I pictured the last time I saw my daughter. I had only dropped Briana off at school a few hours ago, but the memory of it was already graying at the edges. The blur of her tiny hand waving goodbye, her body-rocking nod when I asked her if she was going to have a good day. All of it shrinking and falling further and further out of the reach of my mind.
I wondered how she would remember me. The disheveled mom with the messy upswept hair and breakfast-stained sweatshirt that rushed to get her there on time? Or would she remember the love that beamed from my eyes as our foreheads touched and I whispered Go be brilliant, my love like I did every day?
Another pop, more screams, and I lost sight of my daughter. Her beautiful face and knack for bubbling over with joy, sucked into the void of last memories. I could only hope they waited for me on the other side. And that there was, in fact, another side.
Another pop. It sounded nothing like in the movies. I was sure it had a lot to do with my proximity. And a lot to do with the fact that filmed gunfire heard through speakers and watched behind the safety of a screen was much less harrowing then through the walls of my cubicle. Much easier to handle without the pain-filled, fear-soaked screams of my co-workers.
I pulled my knees deeper into my chest and scooted further under my desk. The veneer covered particle board pressed into my spine, reminding me that at least I was still alive. In the next breath, a sob swelled in my throat for the co-workers who couldn’t say the same.
I didn’t know much about this gunman, except that up until a week ago he was my co-worker, too. I wondered if it would’ve made a difference if I had known more about him. His favorite television show. His favorite movie. If he was married. If he had children.
Briana. Her sweet face hurtled through the vortex of despair and sat smiling in front of me once again. I wanted to reach out and rub her chubby cheek. To tell her one more time how much I loved her. As the impossibility of it nailed itself into my heart, another image pierced the surface. One that trickled through every pore, dug right into my marrow, and flooded me with a sudden calm.
Briana’s eyes, bright and focused. They were the same every time our foreheads touched and I asked her to shine. In fact, it was always her most attentive time. It struck me now that for her, they weren’t just words. That she got it. And through this realization, I knew she would be all right. That she would spend her life striving to be brilliant. And no matter what happened here, that was all I needed.