Saturday, November 15, 2008

From Michael Jackson to Cleveland School

I was reading through awfulplasticsurgery today, and I found a few posts on Michael Jackson. For some reason, this sent my mind to Cleveland School in Stockton, CA, because Michael Jackson visited there in February of 1989, shortly after the shooting there occurred in January of 1989.

I was five years old when the shootings occurred, and I lived in Stockton as well. The day of the shootings coincided with the first time that I ever saw my father cry.

I remember it vividly. I came out into the backyard, and my father was sitting at the bottom of the slide on our backyard swing-set, and he had his head in his hands. He was crying. I'd never seen my father cry, and it scared me. What had happened that could make this big, strong, invincible man cry?

I went over to him and said, "Papa, why are you crying?"

My father picked me up, sat me on his knee and cuddled me, and told me, "A bad man went to a school today. He shot a bunch of children, and he killed some of them."

I started to cry as well.

Looking back, I'm sure that my father was crying not only for the children who were wounded and killed, but from fear, as well. Cleveland school was only miles from the school that I attended. When friends and relatives who knew where we lived, but didn't know the name of the school we attended heard the news, they frantically began to call my father and mother to make sure that my sisters and I were okay. What parent wants to think of the possibility that his child is not safe when she goes to school? It's terrifying.

I was in kindergarten and the time, and I remember talking about it in school. I remember my teacher asking us what we should do if a man came into the playground and started shooting? We were told to drop to the ground and stay still. What kind of a world is it when we need to drill five-year-olds on proper procedure when under gunfire?

I haven't thought of Cleveland School in a long time, but I looked up stories on the internet. Five children were killed that day, all of them under nine. Twenty-nine more were injured, and one teacher as well. I went to middle school and high school with some of the children who attended Cleveland School. I knew the son of the teacher who was injured. I had forgotten how it felt when I heard the news, but today I cried. I cried for a long time.

I have a four-year-old son now. I guess that any image or story involving children in horrific situations affects me more than it used to. I cry every time I read a story about dead or kidnapped children. These children died almost twenty years ago. But I still mourn their deaths.

I understand now why my father was crying.

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