Heart Shapes

3 min

Sonia Melamed and Charlie Rothkopf co-authored this piece based on a real life event that occurred on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida. Charlie plays football for MSD High. He saw a lot of death  [+]

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My morning began in the most usual way, running out the door, saying goodbye, quickly, with something in my hand on its way to my mouth... so very quickly, like every other day. That's the thing about life, you never know when its about to turn you upside down and inside out.

I was late to first period. Nothing unusual about that except today I saw a line of 10 kids who had apparently gotten in trouble for having Juul- someoone told on them. That's too bad. I looked at them and they looked back at me, waiting in a not-so-straight line. At least I wasn't having a morning like that, I thought -- my eyes scanning them one last time before grabbing my late pass. My eyebrows doing their best to wish them luck. Now if I could just avoid failing my math quiz later-- I pumped my feet and ran to class. I noticed the pink and red around me, the pink and red - heart shapes, posters and balloons, oh yea, it's Valentine's Day. I almost forgot. Valentines Day. I run to class.

4th period, quiz time, the teacher asks us to remove everything and clear off our desks. The noisy conversation around me tapers off and the hum of the AC takes over as I eyeball my notes one last time. One last time. What's the use? If I don't know it by now, it's too late. I just don't want to fail-- my mom's a math teacher, I shouldn't fail. Ten questions: one, two, three, four, five- relieved.
I'm halfway there.
Five more.
Six, seven, eight-- eight, wait, what? What was tha-.

That sounded a lot like bullets. Pops. That's right. Pops. Eight. Four and then four more. I look up to find some agreement. Were those SHOTS? Something inside of me tells me to move to the front of the classroom- moving fast, I dive to the ground by the front door. Suddenly it swings open, a girl stumbles inside, she takes 4 steps and then 4 more and falls to the ground. Her leg exploding before me like a geyser, pink and red, a lot of pink and red everywhere, the muscles and tendons inside her leg, I can see it all. She's crying, then screaming, no one is doing anything, why isn't anyone doing anything?!!

The teacher was the first one to move- quickly towards the door and locks it. The girl is still screaming, why isn't anyone helping her?! I look up, searching for some agreement. "Throw me that shirt,", I yell out, the lone t-shirt by someone's yoga mat finds its way to me. I rip it in half and make a tourniquet and hold it tightly around her leg. I feel the pressure of the blood like a freshwater stream trying to travel outside of her, pumping and pushing. I hold it tight for 5 minutes. 5 minutes of silence. 5 minutes of calm. The blood is slowing down, her cries are quieting down but there's too much blood.

And then the shots again. More shots and now I can hear some voices too. Up and across the hallway. Is it getting closer or moving farther away? There is a lot of blood, too much blood, on my shoes and on my shirt- and all over her. Her blood is forming a pool around us.

Three minutes after the last shot, a SWAT team busts through the door, checking every window and door, every single corner, quickly. The paramedics sweep in behind them and take the girl. We start to exit. As I exit the classroom I look to my left, I see six SWAT team members fully geared up like Trojans with riot shields and automatic weapons moving like a singular organism. They are clearing each space before letting us through. As I look to my right, I see two dead girls. I instantly know they are dead although I've never seen a single dead person in my life. They are slumped over, one has no face; her face is gone and some of her hair is covering the empty heart-shaped gap. There's a lot of blood. There is a book nearby-- I remember her walking out of her classroom before the bell rang to read a book. She just needed a moment- a break from the noise- some peace and quiet.

I am quickly being ushered out of the building with everyone. I look around, I see posters and balloons and cards scattered throughout the floor, heart shapes, pink and red, oh yea, it's Valentine's Day. I almost forgot. Valentine's Day.

I run home.


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