Yesterday I woke up with a pretty gnarly cold. My head throbbed, my throat ached and I felt overall awful. I was frustrated because I felt like the cold was a response to the ever-growing list of stressful events in the last few weeks -– like my body was saying, “Hey, girl. Chill out.”
Sean was off work, which is unusual for a Tuesday, and we decided to take our son (Jasper) to a mall that's a 15-minute drive from our home. Jasper likes to play with the train tables at Barnes and Noble, so we figured we'd let him do that first. When we arrived at the bookstore, the train table was gone, so we decided to head toward the play area on the other side of the mall, stopping to pick up pants for Jasper since he's seemingly constantly growing.
Jasper quickly became engaged in what is currently his favorite game to play with other kids (tag), so we watched him and enjoyed the scene. I had just glanced at Jasper to see where he was when, all of a sudden, the strangest popping sound rang out in the mall. Sean and another dad simultaneously yelled, “Someone's shooting in the mall!” at the same time that I literally leapt out of my seat, pulled my child out of a tunnel by his feet, and ran.
Someone was indeed shooting in the mall. Before the shooting was over, the gunman and two other people would be dead.
I have always said that if I found myself and Jasper in a situation like this, I would grab him and run, and it's exactly what I did. Sean said I left so quickly that when he turned around, checking to confirm the gunshots, I was already in the department store near an exit, heading outside. There were allegedly 60 shots fired in the mall's food court yesterday, and I heard seven of them before Jasper and I were out.
Sean, who is a remarkably level person in a crisis, somehow had the presence of mind to grab our stuff, and, as he was about to follow us, he noticed a mom struggling with her two children on the floor of the play area. She had an infant she was feeding, and an older child Jasper had been playing with. The mom was totally glued to the spot, so he scooped up the two-year-old and told her to follow him. He made sure they were safe, and then tried to find Jasper and I.
It wasn't until Jasper and I were in the parking lot that I began to really freak out. I found a man who I totally assumed, based on some hard and fast stereotypes that society has beaten into many of us, would be able to protect Jasper and I while we found Sean. He was a big, burly, strong-looking dude, so I just ran over to him.
I was about to ask him if he could help us when I realized this man was absolutely losing it and yelling into his phone over and over, “What do I do? What do I do?”
At this point, I just wanted to find our car –- maybe Sean would head that way. I wasn't worried at all about Sean because I knew that he would get out and be safe. I just really desperately needed to see him and touch him and know that this event was closer to being over than beginning.
Jasper, who had been absolutely silent while we were running, asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to find the car, and he said, “Oh, okay! That's okay. Just look for something yellow, Mom.”
I turned around and a woman was behind us, leaning her head out of her car and asking if we needed a ride. We happily jumped in, and drove around the parking lot with her for a few minutes. We picked up another family on the way, dropped them off at their car, and headed to where Sean and I had parked. The police were telling everyone to leave the area, so then we were stuck –- Sean had our phones, keys, purses, coats, Jasper's shoes.
Sean never, ever answers his phone, but I tried calling him on the woman's phone just to see -– and he answered. We made arrangements to meet at a Starbucks nearby, and a drive that usually takes five minutes took us around 20. We eventually got there, and after profusely thanking this wonderful woman who was just THERE at exactly the perfect time, we were all united and headed to a nearby hotel to hang out until we knew it was all over –- a few hours later.
Jasper has a ton of questions, of course, and last night before he went to sleep he said, “I think tonight I will have good and bad dreams about the mall. Good dreams because there were police cars and ambulances and fire trucks to protect us, and bad dreams because there was shooting. I think the mall is good and bad. I think the mall is mixed up.”
I think he's totally right.