What I don’t have

Perhaps I’ve written these words before – a long time ago, someone at my first job told me I don’t have the stomach for news.

It was in response to jokes she was making about a public figure who’d hanged himself. I didn’t find the jokes funny.

I was told I would either harden my heart and brain in this job or I’d get out.

A lot of people cope with hardening. I completely understand that. It’s easier for most of us to separate ourselves from the darkness – to make it not feel real.

That’s not me. When that comment was made several years ago, I didn’t take it lightly. I was upset for a bit, but mostly at the prospect that I wasn’t cut out for the one thing I’d studied to do. It was a straight shot to my ego to think I might be made for something else and I’d just wasted four years of my life making this something happen.

I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, as I left the newsroom on the day the Sandy Hook shooting occurred so I could take a few moments to myself in a bathroom. I thought about it on the day a man walked into a church in Charleston, a city I love so dearly, and killed 9 people during a bible study. I thought about it the day I walked the streets of Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood asking people what they knew about teenager accused of gunning down a Greenville police officer before turning the gun on himself.

And I thought about it again this morning as I stood with neighbors of a home on Greenville’s westside and watched forensics teams pull a body out on a gurney and load it into a medical examiner’s van.

I don’t often report on breaking news. It’s not my “beat”. I am typically only drawn in if someone is on vacation, busy or the story is big enough that we need several people working on it.

Every experience I’ve had with violent death has been on the job. It’s foreign to my personal life and yet it’s something I take personally.

I realized something on a dead end street, in Greenville County, lined with old mill houses and a small mobile home park – I don’t have the stomach for news. I don’t even want the stomach for news, if it means I ever leave a scene like that and don’t think about what was lost.

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Not ready for exposure

Last Friday I fell while running. I got pretty banged up and had a few bruises, but the heel of my hands took the brunt of my fall.

I cut layers so deep into my hands that tiny veins could be seen pulsing under the open white skin. Even now, five days later, it seems little healing progress has been made.


This afternoon, a few dozen miles down the road, police say a teenage boy killed his father, stole his truck, then drove to a nearby elementary school and fired shots. According to police, his bullets hit two young students and a teacher. According to logic, the violent interruption in an otherwise quiet town hit everyone who wasn’t ready to admit it can happen to us.

Young students were filmed filing off of school property to a nearby church. The footage aired on Facebook live streams from local news outlets and during nonstop on-air television coverage. Parents wept as they waited for answers and the chance to hug their kids.

An entire community wondered if the threat was over until the announcement of an arrest.

Storylines feasted on raw emotion.


The first two days after my fall, my hands hurt anytime I tried to use them. They stung like they were on fire when I let open air reach them for more than a few seconds. That’s how nerves behave when they’re not yet ready for exposure and they’re forced out into the world anyway.


Students will be kept home from school this week. Parents may decide they’re not ready to take their eyes off of them even when the school doors reopen. But students will go back and it will happen sooner than later.

They’ll tie their character tennis shoes, strap on backpacks that are the full size of their torsos and wander into their classrooms to begin again.

They’ll  wait for instructions from parents and adults who are trying to pretend everything is okay. They’ll follow the lead on how to behave after a tragedy rocks the small piece of the world they’d only begun to understand.

But they’ll move forward. They’ll progress until their wounds reopen. They’ll finally make it all the way across the monkey bars or get their first triple in kickball. They’ll learn multiplication tables and begin reading chapter books. They’ll continue to look up for direction.


But Band-aids aren’t designed to stay on certain body parts. Movement forces them out of the holding position. They leave gaping holes where air can seep in and make wounds burn.

I spent most of days three, four and five after my fall wanting to take backwards steps, to wrap my wounds again so they’d never be exposed.

My inner monologue became violently angry the moment the adhesive began to pull away from my skin. I couldn’t handle having nothing to protect my open flesh. It was fresh. It was raw. I wanted, no needed, the protection.


One day something will remind these that they lived through a tragedy that relatively few people in this country understand first hand.

Maybe it will be insignificant – like the pop of a firework, or the surprisingly familiar smell of a responding officer’s cologne wafting from a stranger in a store. Maybe they’ll be with friends a few years down the road and it will just come up in conversation.

Something will remind them and they’ll remember that day they filed past emergency vehicles and flashing lights out of the classroom with the bright paper cutouts on the wall and into a church parking lot full of scared adults. They’ll remember that someone drove to the safest place they knew at the time and opened fire on a playground. They’ll look up old news clips to piece together what they saw happening and what they were never told.

Someday they’ll know they were a part of a story that triggered fear in parents all across Upstate South Carolina and reminded them that no one is untouchable in 21st century America.

 


Even when that time comes, the wounds of today’s tragedy won’t be ready for exposure.

Read more: After Sandy Hook