As it turned out, he didn’t have to say very much. Less than half of them were aware of what had happened, and few of them were very interested. They were talking about it when they came in from the busses; those who had seen the news were telling those who had not. But it had come to them through the plastic reality of the television. It was no more real than a drug bust, famine in Ethiopia, or oil spills. Or Miami Vice. It was just another part of the endless effluvium of human suffering that washed about them every day; with marvelous sanity, most of them remained unmoved.
A few of them were affected. Tanya Michelson looked as if she had been crying when she came in and stayed unnaturally quiet all day. Lisa Cobb jumped at every sound. Oscar Teixeira had been thinking hard about what it all meant. He went straight to the fact that the children who had died had all been Asian. With a clarity of thought all out of proportion to his age, he made the connection to the celebration of Martin Luther King Day just before the shooting. Of course he did not speak of irony — not at eleven years old — but he did recognize the juxtaposition.
At noon, Bill Campbell called a special teachers’ meeting to discuss campus security. He stressed that any stranger seen on campus was to be approached immediately and asked his business, and referred to the office if there was any question about why he was there. “This isn’t anything new,” Bill said. “It has been school board policy for about ten years, ever since parents kidnapping their own children became a problem. In light of what happened in Stockton, we have to be even more careful.”
Jesse Herrera came on campus for his afternoon class with Neil just before the final noon recess bell rang. He dropped his book bag outside Neil’s door and slid along the wall of the building. When the bell rang he leaped out, shouting out the sound of gunfire, and pantomimed firing across the playground.
Neil saw him, and his temper exploded. He was a hundred feet away when Jesse “fired”. He covered the distance at a run, grabbed the boy by both arms, and jerked him off the ground as he skidded to a stop.
Then he blew his ears back.
He screamed out how stupid he was being, how insensitive to the suffering of the students who had been wounded, and how disrespectful to the memories of those who had died. Later, Neil could not remember the exact words he had used, but they were loud. All the student on the playground froze in their tracks until Neil finished, then rushed on to class looking back over their shoulders.
Jesse folded up like a rag doll. He buried his head beneath his hands to ward off blows that never fell. Neil stood over him, breathing in gasps as he tried to control his anger. He had never felt more like striking a child. The pathetic cowering that would normally have defused his anger, only made it worse. more tomorrow