Artwork: Photograph by Nick D. Klein*
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A bullet was fired through the window of my son’s daycare this past January.
I didn’t talk much about it, but a friend (the writer Eric Beetner) learned what had happened and asked if I’d write about the experience for the second volume of the Unloaded anthology (which he edits). I’d greatly admired the first anthology and, despite the circumstance, it was an honor to be asked for the second. I wrote an essay, and that anthology with my piece will likely be coming out in early 2018.
A while before that, Kim had put together a beautiful track that I wanted to write to, but it was tricky – the track had a somber, funereal aspect, and a conventional story didn’t quite work. But we thought the essay would be a perfect fit. I asked Eric if it would be okay to include portions of it, and he readily agreed. The result ended up being fairly different than the essay, but just as personal. I love Kim’s use of layered, jumbled language, which you hear at the beginning and then occasionally throughout the music.
I feel like it represents the conversation I’m having with her, or my son, or maybe life.
I’m nervous to share it with you, but also excited. Kim and I both think it’s really good.
At first, no one was sure what had happened. An e-mail from the day care just told us a window had been damaged. A second e-mail asked parents to park in a different lot. But we didn’t know anything was wrong until the police announced it had been a gun shot.
And I found out my son had been in that same room, sleeping on his cot. Eight children were in there, breathing and dreaming and unaware of the grief that small single bullet had almost brought.
I went to the day care the next morning. The bullet hole looked just like they do on TV. I stared at it and wondered how the staff couldn’t see it’d come from a gun. But I thought about it, and wondered if I’d have known. If I were a teacher, I might have thought the glass was defective, or a rock had been thrown. A gun shot wouldn’t have been my first thought.
I went inside to see the staff. I couldn’t believe how calm everyone was. A few women told me they were nervous, but no one had been hurt. And almost all of them had returned to work.
I hoped those teachers couldn’t tell how sad I was for them. They aren’t paid much, and it’s hard work. It’s draining. It’s thankless. It’s all day. Those women were there because they had to be. Were they scared? Probably. But they were making the children smile and laugh and sing as they sat together, on that cold January morning.
The sheriff was shaken when he met with us, two nights after the shooting. He told us their efforts were doubled and there was extra security at the building. But they still didn’t expect to catch the shooter.
Some parents sent their children back to the day care. We didn’t. That sounds like it’s easy to judge those who went back. But it isn’t. Our son liked that day care and he developed quickly, surprising us when he sang the alphabet, or when he first counted to twenty. He made friends with the other kids; we did the same with their parents. We knew the teachers. We cared for them.
And even though what had happened was terrible, the shock went away quickly.
Because that bullet landed in the wall, bloodlessly.
We figured it was a mistake, a shot went awry, an accident during a gun cleaning.
But a few days later, the police told us multiple bullets had been fired at the building.
And they didn’t know why.
We invent reasons for evil. We blame it on class, economy, race, society, frustration, insanity, Hollywood, immaturity, immigrants, flawed laws, presidents, God. But when the enemy’s anonymous, that lack of reason’s terrifying.
It’s like a secret we’re keeping.
I like the clichéd comforting approach to end this track. I like the idea of describing my son sleeping on his back, smiling in his Batman pajamas, right before he wakes. I could talk about how the sunlight falls on his face as he opens his eyes.
Or maybe I end this true story with a lie. I could tell you the police caught the shooter. Or guilt drove someone forward. Even if the truth is no one’s been identified.
Or maybe I finish it abruptly, violently, since this is an endless cycle of violence we’re in, and it feels so hopeless. Like the way my wife feels when she wakes up at four in the morning, breathing quickly. Helpless.
A few days ago we took my son to a birthday party. Good friends of ours have a daughter who was born a week before he was, and she just turned three.
There were two sets of mats in one corner of the play gym. My son jumped back and forth between them. Nothing too dangerous. But he slipped and he fell and he landed awkwardly.
He stood up and came running over to me.
It seems like he always wants me to hold him the same way, and I remember it the way I remember the scent of bread when I walk into a bakery, or how water fills me when I’m thirsty. His face presses against the right side of my chest, and his hands dive down between our bodies. A hug from my son feels like he’s giving everything of himself to me.
And then he ran off.
*Nick D. Klein, a Washington, DC, based photographer, has been published in several lifestyle magazines, including Modern Luxury. He specializes in event and portrait photography. For more information and a gallery of his work, visit his web site.