Izzi Lynn

lambs to the slaughter

The first time I heard the words, “school shooting,” I was eleven years old.

I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of my elementary school as I wait for my mom to pick me up. The blue ribbons tied around my pigtails flutter in the light breeze. It’s an unusually warm day for the winter and I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt with cats on it. My hands are chubby and my teeth are crooked and I am young, so very young.

It is 2012 and a man with a gun enters an elementary school
and he fires and he fires and he fires.

My mom pulls up in front of me and opens the door of the gmc, stepping out and sweeping me into her thirty year old arms. She is holding me so tight I can barely draw breath, holding me like she never wants to let go. I push her away, not wanting to look lame in front of my friends. My mother runs a hand through my hair and apologizes with a small smile stitched onto her face. 

my first introduction to the gun debate was 
my mama explaining why the tv keeps showing 
pictures of funerals for kids only four years younger than me. 

Two years later, I am involved in a real lock-down for the first time. I’m thirteen years old, splayed across the floor of the music room as I read my lines. We’re just beginning to learn our lines for the spring musical and my best friend is busy braiding my sunkissed hair when the bell rings. We all pause and look up, confused. Why would the bell ring? School is already out for the day. The intercom crackles, “attention all students and staff, we are now in lock-down.” The room freezes as we all fall silent, the musical forgotten. 

i remember the exact moment when it happened. 

A girl two grades above me fractures like when you punch a mirror and the glass shatters and your knuckles are bloody and- the point is her reflection is broken. She is gasping in air like she’s drowning and her lungs are constricting and all that air is getting choked inside her throat. She is having a panic attack. I am thirteen and I do not know what a panic attack is, yet. All I know is that this girl two grades above me is terrified and she cannot breathe and she has eyes like a trapped animal. Her friends gather around her, wanting to help and not knowing how while the rest of us move away from the locked door like it’s a hungry wolf. The teacher turns out the lights and I scoot closer to my best friend, reaching out to intertwine our hands. We know what we’re supposed to do, how could we not? We’ve been doing this since preschool. 

it still strikes fear into us 

The lockdown ends, finally and my mother is waiting for me in the cafeteria. She tells me, “I was in my car when a staff member told me to get inside the building.” My mother pulls me into her arms and holds me tight like she never wants to let go, like her arms of flesh and bone can somehow stop bullets. On the way home, my mom explains to me that there had been a gunfight across the street. I think about the girl two grades above me, how her auburn hair had caught the light and shimmered blood red for just a moment. I think about my own hands pressing against Grace’s in some nameless plea. 

That night, I dreamt and the dream went like this: 
Saint Thecla enters the baptismal arena & faces the lionesses with no fear inside her. She presses her young face to theirs & the lionesses say “we are one and the same, wild girl.” The dream shifted. A girl that looks like me is pulled from the river. Her lips are blue with cold & she is not breathing. Judas bruises, betrayal bruises, ring her neck, stark against her clammy skin. The dream shifted once more. A gun’s cold muzzle is pressed to my chest and the man at the other end pulls the trigger. A bullet sinks into my heart. 

That night, I woke up gasping, hands clenched over
my heart and terror blistering beneath my skin. 

When I am fifteen, I turn on Fox News. The newscaster is talking about the Second Amendment and how gun control is against the Constitution. The next day, I am watching the tv as the body count for those at the Orlando Pulse shooting rises and rises and rises until it becomes the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history. The next day, people on Fox News are discussing how sad this is and how they are sending their thoughts and prayers to the victims. (secret: thoughts and prayers are nothing but empty promises). The next day, Fox News has a guest speaker on who talks about how gun control is unnecessary. I realize: I will only be cared about once I am six feet under. 

someone must be brave enough to save us. it is not fox news.

I have this vivid memory of sitting at the lunch table in my freshman year as my friends and I discuss what kind of flowers we’d want at our funerals. I was arguing with Caroline about how carnations are ugly and I’d prefer bluebells and daffodils. Later on that day, I mention to Shea that I have my Will typed up on my computer. She tells me that she has one too. Just in case. 

“i leave my poetry to my mother and my 
stuffed animals to my brother and my art to my best friend 
and my photos to my sister and my books to my father.” 

