By Tara Van De Mark
Mom—I lied about going to Brian’s for a sleepover. I mean, I went to Brian’s house, but his parents weren’t there like I said they were. His parents are never there. Brian and I drank some beer and he showed me the key to his father’s gun locker. We hiked into the park. I killed some branches but Brian got mad that I won’t kill a squirrel like he did. He pointed his gun at me and pretended to shoot. He can be weird like that sometimes.
You are an amazing mom. I imagine you saying “Oh, my baby boy, it is okay, I’m here.” I like that you still call me your baby even though I’m almost twelve. We are not a family that hugs, but calling me that feels like a hug. I like when you pack my lunch, even though you get home late and leave the house before I wake. I like that my lunch box doesn’t have silly love notes like those stay-at-home moms put on top of the crustless organic seed butter sandwiches cut in the shape of hearts. My lunchbox has my favorite: baloney and cheese on white with mayo, made with the kind of love that comes from a life of just you and me. I wish I could remember the smell of that sandwich. Right now I can only smell the leftover paint jugs from art class.
I wish I could call or text you, but you took my phone. I know why you did it. This is my fault, all of it. I shouldn’t have lied to you about playing T2 with Brian. I wanted to make new friends and Brian kept reaching out and telling me we were going to be best friends. It makes my stomach hurt thinking that you had wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies with me that night but instead I said I couldn’t because of homework. I’m sorry I lied, mom.
The gunfire sounds closer. If I hadn’t forgotten my Earth Science textbook I would be dead right now. Mr. Nelson noticed me looking onto Andrew’s book so he gave me a hall pass and told me to go to my locker to get it. As I walked down the hall I heard a bunch of pops, like the fireworks kids set off in our alley during the summer, coming from my classroom. When I rounded the corner, the school’s active shooter alarm sounded. I had forgotten what to do so I just ducked into the supply closet. I can still hear the ear-splitting ring of the alarm in here even though I am hiding in the back corner behind the art supply shelves.
Why was I joking around with Brian during the active shooter drill? The whole thing seemed so pointless because any active shooter at the school would be doing the same drill with us and would know what we are doing now. Brian is always goofing off, though, because he is a legacy and has been here since he was a baby. The teachers let him get away with stuff, like muttering a curse word under his breath, and our classmates just ignore his weird obsession with death, even though he would have been bullied at my old school. But I’m not Brian. I am new and have no legacy.
It is so messed up that this is happening here, at stupid St. James Academy. The place you worked so hard to send me even though I know we can’t really afford it. This sort of thing happens in our neighborhood, not here! Here, the streets are lined with trees whose big red and yellow leaves float down to the ground in the fall. Did you know that a lawn maintenance company sweeps up the leaves once a week? Did you know that everyone at school thinks I live nearby because they see me walking that last half mile from the bus stop to school? They don’t know that I have to get on the bus at 6:30 or that the toes of my Air Jordans are stuffed with tissue because you gave in to my begging but made me get them two sizes too big so that they would last me the whole year.
Brian’s family lives on one of those tree-lined streets and he orders new shoes whenever he wants. But he doesn’t have a mom that loves him. I thought he was my only friend here because I was new and I was his only friend because he thinks everyone else sucks. But now I know that Brian made sure I couldn’t make friends with anyone else, told them lies about me and told me lies about them. Brian is really messed up.
I need to tell you everything before it’s too late. Remember when I said Brian and I had a fight last week? I wasn’t completely honest. He was mad that I wasn’t calling and texting him, even though I told him it was because you took my phone. But he exploded when he saw me talking to Craig after gym class. Brian told me not to talk with the other kids—that they are just walking zombies. So when he saw me talking to one of the zombies, he just walked up to me and said, “I am going to hunt you at school and kill you!”
Brian is looking for me now, with his father’s gun. I should turn off the lights in the closet, but I want to tell you that I love you. I can barely move and am scared that I will make noise. I wonder if you know that school is on lock down. Are you worried? Did you waste money and take an expensive Uber to rush to school? The worst thought of all is you baking cookies alone. I wish I had baked with you that night.