He’s a sensitive soul, my middle child, Joe. Today, he has come home from school quieter than usual. I ask if he’s feeling all right. He says he’s OK. He gulps down some crackers and a glass of grape juice. Then he heads up to his room.
“Not going out to play baseball?” I ask.
“After my homework,” he says.
He’s in second grade, and homework takes all of 20 minutes. The first clue something’s not quite right. Plus, it’s a beautiful spring day, and his best friend Nick, two houses down, is out in his front yard with his baseball glove and bat, ready and waiting.
I give Joe a few minutes before going upstairs to check on him, my middle child, the quiet one. He’s in his room, curled up on his bed, and he is crying. I sit down beside him, put my cool hand on his forehead, and ask him: Do you feel sick? Did something happen at school today? Was someone mean to you? Did you get hurt?
Choked up with this sorrow that is buried within him, he shakes his head to everything I ask.
“Joey, stop crying for a second and tell me what’s wrong so I can help,” I say.
He sits up, wipes his eyes, and coughs out one word: “Guns.”
Then he starts crying again. I put my arms around his small shoulders and hold him tight. I think I get what’s bothering him now. It’s been in the news all week. The highly publicized murder in the next town over. In Derry. A young husband came home and was shot, fatally, by a couple of punk teenagers.
“Nothing like that could ever happen to you, Joey,” I say.
He asks how do I know that. There are guns around everywhere. He has nightmares about them. He worries everyday that people in our town are hiding guns in their pockets. And rifles. He’s heard gunshots out in the woods. How do I know he isn’t going to get shot. How do I know someone isn’t going to break into our house and shoot all of us.
Except for the Pamela Smart murder trial, I can’t figure out where his fear of guns originated. There aren’t any in this house. Not even play ones. Maybe it’s that up to this point, his media world has been limited to Disney cartoons, “Saved by the Bell,” and Red Sox baseball. A world of innocence and dreams. Which is how it should be for an eight-year old boy.
Now the world has broken through with a deadly bang. A gunshot that echoes day and night in his head.
“What if right now you write a letter to the president. Tell him what you just told me. That you’re afraid because so many people have guns.”
Joey says he’d like to do that. He goes to his desk and starts writing. Then he hands the letter to me and says to make sure I mail it today. Because the president really needs to know what’s going on. I promise him I will – if he promises to go outside now and play with Nick. He grins and runs downstairs. A carefree boy again.
I read his letter. It says, “Dear Mr. Bush, My name is Joey, and I have nightmares at night because of all the guns. What can you do about all the guns? I hope you can help so I can sleep better. Thank you, Mr. Bush. Joey.”
“Mom! I got a letter from the president!” Joe runs into the kitchen, waving a white envelope.
He rips open the envelope and reads it out loud to me. “Thank you for your letter. Barbara and I hope you have a good summer and read some good books.”
“I don’t get it,” Joe says.
I tell him the president was probably too busy to write a long letter about the problems with guns. But I’m sure he’ll do something about them real soon.
April 16, 2007 “Dear Mr. Bush, The children in our country are still having those nightmares.” Joe’s mother