Satellite Beach, Florida. 1995. I am a sophomore at a high school so
close to the beach that on windy days the salt spray from the ocean
floats in toward the two-story building like a hazy cloud. I belong to
an eclectic group of friends that changes based on class rotation and
lunch schedules, mostly girls. The demographic there is very… white.
Many of us are involved in intramural sports, music lessons, theatre,
and dance. Basically, our parents can afford stuff. We’re on a
seven-class rotation. My friend Samantha elects to take Japanese for her
foreign language requirement. “Samansa Oo-ay-boo.” She quotes the
Japanese pronunciation of her name at lunch. Gillian, who sits at our
table in the cafeteria eats a banana a day and has modeled for Teen
Magazine. Band, sports, science clubs…  most of us are
involved. On Amy’s sixteenth birthday, her parents pull up in the front
driveway that loops around behind the school’s monumental brick sign in a
new white Acura Integra with a sunroof. We’re surprised, but not
shocked. Not jealous. Most of us are content. Content enough to be bored
and restless–enduring the weight of the birthright of those
sufficiently provided for. Few of us are rich. But most of us are
overwhelmingly comfortable. 



Teen pregnancies were mythical and
rumor. Abortions went undiscussed unless we had a paper for a sociology
class due. I expressed myself through what I considered
“fashion”–prized vintage garments from local thrift shops that my mom
drove me to in her Mercedes on intermittent Saturdays. Showing up in the
hallways dressed like a piece of what I imagined the past to be was a
big part of my day. Some of my friends did the same. Our choices were no
more cathartic than the rest.

The bell that rang to signal the
changing of classes, probably the very same bell that rang for some of
our parents, sounded alarmingly metal still–shrill and piercing and you
just knew that at that volume the outer edges of the surrounding
suburban neighborhoods were washed lightly with the sound.  It
sounded more than nine times a day like a firehouse alarm, and although
it merely signaled the nonchalant change of classes (because we wouldn’t
move in any other way but an unbothered, bobbing mass), one had to
disbelieve the urgent physical clanging on our eardrums and deny the
tight spot in our stomachs where the sound directly pressed its alarm
into us. We chose our pace in spite.  In the moments after the
clanging, we could breathe. Slam our books closed. Zip up our backpacks.
And we moved like something sticky. Stubborn. Like we moved because we
had to.  â€¨â€¨

On the east coast of Florida on a
barrier island where we conducted our daily lives, the smell of salt,
sand, and freshly mowed grass washed us in the same bath. Time moved as
it should. My older sister graduated in 1996, and we rarely passed each
other in the hallway. Yet her perceived presence reminded me that I
would soon, too, graduate and be off to a life I could hardly imagine.
Not much about what we did as this group of young people was unique. I
think we were all just largely unimpressed. Nothing pulled us. Tugged
us. Asked more of us than our years could require us to understand. We
floated. Bobbed in the same pool. We were fully marinated by nothing but
peace in a stagnant pool of provision. The majority of us
weren’t grappling with big questions. We thought big questions
meant where you’d go to college and for what and if your mother was
really as bad as you thought she was.  â€¨â€¨

A phenomenon that touched us once
every six months or so was a “bomb threat.” More like hugged us. A bomb
threat meant that either the local police or the front office at our
high school had received word that a bomb was placed or planted on the
premises of our high school. This was a common occurrence… evil
haunted suburbia, yet only in a literary sense. Word of a possible bomb
was taken seriously, of course.  Procedures were followed.
Automatic evacuation of the premises meant that we exited the school
compound classroom by classroom according to an evacuation map. Those on
the east side of the school, let’s say, filed out to stand in the sun
on the “practice field,” the practice football field on which my eldest
sister endured marching band practice in boxer shorts and combat boots,
flute raised to her pursed mouth, every day after school. 

To
our designated spots in the field, we brought our necessary items which
often meant our purses and backpacks… books left open on the desks in
empty classrooms, as if a rapture of sorts occurred and we left our
religion behind and took our bodies alone… like we knew better. We
were just pricks–our separate actions rebellious—together, a
half-assed demonstration lost on all but God and the policemen trudging
behind the explosive-sniffing dogs among the empty aisles of the
classrooms. We had exercised our right to disregard our schooling
without really considering it. 



We waited in the Florida heat for the
police dogs to search the school’s empty hallways, classrooms, and
closets while our teachers, present at first to take attendance, drifted
to find one another. We found our friends if they weren’t already with
our evacuating class, and made conversation or raided our purses or
backpacks for items to amuse us. Gum, Discmans, photographs… Some of
the boys practiced handstands. We were a sea of young and unbothered
smiles. I imagine us from above, homogeneous forms congregating around
fences, baseball fields, football and basketball fields, blurring the
lines of the parking lots, and settling in social lumps together. No one
was actually displaced by this “bomb.” 



And
at no time, I suppose, did any of us ever think of or imagine “the
bomb.” We were simply unable to understand what a bomb threat meant,
unable to connect to it on any level. “Bomb” was
supposed to be a big word. But bombs were stories in black and white in
newspapers inside the sections that bored us. Bombs were the pictures of
their aftermath in our textbooks. Bombs were news events. But the
proximity of a bomb to us was unreal and unacceptable to our reality. We
refused to consider the possibility that something that could tear our
guts out might be near.


And I think 1970. And 1974. Vietnam.
Why? Because those kids
in high school were just 12 to 24 months away from bombs. Bombs that
melted skin and blew off testicles. Untangled intestines in a spatter of
deafening explosion.  Bombs during protest marches. Bombs in
jungles in cities whose names they could not pronounce. Bombs were here
and abroad, nearly inescapable.  And they were fucking blowing
up, not just being sniffed for by canine units raised in friendly police
stations in suburbia. They were just 12 to 24 months away from becoming
righteously angry.  Some, two semesters away from tear gas.
From trying to do something.


View it larger here.

Twenty-plus years before we walked
the halls of my high school, a young generation was called to action.
But mine heard no such call.  It’s almost as if that
by the time we inherited the concept of a bomb, the word had exhaled
almost all of its meaning, its political history and future deflated
from it. The “threats,” all eventually deemed false alarms, triggered absolutely no
response in us at any point in time during the evacuation process.  My peers and I milled around, dormant.

We
were made with no more and no less sinew than any other
generation, but we slept.  I think of our faces. The smiles.
The handstands. The sunburned grass of the fields crunching beneath our
sandals, our backpacks slung over our shoulders or discarded beneath the
palm trees. Unable to be touched, the impending threat never changed
our faces, tear gas and explosions safely folded in darkness between the
pages of the textbooks we’d left behind.