I don’t even know what to title this …

I wrote this story way back in 2012 the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. I was a different writer then and a different person–younger, more hopeful, less angry, more easily bruised. Writing it gave me comfort, and I hope reading it can still comfort someone else. But every time this happens, I become less sure that comfort is what we need.


The Teacher

The gunshots were loud, close, coming closer.  Later some of her friends who lived would be saying it had all happened so fast.  But she knew she wouldn’t be with them.

The lights were out, and the door was ajar, so from the hallway the classroom would look empty.  The children were huddled in a ring around her at the back of the room on the Story Carpet.  “Quiet,” she had whispered to them, forcing herself to sound calm, to even smile a little.  “We have to be perfectly quiet.”  They were trying so hard to obey, holding hands with one another, two of them holding her hands.

Please God, she prayed inside her head.  My babies . . . please, God, please please please please please please please . . . .

She felt hands folded over her hands.  She opened her eyes and found him crouched on the Story Carpet with them, an angel.  He was beautiful, and he was smiling, but his eyes were sad.  His wings, translucent in the dim light from the windows, spread and curved around their circle, holding the children as his hands held hers.

I was sent to be with you.  She heard his voice inside her head, and in an instant, she felt calmer.  You don’t have to talk; I can hear you.

She was still terrified.  More gunshots rang out, coming from next door.  Can you save them? she asked inside her head though she already knew the answer.  Can you take them away from here?  A tear slid down the angel’s cheek, confirming what she knew.  She thought for a moment about her husband and her family and her best friend and all the ones she loved so much, and for that moment, she thought she would shatter.  But the angel held her hands and looked into her eyes, and after that one moment, she could stand it.

Can the children see you? she asked.

They can feel me, he answered.  She knew it was true.  She could feel some of the tension going out of them, some of their fear melting away.  The ones holding her hands inside the angel’s hands looked almost dreamy, sleepy-eyed and smiling.  But they don’t need to see me, the angel said.  They see you.

A moment later, the door slammed open–screaming, a terrible  noise.  She had just enough time to stand and turn, arms outspread, to think, no, you can’t have them, you bastard!  And all the time the angel was behind her, hands on her shoulders, holding her tight.  A single, terrible moment of pain ripping through her, screams of the children . . . .

Then she was walking in an open field, green and lush, gentle sunshine all around, a playground from a fairy tale.  The children were running around her like running out to recess, laughing, shouting, perfect in their joy.  She looked to one side and saw the teacher from next door.  She was holding hands with one of her students, a boy who had been in a wheelchair, barely able to speak.  Now he was walking beside her, tall and strong.  And everyone was smiling.

The angel was walking beside her.  “What will happen to them now?” she asked him right out loud, all thought of fear forgotten.

“They’ll decide.”  Peple were coming toward them, calling out greetings.  The children knew them; they were running toward them, arms outstretched, being scooped up and hugged close.  “Some of them might stay here, but most of them will probably choose to go back and start over.  They were all so young.”

“Miss, look!”  A little boy from her class had stopped and was dancing in front of her, pointing.  “It’s my pawpaw!”  An old man dressed in camoflage with a bright orange hat on his head was coming toward them.  Suddenly the little boy was dressed just the same, and he ran to his grandfather’s arms.

“What about you, Teacher?” the angel asked.  A woman had appeared on the crest of the hill just ahead of her, and her heart skipped a beat with joy.  “Will you go back?”

“I don’t know.”  She had an idea that beyond these hills, this place was even more beautiful, not a place of clouds and golden harps but of peace and laughter and love.  But the place she’d left behind had been beautiful, too, with so much love her heart ached remembering it.

She turrned to the angel.  “If I go back, will I remember this?”

“No,” he said, smiling.  All of the sadness was gone from his eyes.  Here, he had no wings she could see.  He looked just like everybody else.  “You’ll start fresh, a whole new life.”  He took her hand.  “But I will remember you.”

the end

So then my dad died …

Heya Kittens –

So yeah, I’ve been away for a while, and regular readers have probably guessed why. My lovely dad who fell almost exactly a year ago passed away on September 18. I just had to go look up the date because I couldn’t believe he’s been gone that long already. I’ve been in a kind of disconnected fog since I got the first call that he was going to the hospital. As I’ve told what feels like every human soul I’ve ever met already, I spoke to Dad on the phone at about 6 pm on Saturday, September 12. (I didn’t see him because I hadn’t seen him since his skilled nursing facility went into total lockdown in March and thanks very much to everybody who refused to wear a mask or acknowledge the danger until it was too late; we all appreciate you very, very much.) At 1 am on Sunday, September 13, I got a call from his floor nurse telling me that he seemed confused and upset and was being sent to the hospital with what they suspected was a very much treatable infection. By Sunday night (we still hadn’t been allowed to see him, by the way), his ICU doctor at the hospital was telling us he was desperately ill with a massive infection throughout his body that was causing his blood pressure to plummet and his kidneys to fail. They put him on high-powered drugs to try to knock back the infection before his organs were too far gone, but by Monday morning, we knew that wouldn’t work, that the most they could do for him was prolong his life in his current state – unconscious, unresponsive, and probably in pain. So following the wishes he had outlined for us very carefully months ago when it seemed ridiculous to even worry about such issues, we opted for palliative care and waited for him to die. They told us maybe hours, maybe days. We got days. He couldn’t talk to us, and we saw very little evidence that he even knew we were there. But at least we got the chance to see him and talk to him. And he was comfortable – I cannot say enough nice things about the care he received from his doctors and nurses during that horrible week or the kindness they showed all of us.

On Friday afternoon about 5 o’clock, he died.

At my sister, Sarah’s urging, I wrote his obituary. “We can’t let everybody’s last impression of Dad be the man they saw at the nursing home,” she pointed out, and of course she was right. So I did the best I could to capture him as he would have wanted to be remembered–if you’re interested, you can read the obit here.

I’ve tried to write a little bit on fiction projects since–I was already up to my knees in Stella 5 and enjoying it very much. But it’s just not happening. I’ve got finished books in the pipeline; I’ve got editing projects for amazing books from other people that I still feel energized about. But I think I’m going to take a break for a couple of months from trying to produce any new story of my own. I talked to my publishers last week, and John and Melissa were, predictably, extremely supportive and keen to help. I’d say I can’t even imagine how I’d get through this if I didn’t know they have my back, but I can imagine it; I went through it when my mom died. And trust me, kittens, if it’s at all possible, always work with people who are decent humans first and talented artists second; it makes all the difference in the world. My little sister and fellow author, Alexandra Christian, has an amazing new book that actually came out the week Dad died, Falling Into Rhythm. It’s so good, y’all, and she worked so hard on it and was so excited about it finally coming out. If you’re looking for a good romance read, you really will love it. And like me, she could really use a win right now.

Anyway … I’m okay. I really am. I have a wonderful husband, and our whole family is extremely close, and we’re hanging on to one another and getting one another through it. And I’m not going anywhere; I’ll still be around, banging on about one thing and another. But my heart is broken, y’all. And I just wanted to tell you why.