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"You're Next."



As I mentioned before, my hometown Pleasant Hill is never in the news. P. Hill (one of the nicknames, others include Pleasant Hell or The Hill) is one of those towns that is quiet. Some things in the town need a reboot or an upgrade (the library, Sunvalley Mall) but never ever in the news. This past week, things changed.

I woke early about four thirty, not being able to sleep. I decided to have breakfast early with cocoa, and then watched the news. On KTVU they reported another bomb scare in Pleasant Hill. My ears perked up. The past week there’s been two pipe bombs found: one in College Park High, one in Pleasant Hill Elementary. PHE is where I spent my last year of elementary school, plus I met Meranda there. Hearing about the pipe bombs made me ill.
Now it was another school, this time Sequoia Middle School. According to KTVU, someone called SMS in the morning. The admin assistant answered. A voice said: “You’re next.” Click. The person did the same thing to Sequoia Elementary. Already people were shaky because of Friday’s events. This just made it worse. After an evacuation, there were no traces of bombs.
I turned the TV off. I couldn’t stand it.  I have not handled the Connecticut shootings news very well. My logical Spock mind tells me “Now there are shootings every day. Why are you upset about this one? That makes no sense, Jennifer.” Then the emotional side of me just breaks down, like I did last night. On PBS News Hour, they were profiling the principal of the school, who turned on the loudspeaker to let the teachers know there was a threat. They showed her in a poodle skirt for a fifties sock hop. Just the sight of the woman wearing a pink poodle skirt made me weep. She never wanted to be a martyr. She just wanted to help children.
So when I heard that SMS was under lockdown because of a bomb threat, it didn’t help my nerves any. In fact, it ticked me off. I wanted to say to this person who gets their jollies of putting pipe bombs in schools this: “I don’t know what the bleeping hell your problem is, but we’re already emotionally exhausted and we don’t need you calling saying we’re next. You want to scare people? Great. That makes you a bully and a coward.” However, I had to remember something else too.
I hated Middle school. Just hated it. My eighth grade year was a good one, but sixth and seventh? Awful, awful, awful. When I was reading Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and she described middle school as hell, I started laughing and crying at the same time. For it was true. Early tween years are never easy. They’re especially hard when you’re different in some way like I was. I had bad skin and learning disabilities. I was terrible at sports. It was not a good combo. I was told not to take French because “it would be too hard” for me. When the Challenger exploded, I remember it because a boy walked up to me and said “You just had to look at it, didn’t you? You’re so ugly that’s why it exploded.”  Back then Sequoia was painted this awful green that reminded me of vomit and cafeteria meat. Spit wads would hang from the awnings. It was awful to look at, awful to walk under.

Sequoia is a Academics Plus school. Back when Seqouia was popular in the early 80's, the focus was on academic,not that touchy feely stuff. If you forget your pen or pencil, that's a detention. Wearing shorts even though it's a hot day? You better call your mother and head for home. And no walkmen, no radios,nothing. I have no idea what they do now with ipods/ipads. Stop that kissing in the hallway! This is a place of learning!  School dances kids had to have their parents walk them to the door with a permission slip to come to the dance.

So what does all of the above gets down to? The fact that I get where the anger comes from. I get it. I get the feeling that you will never leave that school. Years later I still clench up when a preteen boy comes down the street with his bike because I get scared he'll yell something at me. I tense up when someone addresses someone else as a "retard" because I was called that at school.

And yet, I also know the anger and saddness has to be stopped. Just saying "It Gets Better" helps,but you have to want it to get better.It means therapy if you need it, or get involved in something you love: anime, movies, music. Mine was books. As long as it doesn't hurt yourself or others, go for it. Then it gets better, and you can remember that middle school wasn't all bad; there was a library and you had friends.The school is now painted a calming blue. It's not what it was back then.

I doubt the person who made that call is reading this. If they are, I implore you to go to Pleasant Hill police. Turn yourself in. Get help. You have a choice: Keep on frightening people or you say "It will stop today."  Stop it today. We don't need to see children walking in a perfect line, avoiding seeing bodies as they walk the hallway. Teachers should not be martyrs. Most of all, schools should be safe for all.


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This is so raw, true and powerful.  I reread and thought about passages several times.  I admire your courage for sharing your life experiences and the pain it caused you but also your insights for what stirred you, driving new pain from the mundane moments of life and death on display, like a woman in a poodle skirt.  

I always try to believe and hold, "It gets better."  I hope others read what you've written, take heart and get help, following the lead you provided, and repeating until it takes hold, "It gets better."


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thanks Michael...

I mentioned this before with another blog of mine: I just wish I didn't have to write it at all.


Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room