Last Monday began as a quiet, ordinary day. My friend Megan dropped her children at school and then came to my house for tea. Within moments of her arrival came the news that schools were closing early. The winds were howling and the weather was menacing. It was too dangerous to keep the children in school.
Megan stayed for a little bit, let her Katie play with my Katie, and then set about to retrieve her other children. Just as she was leaving, the power went out. The winds whipped louder and the house grew darker. I hustled my brood upstairs and tried to shift gears to an academic program that didn't include the computer or the copier. My little guy for whom a digital clock in every room is security grew restless and agitated. His day was listing out of his perceived control. My sense of panic rose.
This was odd. I love weather. I love storms. I even like power outages. It stirs in me a Laura Ingalls spirit. But not on this day. On this day, I was beginning to tremble. And I couldn't explain why. It was just the wind. A fierce, 50-mile-per-hour wind, to be sure, but a just a wind nevertheless. It felt like the breath of evil.
The phone rang. It was my husband calling from the newsroom. I felt the panic in my throat now, as I recognized that voice–the one he uses when he tries to sound calm during a tragedy.
"Everything okay, there?"
"We're fine. No power, but all the trees are still standing. We've lost some siding. Stephen's practice has already been canceled." My heart was pounding. Just get to the tragedy part.
"Honey, there was a gunman on campus at Tech. Thirty-two people died."
An evil wind.
He continued on for a moment or two. My mind raced. My eldest child stood a few feet from me. The last time he was in Blacksburg, it was a day like this one–wind blowing, rain and snow coming at him sideways, gray and dreary as the massive stone buildings. He was there for a recruiting tournament. There to decide whether to live there as a student. There with his friends and companions — all bright-eyed kids on the way to a future.
This was not Columbine, as horrible as that day was. This wind was howling fiercely in my ears. This was much, much closer to home. And not just because we have friends there. Not just because we have neighbors there. Not just because both the gunman and some of his victims went to school here, in our immediate area, before they left for a college adventure there. No, this was different because, since Columbine there have been the Beltway snipers, the police sniper and the Amish tragedy, among other school shootings and senseless acts of violence. This time, I didn't react the way I did that time. This time I knew that evil lives and it's not abstract and it's not distant.
This time, I am older. My children are older. That time, I circled them into my arms and I had a sense (false though it might be) that I could keep them safe. I thought that since I didn't send them to school and they were never far from me, I could protect them. This time, I watched helplessly as my son text-messaged his friends in Blacksburg, counting each and every one. This time, I tried to reassure my 12-year-old that it was all far, far away. But he and I both knew that my words rung hollow. The wind howled here.
The power returned briefly at dinnertime. My husband came home and we tried to walk through the normal evening routine. We reset the clocks and reassured Nicholas that time was just as it always had been. We settled the children into bed. I fell asleep nursing my baby. Just before midnight I was awakened by the wind. The power was out again. I felt horribly sick. I was horribly sick. As I helped children to the bathroom in the pitch black night, I was overcome by the hugeness of my house (and my house is not huge). I couldn't protect them all at the same time. Michael's room in the basement felt so far away. I was too ill to get up and go check on him, but I was overcome with the feeling of growing and present danger. I wanted to gather my babies into my arms. But I couldn't.
And that wind. That wind menaced just outside our windows. That wind screeched relentlessly, sounding like a band of demons circling our home, our town, the commonwealth where our families grow.
All night long I listened. All night long I prayed.