What It’s Like to Have a Sibling in High School in the Age of School Shootings

By Callie Wixon

My brother is 14 years old and just started high school this year. Buzzing with excitement for him, my family was nervous about many things–my brother was worried about getting to his classes and my mom was worried about him having somewhere to sit at lunch, but it wasn’t until my dad mentioned that a store nearby was selling bulletproof backpacks that we all went silent.

My parents did not go out and buy my brother that new backpack.  

Jack is starting his high school career at the same high school I went to. Before his first day, I passed along all of my insider tips and tricks, like how to avoid pedestrian traffic by taking the one hallway no one uses and how to best use his schedule. I also told him that when he can finally drive to school, there is one door near the senior parking lot that stays unlocked for ten minutes after the first bell–just in case he is ever late (like I perpetually was in high school). The doors to the building automatically lock, so teachers aren’t there to monitor who comes in late, and with some careful coordination a friend inside the building can come open the door for a more-than-just-ten-minutes-late entrance. A few years ago, I relied on that open and unmonitored door to sneak into school after the bell had rung. Now I’m wondering if my school ever even gave that door a second thought.

I know my high school like the back of my hand, which means that I know exactly what it would look like in the event of a shooting. It also means that I know how its active shooter drills fall short. After four years exploring the same building, I know which bathrooms have windows that open to the outside and where exactly to run from any corner of the cafeteria. Now, I picture my brother eating lunch, sitting exactly where I used to sit.

Recently, Sandy Hook Promise released a heart-wrenching and bone-chilling video called Back to School Essentials (CW: gun violence). After watching the video, I sent two texts: one to my mother, warning her not to watch it at work, and one to my brother to tell him that I love him. Sometimes, I think about what would happen if there was ever an incident at Jack’s school. Would I would hear about it on the news? Would old high school friends text me? Would my mom have to call me during work? Maybe I would get a text directly from Jack, like the girl in the video’s last scene who cowers in fear in a bathroom stall and texts her mom what could potentially be her last words.

In this new age of constant paranoia, I can’t simply send or receive an unprompted “I love you” text anymore. Someone’s mind will go to the worst case scenario, which isn’t all that uncommon: I know someone who recently was in a building, just a few floors up, during a shooting. Afterwards, he posted the texts he sent to his family members on social media. Upon sending his “I love you” text to his sister, she responded, “Is everything okay?”

Every time another shooting is on the news, I want to text my brother a reminder to stay safe. More dramatically, I want to call my mom and tell her to get Jack from school, but I already know what her response would be–she would tell me that she can’t leave work, and that just because I’ve graduated high school doesn’t mean that gun violence doesn’t also happen on college campuses. And I know that my mom is hypothetically right: I am not any safer than Jack.

I went to the March for Our Lives in 2018 carrying a sign with the words, “I hope I finish high school.” Now, I just really hope that my brother gets to finish high school too.

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