When I think of my future, it is hazy and difficult to see like a dream. When I think of my future, the first concrete thing I can imagine is my funeral. When I think of the future, the first thing I have planned is the last thing I will ever do. I don’t know where I want to go to college and I don’t know what I want to wear for my senior photos and I don’t know what I want to do as an adult, but I do know what music I want to play at my funeral. And I wish I could tell you that most kids aren’t like this. I can’t. And you know, it’s kind of funny because older generations call us the future all the time when I can’t even imagine myself two years from now except in a casket. How, pray tell, can we be the future if we don’t live long enough to see it? 

“and last, but not least, i leave my love to the world.” 

I’m sixteen, sitting in history class with Mr. Fischer when my phone pings. I had just left art class and my hair is pulled back into a ponytail so that it wouldn’t get in my face while I drew. I check my phone. A new twitter notification, TRENDING: #parkland. My classmates check their phones and we erupt in chatter. We are not surprised. We are never surprised.

history class was so much more fun 
before i associated it with parkland. 

Two weeks later, there is a gun threat at my school. A boy is arrested with a list of kids he was planning on murdering. When I get to school, there are cop cars in the parking lots. One of my friends was in his class. She tells me, “he was always talking about school shootings and he watched videos on the Columbine shootings.” She tells me, “he told me he would put my body in a casket.” The truth is, I have nightmares about being baptized in my best friend’s blood for weeks after. I have forgotten what it means to dream of something other than death. 

the truth is, no one else is brave enough to try and save us. 
we must be the saviors. 

This, this is when I finally enter the political arena, furious and terrified and stepping forward. My hands are shaking as I participate in the walkout across the nation. And the truth is, the death I am so afraid of is not my own. It is my siblings’. My sister is 14 and my brother is eight. I am not marching for myself, I am marching for them. When I see photos of the Parkland victims, I see my siblings’ faces. 

the fear grows teeth and then claws. 
i do too. 

A couple weeks after the Santa Fe shooting, we have an active shooter drill. The whole time, the only thing I can think about is how Shana Fisher died knowing her country did not care. How Shana Fisher died without being able to say goodbye. How Shana Fisher died without having fallen in love, without having fulfilled or even realized her dreams. How Shana Fisher died without having lived at all. 

i have imagined my own death so much
it feels more like a memory
than a fear. 

I turn seventeen and I come home to terrifying news. I step off the yellow school bus and into my home. My hair is in a neat bun and my hands are covered in colorful splashes of dried paint. My mother is sitting in the sunroom, phone cradled to her ear. My aunt is on the other side of that phone call, her chest tight and eyes weary. The school had sent her an email. Last night my eighteen year old cousin was at prom, dancing with his date and having the time of his life. One floor up, police were arresting two boys with assault rifles and plans to shoot everyone there. I breathe in, some ancient ache named only in languages so old even the earth no longer remembers sinking into my chest. 

that night, i dreamt and the dream went like this: 
joan of arc draws her sword and slays the dragon. i close my eyes and when i open them, i am the dragon. joan of arc’s gleaming sword pierces my emerald scaled chest and- the dream changed. i draw a sword glowing with holy fire and plunge it into the chest of a monster. a blistering blade slides into my chest. the dream changed. a firm alarm goes off and when i step into the abandoned hallways of my school, i am greeted by blood and bodies. the dream changed. an angel kisses my forehead with star-lips, his halo hazy in the mid morning light. for a single moment, i feel safe in the protection of his thousand wings. and then i am lying on the ground, buzzards circling above me and a man standing over me, pressing a gun to my forehead. he fires. 
that night, i wake up gasping, hands clenched over my heart. 

My god, I am so young. We are all so young. We’ve barely even had the chance to start living. 

I am seventeen. School returns for the new year of 2018-2019. I had two nightmares in a row about being shot in school. At lunch, my table has discussions on what we would do if a shooter enters the commons. My friends admit they run through scenarios like this almost weekly. Some days, going to school feels like playing a game of russian roulette, like it’s only a matter of time before the chamber isn’t empty. Some days, I don\'t think about it. Those are good days. Days when I am not worried about whether I will die huddled beneath a desk in a pool of corpse-cold blood. Days when I am not worried about whether today is the day my school is the one on TV. The fact is, most days are not good days. 

America’s schools are a battleground and my generation has grown up on the frontline. It’s all we know.