As a mother of a 16-year-old son who attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a mass shooting took place on Valentine’s Day, the last week has been a struggle to come to terms with all that has happened.
It is Sunday, February 25th at 3:30 p.m. and it is time to walkover to Stoneman Douglas so my son, Matthew, can pick up his backpack that he left in the classroom the day of the shooting. I haven’t really blogged much about the shooting, except for Matthew’s text he sent me during the tragedy. I haven’t really had one second, one minute to myself because I have been involved in all the community has been doing.. funerals, vigils, walks and grief counseling and trying to process all of this.
It is still surreal.
I have tried to be extra sensitive, patient and comforting to Matthew, to make sure he is okay, but he’s not and I don’t know when he will be. Just when I think he is okay, I see him lash out at me for something small. Yesterday, on our way to the high school for the first time after the shooting, he walked ahead of my husband and I at fast pace. We kept calling his name, but he had his headphones in to tune out the world. I don’t know Matthew was walking at such a fast pace because he wanted to see the school, which he hadn’t since the shooting, or he just wanted to get this over with. He was cold towards me, angry, mad and he did not want to talk. As I was walking behind him, all I could see was a little boy who once couldn’t bear to leave my side. As mothers, we want to protect our kids and keep them safe and happy. So, when will Matthew be either one of those? I can’t control everything and that scares me. What I could control was not getting upset because Matthew wasn’t acting how I wished he would. I kept telling myself, give it time, be patient, just love him and be there for him no matter how he treats you or lashes out at you.
As we walked toward the school, nothing fazed Matthew. He walked with determination, even as he passed the memorials crowded around by parents and students. He didn’t even look once. It was pandemonium. I saw angels to honor the victims, flowers, music, praying, news media.. it was crazy!
We realized the administrators were making us walk all the way around to the senior parking lot entrance, which was right next to the 1200 building where the shooting happened. I couldn’t believe it. I have never entered the school this way but, I am sure they had their reasons. I noticed they had fenced in the 1200 building and displayed beautiful banners from schools all over the county and state, as well as local community businesses, which offered words of encouragement. But I couldn’t help and look at the 1200 building and think, “all that horror happened in this building that I am looking at right now. How can this be real?”
Oh, but it was.
We got to the school entrance and we followed Matthew to his classroom. I asked him to show us where he was when he heard the shooting. He explained that when there is a fire drill, the kids go in a different direction, they need to go to the nearest exit, which is the reason he was where he was. He was going down the stairs and he saw people running all over and saying, “It’s a code red, go back,” and then he heard the gunshots. He quickly ran back up the stairs to the nearest classroom, TV production. It was there that he and 54 students crammed into a small back room with their teacher, Mr. Eric Garner. We went in the room and Matthew went to the back room and picked up his backpack.
My husband Scott and I went over to Mr. Garner and shook his hand and said, “Thank you. Thank you for keeping our son and all the other kids safe.” I attached an article that was in the local paper about Mr. Garner. Matthew said Mr. Garner moved the bookcase to keep all the students safe.
We left the classroom and started to head back home. The mood in the school was good. Kids needed to be around their friends and teachers to start to heal together. I saw the Coral Springs Fire Rescue walking, and I patted one rescue worker on the back and said, “Thank you. Thank you for all you did and what you continue to do.” He looked at me with such appreciation.
As we started to leave the school, Matthew again was walking quickly with a purpose — to get home fast. I figured I wasn’t going to catch up to him and I would meet him at home, so I stopped at the memorial site of victim, Joaquin Oliver, who was the son of a sweet friend of mine. I placed a white flower, that was handed to me when I walked into the school onto the many flowers that were there. I turned around and surprisingly, I saw Matthew walking towards me. He asked, “Where did you go?” I told him I wanted to place a flower on Joaquin’s memorial site. At that moment, I realized, he really did care if I was behind him. He didn’t care if I wasn’t next to him, he just needed to know I was watching his back. I took a deep breath and smiled because I was grateful … “Mommy will always have your back Matthew, always.”