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Dear Peter Wang
I have cried every day for the past seven days.
I am a seventeen-year-old girl. I have sat quietly and watched as almost every week there’s more news of another mass shooting. I have sat quietly and watched girls get detention for wearing spaghetti straps, while a boy in my class doesn’t get dress coded for wearing a shirt with a picture of an AR-15 on the back two days after it kills 17 people in Florida. I have sat quietly and watched as my mother cries at night worried about whether it is safe to drop me off at school the next day. I have sat quietly and watched when at lunch, my friend wonders out loud at the safety of our cafeteria during a school shooting.
I have sat quietly and watched
I have sat quietly and watched
I have sat quietly and watched
(I wonder if I have been silent so long I have swallowed my tongue thinking it was sustenance.)
The day of the Parkland High School Shooting, it was Valentine’s. I did not know much about what happened, so I did not cry then. I cried, that Saturday, three days too late, when I watched videos of students in the aftermath, recounting what they witnessed–
turn left down the hall pass two dead bodies, you’ve seen them in the hallway before they’re lying face down you run to stay alive but oh god oh god do you want to collapse yet and cradle them to your chest and sob drag them out the door too or are you running off adrenaline still text your parents you love them tell them you love tell them you love them tell them i love them i love you please don’t go
you hold a textbook up so it shields your face it’s small but it still does the trick you think after but your best friend she sits behind you in history she didn’t make it how do you not break down crying in front of the news reporters yet not everyone could fit behind the flipped tables not everyone they were unlucky i guess oh my god he shot through the window you’re so afraid
someone’s crying for their mother they’re on the floor bleeding don’t meet his eyes lie down stay down the bullets smell like bombs you want your mother where’s your mom you wish she was here but also not you want to tell them you love them the feel of the smooth cool linoleum on your face and your rabid rabbit-like heart there is nothing to hold on to but air you wish there was anything other than air
Peter Wang was a fifteen-year-old boy. He was also a junior ROTC officer. He held open a door for other students to run to safety into a classroom and was shot to death by the 19-year-old who was also wearing a former ROTC shirt. The 19-year-old had been the best shot in his ROTC class.
Two boys, four years apart in age, both junior ROTC cadets, both in uniform, stood across from each other in a hallway. One was holding a door, the other was holding a gun. Students ran by, but those two were suspended for a second amidst the chaos. One raises his gun–
Between the ROTC boy who may not have held a gun in his life but held open the door in his last moments before the sweet embrace (oh cradle him, god please, let him be with the angels) of death and the ROTC boy who cruelly took the lives of 17 people with an assault rifle in that same day?
The true hero, the true ROTC officer, was the one who did something so selflessly brave and kind for his classmates.
So Peter Wang, you deserve every single medal of honor. To me, you are already a graduate of West Point Academy. You are already a soldier who served our nation. You are only one year older than my little sister, and I fear the same embrace of death will happen to her one day, too soon, as it did for you. But thank you, Peter, for reminding me – that even in the darkest moments, the darkest of times, there is always kindness and hope and light. Thank you. I hope you are happy in heaven.
I am sorry, Peter, I am sorry. I am crying and sobbing and red-faced as I write this. I am sorry this nation has failed you. If you could see what they’re doing to you and sixteen others on the news, on Youtube comments, and in Tweets, in the White House and in Florida State Capitols and NRA board meetings – it’s senseless. It’s heartless. I watch some of their faces, Peter, and I see nothing. I see none of the emotion. There’s nothing there. I used to be afraid of guns, but I think now I’m afraid of that void. That emptiness in their eyes. How can they not curl up and cry? How can you look at a father whose daughter has died at 14 and not choke right there on stage? To not have the heart to repent? How can you have the gall to stare back stone-faced? How can you save face in a situation like this? They say they don’t pretend to understand what you’ve been through, but they’re not even trying. Their eyes are cold, every word fails to satisfy.
So swallow your tongue, they told us. As we grew up, we were conditioned into remaining silent. Watching. Swallow your tongue. Keep your mouth shut. You’re just kids. Who will listen?
(“We’re just trying to just not let seventeen of us get shot in the f***ing face again.”)
But Peter, I’ve realized something. They were wrong. Maybe they underestimated our voices before our hums became a chorus. Maybe they knew how powerful we would be all along and tried to stop it. Either way, a song is rising above the rest of that spiteful cacophony and the empty well in their eyes. Something has come back stronger from the terror and the despair. And it’s the things you embodied when you held open the door for dozens of students that day. Bravery. Selflessness. Kindness.
It’s going to be hard, I know. But your death will not be in vain, Peter. None of the seventeen lives lost that day will be in vain. Because where there is hate and fear and despair, there is hope and courage and light.
(For the Constitution may have the Second Amendment, but the Declaration of Independence states this: “all men… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”)
I am spitting out my swallowed tongue. I will swallow it no longer. I refuse to sit quietly anymore.
(For the Constitution may have the Second Amendment, but before that, there was the First. The freedom of assembly, press, religion, and speech.)
I have cried every day for the past seven days. On the eighth, I pick up a pen and begin writing.