This morning, as I was getting my kids ready for school, I noticed the sound of helicopters.
Hmmm, I thought, making my coffee. Wonder if they’re installing equipment on the roof of the middle school a block away.
Henry, my middle-schooler, asked if I’d give him some more money for his lunch account. I handed him the check as he was halfway out the door. As he said thanks, I grabbed his jacket, pulled him back in, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day, Bud,” I said. He resisted my kiss, but I also know he could have pulled away harder if he’d really tried. Ah, pre-teens.
As I debated with my seven-year-old about changing clothes (he was wearing the exact outfit he’d worn the day before), Henry ran into the house, breathless.
“School’s closed! There was an explosion,” he said.
“What?” I said. My seven-year-old stared. I could hear my ten-year-old daughter walking into the kitchen.
“There’s police everywhere. Yellow tape,” he said, bending over and holding his knees, breathing hard. We only live a block away from school. Clearly he’d run fast all the way home. I realized at that moment the helicopters churning overhead must be news choppers.
“What kind of explosion? In the school?” I asked.
“All’s I know is, me and all the other kids –”
“The other kids and I,” I corrected, then immediately wished I hadn’t.
“…were told there’s no school because of the explosion. Maybe a fire or something.”
The phone rang, and I grabbed it as I headed out to the sidewalk, trying to catch a glimpse of anything useful. My head was spinning.
“Hello,” I answered. Kids were walking in streams away from the school, past our corner. Three boys on bikes were on their cell phones. “What happened?” I asked them.
They started to talk, but I realized I’d just answered my own telephone. I tried to listen to the boys and my caller and felt my heart beating faster. The caller was my neighbor, asking if I’d heard the explosion, wondering if the elementary school would also be cancelled.
“Listen,” I said to her, “I’ll call you back after I get my other kids to school. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Turning to the boys on bikes, I asked again, “Is everyone okay?”
The boys didn’t know any more than Henry, just that school’s closed because something happened.
I kept getting news blurbs online through the Chicago Tribune website and Evanston Patch. Decapitated head, body found, bag nearby, smell of gun powder, found by neighborhood man walking dog.
My God. Someone killed themself, I thought. Times are so awful, maybe he’s in financial trouble, or his wife told him she’s leaving. Clearly he wanted to make a statement to whomever had wronged him.
The kids were asking millions of questions, including my youngest. “Did they put the fire out?” he asked.
“Honey, I don’t know if there even was a fire. It’s really confusing right now, isn’t it? I don’t think there was a fire, but I think someone died in the park, so everyone’s worried and trying to figure out what happened. I don’t want you to worry, okay?” He’s anxious. Then again, so am I.
I left Henry at home while taking the other two to their elementary school. The playground buzz was everywhere already. Many families, like mine, have middle-schoolers at Nichols. Parents covered their mouths with their hands as they asked, “Have you heard?” “Did you hear the explosion at 4 this morning? I thought a building blew up.” “Do you think it’s gang related?” “His head was blown off.”
I hung around for ten minutes, then drove home. Henry wanted to hang out at his friend Jonnie’s house, so I drove him over. On the outside, he seemed more excited than upset about the circumstances, but I know his questions ran as deep as mine. For Henry, a seventh-grader, school getting cancelled trumps a LOT. For me, the fact that I don’t want my kids to be scared trumps a LOT. And so, we drove to Jonnie’s, wondering what happened, our poker faces firmly in place.
When I got back home, I checked the internet again — sounds like a man attached an explosive device to his body, and that another bomb, possibly a pipe bomb was detonated nearby.
It happened at 4am on the field where Henry has his P.E. class. Where the school picnic is scheduled for tomorrow night.
I spoke to my neighbor who lives directly across the street from the middle school. His house wasn’t one of those evacuated, but he’d been out talking to people. According to (what he calls) a reliable source, the individual had two pipe bombs, one of which might have accidentally detonated. The other was next to his body. Had he intended to put the explosives somewhere near the school?
My God. Henry. I thought back to when I said goodbye to him this morning with his lunch money. How I grabbed his jacket, pulled him back in, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.