by Melissa Uchiyama
That high school on TV and all over the news? Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? I graduated from that school. I do not know the current students, of course; I live far away. I only know their words, their speeches to Congress, their interviews and tweets.
What were my friends and I doing at fifteen and eighteen? We were not dying from bullet wounds. We were not eulogizing our dear friends and peers when they died on Valentine’s Day from AR-15 wounds sustained at school, in classrooms. We did not understand how flimsy and inviting our state’s gun laws were, nor did we know the duplicitous power of the NRA.
At seventeen, we were meeting over late-night doughnuts and coffee, sneaking cigarettes, and mostly, just being kids. What I remember of senior year is writing notes, reading poetry, singing Jesus and Mary Chain, hanging out. I tried mushrooms a few times. I did ballet. I fell in love with Morrissey and Langston Hughes and, thanks to our English teacher, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.
These kids, now, are the ones wading in the deep end, even after having just swum with sharks.
I am back there, in a way, when I see snapshots of the students just an hour prior to the shooting. I am back in our airy corridors with palm trees and 8 a.m. humidity, back with friends as we cry and muddle through our now-adult feelings. We are students, still, that onion of a person with nine-year-old feelings and fifteen-year-old smiles, with hearts that would love a carnation or rose from a certain crush. I am a child, still, a young adult; now, like an ever-widening tree, I have become a teacher and a parent.
I am there and I am so far away. I moved to Japan ten years ago, and I never maintained friendships in college. I did not know how to bridge the gaps with friends, the ones in different social and academic circles when we were at Douglas. It was mostly like The Breakfast Club in my mind. What did any of us have in common? My teenage brain just didn’t know.
Now that we alumni have returned, in a sense, through a shared Facebook page and private messages, I want to keep getting closer.
I want to bridge the gaps that never needed to exist. For our generation, this is a kind of reunion. We know the value of community now. In a blink, over many seasons, we are suddenly middle-aged moms and dads, but we are also our fourteen and fifteen-year-old selves, trying to make sense of the world and not wanting to let the bad guys in.
As part of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High alumni project, I wrote a letter to a student who will be returning to school. Actually, it may go to a returning teacher, cafeteria worker, custodian—we don’t know—but we need three thousand for when they come back to the place where their captor invaded their home and ruled with virtually ceaseless gunshots.
I feel like a big sister, a protector, and counselor. If I were nearby and not over an ocean, I would volunteer. I’d bring meals to victims’ families. I’d ask to sit on the floor with the survivors and lead a writing workshop about their trauma.
I have this spirit now that is itchy, doesn’t know what to do with itself. I want reform. I want a class ring, want my yearbook back that I threw out sometime when it wasn’t cool. I want wings for our kids and kevlar. I want them to know that we understand what it is to have a voice.
My generation will not only hold them up, but we’ll hand out tissues and vitamins and give them bigger and better microphones should they need it.
We’ll be mama bears and lawyers and writers and moms. We are the generation of parents, aunts, and friends who get it.
We know how to step into steel-toe punk boots and be more badass than our anxiety. We need both safety and revolution.
Turn up the fight song. Let’s roar over our communities with a heart to love and protect. Families and kids need our championing. They need good laws and banners on lawns. Every family deserves our loving eyes paying attention — eyes trained on the vulnerable places and the gaps where destruction comes in. I call for unity.
Let’s wear our school colors with pride, a pride we did not perhaps know when we were young and snarky. I’ll be the one standing on the Tokyo platform in burgundy and silver, the one who asks about your day. I’ll greet you and your kids. I’ll meet you for coffee and art. We’ll talk from the heart and share what we’ve been doing all of these hours and days and years. We can discuss gun reform and how to protect our communities and homes from more loss. We can discuss why putting pressure on a wound is absolutely right, even though it seems like it’d hurt. I know we have so much to talk about. You know? It feels like a reunion.
Melissa Uchiyama lives in Tokyo with her wonderfully loving, precocious clan. Her writing appears in such places as The Washington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, and within the HerStories Project anthology Mothering Through the Darkness.