Like a lot of Americans, I have been paying close attention to the kids who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It’s very unlikely that I will ever experience anything like what those kids have gone through. But when I watch their faces as they stand up and speak truth to the legislators who hold the power and responsibility for seeing that our schools are safe, and contemplate the need for society to do something to protect them, I see something in their postures and in their eyes that is vaguely familiar. Of course there is great emotion in what they are saying. They are courageous but, if you look closer, you can see a tiny shift in their eyes, an involuntary tilt of their heads, a little change in their balance, as if they are listening to the sound of a faint audible bell sounding in their heads.
Though it is barely comparable, I have had a glimpse of that look. Six weeks ago I returned home from a short, few hour trip into Rapid City. We live in a remote area at the end of miles of gravel roads and at the dead end of a two-mile-long driveway. We go weeks without seeing a car. When I came home that day, I expected to see my dog, Shiner, tearing around the corner of the horse barn to greet me. He’s usually excited to go inside with me but, that day I saw no sign of him. It was cold and getting dark so I figured he’d weaseled his way into Erney’s cabin, who is our old friend and dog caretaker. I really didn’t think much about it, just parked the car and walked past the horse barn to Erney’s to collect him. When I asked Erney, he just shrugged. “Haven’t seen him. Haven’t seen anything, all day.”
We agreed that he was probably somewhere in the trees, exercising the rabbits. We talked for a few minutes and I made my way back to the house. By now it was almost dark and the light had become eerie. When I got to the house I found the front door wide open. I wasn’t sure what to think. I could only believe that I had inadvertently left the door open when I’d left a few hours before. I stepped in and flipped on the light that illuminated the broken glass of picture frames that were scattered across the floor. I heard Shiner coming from the back bedroom. I initially went for the easy explanation: I left the door open, Shiner found it, came inside, and had a dog party in our house. But Shiner is not that kind of dog, he is not a Rottweiler or Doberman Pincher, he is a small, gentle, white English Setter, with a black patch around one eye. By then he was standing in the hallway, looking ashamed and as bewildered as I felt. A few more feet in and I noticed that the computer I’d been on just a few hours before was gone. Drawers were gaped open and I walked to one of the open drawers and saw that my Colt revolver was gone. My walk down the hall showed more open drawers and missing electronics.
I had called Colton and went to the window when I heard him pull up to the shop (which he was going to check out when he arrived), and I stared out in disbelief, the ranch pick-up truck was gone. We had been robbed. Our wall of security had been breached. Our little Camelot had been violated. What had Shiner seen? His tail wagged in slow confusion. Thump, thump, thump against the wall.
In twenty years we had never locked a door, never taken the keys out of the ranch trucks. When Jill and Jilian showed up they stood staring at the damage gasping, that is when I first saw the troubled look that I’ve been seeing on the faces of kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School. That faint bell was sounding, inside Jill and Jilian’s heads. It was fear, a loss of innocence, a recalculation of the order of our lives. Who did this? Meth heads? Crazies? Would they come back? It’s a bell that could never be un-rung.
We’d lost the pickup, the computer, stereo speakers, my kindle, cell phone, some jewelry, and the old Colt revolver that I had kept near me for forty years. Our family photos could be reframed and our photographed faces would again smile out into the room, but those faces would never be the same – they had now been changed.
It was clear that the greatest loss was something that could not be calculated. From the material realm, the insurance did not cover the pickup and after the deductible and depreciation values, the check was incredibly small. There was enough to cover all new door locks and a now needed security system, what was left over I reserved to buy a new pistol. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked over to the cabinet where the old Colt had always been, and put it in the drawer. It was a hollow gesture.