they made her get up at 6:30 in the morning.
I remember standing outside my school building as a cavalcade drove by and we mourned
the loss of Private First Class Chris Sisson. I had taught him British Literature a year before. We bid the soldiers shoot, but what is proper on the battlefield,
here - in the classroom - shows much amiss.
In this classroom, we are on lockdown. The lights are out and we are quiet.
The lights are out and we are quiet because we have been told that light and sound are the two things that are most likely to attract
the attention of a killer.
My doors are locked. If someone is in the hallway, they are still in the hallway, because once I lock the door, I cannot let them in.
They might be the killer.
I have been told I need to wear my ID badge at all times. I don’t, but if I don’t and something like this happens, the police are trained to shoot first and ask questions later and I might be the killer.
When you look at the picture on a driver’s license, we all look like killers. Mine is no different. Smiling damned villains. One can smile and smile and still be a villain.
So, I’m in the dark with twenty five eighteen year old children, and we are silent. We sit with our backs to the wall that the door is on because that wall is the wall where you cannot see us if you look in the window. We’ve been told to cover the windows. I do not, but some teachers do.
I see windows covered in construction paper. One colleague has a purple print curtain that can be drawn back or drawn down. Polonius hid behind a curtain. Those are our tools of survival - a piece of fabric, construction paper, scotch tape. They didn’t serve Polonius well either.
In the dark, up against the wall, contemplating our deaths in our silences, we are not looking at our cell phones. Cell phones make light. I have been told that democracy dies in darkness but students die in the light so the cell phones are off.
And I see it first, and then Logan who sits next to me, and then we all do. The laptops on the desks. We have closed them to shutter their glow, but their charging lights are blinking. They are asynchronous fireflies attracting our attention. Attention is not what we want.
“Look,” says Logan. “Look. They look like Christmas lights.”
These little celebratory lights, little ports of power and information. I look at them and think of death. There are twenty five eighteen year olds in my room. Twenty five chromebooks blinking. Twenty five signposts saying here we are. Here we are. There are twenty five points of light.
A lockdown drill is a ten minute prayer. There’s a moment where the administration yanks on the door to see if it is locked. My door has always been locked, but I wonder what would happen if it wasn’t. The door would fly open. Then? Would our principal pop his head into the room and shout, “Bang, you’re dead?”
There are more things in Heaven and Earth than we want to imagine.
It scares me every time that door is jostled.
When the lights return, we’ll study Hamlet again. Words, words, words. There is no plan for what would happen if that door flew open. What would happen would happen in a moment and an instinct and it would be what it would be. Research says that active shooter events last 12 minutes. The decisions you make will not emerge from a twice a year drill.
I have been told that the answer is to put a gun in my hands. Arm the teachers. The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And I am the good guy. Put a gun in my hand. I can be a hero.
I trip over my own feet. No, literally, when I was stripping vinyl flooring, my feet stuck to the exposed glue and I sheered the skin off my heel with the stripping tool. I once ran backwards into a light pole chasing a frisbee.
Put a gun in my hand? That’s not just mad north-northwest. That’s mad in every direction.
What is this Fortinbras image of me sighting heroism down the barrel of a gun, eyes narrowed, ready for my thoughts to be bloody or be nothing worth?
My school has a suicide problem.
Let’s put a gun in my room.
I am told that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
A bad guy who never gets a gun.
A bad guy who never learned that the gun was an answer.
A world where we never invented guns.
A world where the bad guy isn’t a bad guy.
Where a bad guy is a guy.
Something is rotten. Rotten.
Time is most definitely out of joint.
I am a teacher.
I am the answer to a bad guy with a gun every day.
I am the one who stands in front of twenty five eighteen year olds, old enough to vote and soldier and shoot and die, and I am the answer to a bad guy with a gun.
I don’t teach guns.
I teach poetry.
I teach poetry and literature and art.
Maybe if we could write a poem.
Maybe if we could speak to each other with words
We wouldn’t feel the inarticulate need of bullets.
To speak is the answer to the instinct to drive death into the hearts of children.
I teach people to speak.
Do not put a gun in my hand.
If you put a gun in my hand, I am a bad guy with a gun.
I am a bad guy to have a gun.
Do not put a gun into my hand because I am a good guy already
and I wield my weapon of words daily.
The Christmas lights go off.
The fluorescent overheads go on.
To be or not to be.
That is the question.