Why Does it Have To Be This Way?
GMP Columnist Taylor García Looks Back in Time To Make Sense of Today
Looking at Diana’s Santa Fe High School senior picture, you’d never know she survived a terrible tragedy. The white teeth of her perfect smile, her blissful brown hair and eyes—an Hispanic Snow White—belies the singular event that will always be a defining moment in her life. To this day, she says she doesn’t remember a thing. It was as though her mind, as a means to protect itself, shut down the memory of what happened.
It went like this: on the way back from the mile-long walk from lunch on Llano Street, Diana and her two best friends, Melanie and Michelle, followed by we, the boys that loved them, saw the crosswalk light still illuminated, but now flashing. The three girls ran to cross the two-lane thoroughfare, but stayed back instead. Diana, however, didn’t. She kept on—head down—running into the street. Traffic was stopped at the T-intersection, except for the red pick-up truck speeding up Siringo Road. When the driver accelerated through the intersection, he must have only seen the signal change from red to green, and not Diana darting across. Melanie and Michelle screamed with all they had for her to stop.
We were freshman at Santa Fe High School, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Home of the Demons. It was 1990, and SFHS was an open campus, so anyone could come and go as they pleased during the lunch hour. Freshmen weren’t permitted to drive, so we often left school on foot via “The Freshman Freeway,” a mile or so road that led to the closest strip mall, home to a Hardees and a newly opened Burger King. At one point, Melanie had dated a sophomore and he would drive us once in a while in his beater Trans Am, but most times we walked. The girls and me, Ken, and Scott. We were all just friends back then, boys and girls.
Santa Fe High’s point of egress at the corner of Llano and Siringo was an on-purpose gateless opening in the chain-link perimeter fence of the high school. It was known as Smoker’s Gate. It was our on-ramp to the Freshman Freeway.
Melanie and Michelle had run out into the street toward Diana. She was thrown at least 30 feet on the upward slope of the road. I was directly behind them, and all I remember were three things: Melanie and Michelle crying and kneeling over Diana, the red truck stopped in the absolutely silent intersection, and Diana’s purple leather flats on the pavement, soles down, shoulder-width apart, as though she had just slipped them off right there in the street.
I ran. I ran as fast as I could through Smoker’s Gate, up the hill to the Administration Building. I frantically told the secretary to call 911. A girl had been hit by a truck. Diana. I didn’t return to the scene of the accident. Instead, I went to our English teacher’s room, Mrs. Capshaw. I told her what had happened, and she had me sit in her office to calm down.
Why I never returned to the scene, I don’t know. I even had a hard time visiting Diana in the hospital. She had sustained a hip fracture and a minor head injury. She wasn’t paralyzed. She would walk again, though she hobbled with crutches for a long time. My only consolation was that I had made the call. I was a responder, if not at her side, I helped carry her to safety by being the messenger. There were no mobile phones in our pockets back then. The relay of information depended on how fast we were willing and able to communicate with other human beings.
I imagine Diana’s mother and father, receiving the call that their daughter had been hit by a truck, how awful that news must have been. They had sent their daughter off to school that day, like other days before it, thinking she was going to be safe. That’s how it used to be. We had security guards on campus. There was a police officer assigned to the high school who had never been called into action. The only real dangers, like Diana’s accident, happened off school grounds. Diana’s was an extreme case, and one that shouldn’t have happened to any high schooler. After all, high schoolers are still children, and children shouldn’t be victims of terrible accidents.
That was almost 30 years ago. The specter of an active shooter roaming the halls had never crossed our minds. Maybe the closest thing was Pearl Jam’s hit song “Jeremy,” the true story of a 16-year-old Texas high school student that shot himself in school. Columbine hadn’t happened yet. We all felt so safe, and those incidents, if they happened, were so isolated, so far away. Did we know victims of shootings? Were we victims ourselves? No.
What’s so upsetting with today’s epidemic of gun violence, is that it is just that. It’s a sickness that’s only getting stronger. As a father now of two boys, my eldest starting kindergarten in the fall, my wife and I spend equal amounts of time debating how safe the school is as we do evaluating its academic merits.
It would be easy to say that this is just the country we live in now. It would be easy to say that we indeed need to limit our children’s access to violence on television and video games. It would be easy to support initiatives that identify troubled kids that might bring guns to school. It would be nice to support an initiative called the National Center for the Prevention of Mass Shootings, but all of those noble ideals are just plain lazy. If we want to protect our children, we know what needs to be done.
Children are creatures of conditioning. What we put in front of them, they adapt to. To read that a survivor of the recent Santa Fe, Texas shooting say, “I’ve always felt like eventually it was going to happen here too,” (The Week, June 1, 2018) says everything. Our children now expect these horrific events to happen in their own hometown. In their very own high school, as though it’s just a matter of time. Why has it come to this?
Can we at least regain some humanity and mercy for ourselves and prioritize that for our children? Can we acknowledge that gun regulation is just as important as mental health awareness? Can we simply disarm the debate?
As parents, our only mission is to impart wisdom on our children. To guide them to be good people. We can only teach them to care for themselves and each other. That if they are ever in harm’s way, they know how to get out of it, and help others get out of it, too. Our children are teaching us now that this ends with them, and we need to listen. We need to stand with them as they move to make lasting change. Anything else only adds to the disease.