I started to write a column but deleted it. In fact, I’ve tried writing this a hundred times, but I keep erasing it. I start crying too hard.
Initially, I was going to write about the pediatrician, Roy Guerrero, who was born and raised in Uvalde, Texas. He attended Robb Elementary.
He was at lunch when the shooting happened. He rushed over to Uvalde Memorial Hospital in the aftermath of one of America’s most heartrending tragedies.
“It was a complete madhouse—what you see in disaster movies,” he said. “Doctors and nurses in every single room, people running around like maniacs, kids in the hallway bleeding and screaming, surgeons working on kids.”
In the hall he met a fourth-grade patient he’d been treating since infancy. The child saw the whole thing happen. She saw her teacher die. She told Guerrero she had rubbed blood on herself and played dead.
That’s as far as I got when I started weeping.
I couldn’t write anything more. This has never happened to me before. I’ve written about mass shootings before, but this one has been different.
So I took a break. I packed my laptop and drove to a public park, and tried to get my head right. Sunlight, that’s what I needed. I needed to get out of my stuffy office.
I sat on a bench. The park was busy. The exercise track was loaded with fitness enthusiasts wearing Lycra so tight you could count their ribs. The playground was overrun with children.
I saw a kid playing Superman, running around, playacting like he was flying, he used a red towel as a cape.
I opened my laptop and tried to write another column.
This time I was going to write about paramedics in Uvalde. I interviewed one of the EMTs by phone a few days ago. He had driven 85 miles to be on the scene that day. He asked if I had read Angel Garza’s story.
So I read about it. Angel Garza was a paramedic outside Robb Elementary, treating a 10-year-old girl who was, “covered in blood, head to toe.” The girl was completely hysterical. The girl told Angel that the gunman had shot and killed her best friend.
“What was your friend’s name?” Angel asked as he treated her battered body. The child said the friend’s name was Amerie.
Angel stopped. Amerie was his daughter. He had no idea his daughter was dead.
I broke down again. I closed my computer and bowed my head. I sobbed until my nose clogged.
When I dried my eyes, I watched Superman whiz around the park some more. He was wearing goggles, shorts, and red rubber rainboots. He was so happy.
I can vaguely remember being that happy long ago. I can remember the innocence of fourth grade. I remember lock-in parties in our gymnasium. Chuck E. Cheese Pizza. Roller skating. Cub Scouts. Childhood is precious, and it was stolen from 19 Texan children.
I told myself to pull it together. I thew open my laptop and began working on a new column about the Uvalde Community Center.
The community center staff is a group of unrecognized heroes. On the day of the disaster, they transformed a municipal center into a safe haven.
Only hours after the shooting, hundreds of families flooded the community center, waiting to learn whether their kids had been survivors or casualties.
As the day went on, as throngs were reconciled with their missing children, the crowd started to dwindle. Reunited families left with children in tow, caught in the convivial glow of relief.
Pretty soon, there were only a few parents remaining at the center. The lone parents looked around at each other. They began crying when they realized what this meant.
I lost my composure for a third and final time.
I closed my laptop, tucked it into my backpack and buried my face. I was weeping but good, too.
I suppose the biggest part of me wants to know why. The second biggest part of me wants to know how. My soul wants to know why God tolerates these kinds horrors on his earth. My brain wants to know why we do.
That’s when I heard voices around me. I looked up. It was the kid in his Superman cape. He was with his sister. They were pretend-flying near my bench, giggling.
Then I saw Superman stumble and fall. He faceplanted and skinned his knee. Superman was bleeding—although not badly.
His older sister rushed to him and tended the wound, stemming the flow with her bare hands.
“You’re okay,” she said reassuringly. “You’ll be alright. It’s not bad.”
He wept loudly.
It was a very strange experience, watching a miniature Superman skin his knee and cry. But I was privileged enough to see his sister hold the Man of Steel against her chest tightly.
“Sssshhh,” she told Superman. “It’s okay to cry.”
That little girl will never know how badly I needed to hear her say that today.