Fight, Flight, Freak

One of my coworkers just told me I should go somewhere to hide. Security has been called.

I ducked into my office. Now here I sit, perched on the quiet, stiff chair (not the squeaky roller one) under doused lights behind a locked the door. On my credenza under two years of accumulated, unfiled papers is the list of steps for how to respond to a campus active shooter.

Someone is looking for me. Not the general Director-me, but the specific Name-me.

She’s unarmed (they think) but how would we know?

Digging through papers makes noise. The active shooter list stays buried. I remember it says we’re supposed to silence our phones. Keep the room dark. Tapping on a computer keyboard makes noise, so don’t be tempted.

Deep breathing makes noise too, I now discover.

A heartbeat is deafening.

They told me we need to make her think I’m not here.

If only I wasn’t.

This piece would make great fiction.

If only it were.

Sometime when the threat has passed and my pulse slows, I’ll write about what it’s like to be a student advisor in the age of VA Tech and the Oregon community college. I’ll describe the trainings we receive, the offices we have to call, the way skittish professors will invoke feeling “threatened” by emotional students, and the chilling consequences such a claim can have. I’ll explain how, just when you decide it’s all a little too much paranoia, a student walks into a law school class right next door and attacks an instructor with a box cutter.

Someday I’ll write that. Another day when my keyboard’s noise is no longer a danger.

This is not supposed to be the trenches. But I sit here in paralyzed silence hearing only the throb of my own blood against my skull as it primes me for attack. I know, of course, that this is the real gritty world as much as the busy street 5 stories below. All of my community is here. All the financial stressors, the diminishing mental health support, the demands for excellence in a context of dwindling resources, and the social isolation that plagues every overcrowded city. It’s all here, inside this not-so-ivory tower. The students carry enormous burdens. Which means we do too. This is the trenches after all.

I hunker down wait for someone to come for me, to tell me it’s safe now.

If only.

8 thoughts on “Fight, Flight, Freak”

  1. Oh my, are you ok!? Thinking of you. And – I hope this makes you smile even a little – it’s a sign you’re a true writer that you’re writing through this. Be safe.

    1. All is well, thanks for the good wishes. Yep, the little screen on my phone was quiet indeed. Thank goodness. My thudding heart was about to split my chest wide open. Writing released a little pressure.

      The woman is not a student. We’re unsure what brought her to us and why she fixated on me. She was clearly disordered in some way. My team was fantastic. The training and good communication paid off. They redirected and stalled her, keeping her calm until security came. I am so grateful for my band of protectors.

      We should all be so lucky.

      Security is a commodity as unevenly distributed as housing, health care, and a living wage. The woman is now out somewhere in the community with a no-trespass order. Being sent away has nothing to do with getting the support she needs.

      I hope she finds her way to her own safety net, and is able to gather an army of caring protectors.

  2. peace to you, working in psychiatry i’ve had a few such run-ins and they tend to haunt a bit until (for better or worse) they don’t

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