Shooting: An Ode to My Daughter, Yet to Be Born
December 14, 2012
Stars shoot and so do guns—
my daughter tells me this, a fact, as she climbs
down the school bus steps.
I’m speechless and cold because
her face looks older
and I think she can see through me.
I rub my gloved hands together and visions
of the shooting stars from last night’s
Geminid meteor shower alter into gunshots
at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
She looks up and waits for me to say something,
but I don’t and we walk inside.
Later, the streets are empty and all doors
are locked. The streets separating our houses are apocalyptic.
The plows have left the snow,
but no one notices, not even the dog
who hasn’t even begged for a walk.
Instead, we are connected by our talking televisions
droning still on CNN,
which we watch religiously like we did on 9/11,
questioning who, what, where, when, and why
so that we don’t have to imagine
what it would have felt like to be
the teacher who shielded her children
from the gunman
with her body.
Or the boy with superpowers
who told his teacher not to worry because he knew karate.
Tonight, my daughter is tightly tucked beneath bed sheets
decorated in dinosaurs, owls, and penguins with elf hats,
for ‘tis the season to be merry and bright.
I try to read to her from The Polar Express
but I keep skipping words and she whines and tells me
I’m doing it wrong.
I ring a bell and ask can you hear it? Do you believe?
Her brown eyes look like the underbellies
wide and questioning.
She shakes her head yes, but she plays with the seam
of her pajamas.
She won’t look at the bell.
I think about the parents from Sandy Hook
who have hidden presents
for the children still lying in the school, waiting to be identified.
They would have hidden the gifts in closets, attics, basements,
littering their hallways with trinkets
I kiss my daughter’s forehead and walk out of her room,
hesitating a moment before I crack the door,
like I do every night so she can sleep.
Mom, she calls out, turning in bed.
You can close the door. I’m too old to believe
I force a smile, but I feel the pressure in my throat growing.
Last night, we’d stayed up together and watched
the Geminid meteor shower
and made a thousand wishes as the stars sped past.
We’d wished for health and happiness, for world peace,
for plush puppies and ruby red slippers.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining.
We sang together and hummed when we lost track
of the words.
Whenever my daughter had caught sight
of a shooting star,
she’d pointed and giggled and danced
and asked me what I wished for.
What was on my list for Santa?
I’d studied her
as she spun in the middle of the field
and looked up into the Milky Way,
imagining all the places she’d go.
And, tonight, I kneel outside her bedroom,
with the door safely shut
trying to remember what
it had looked like
through her eyes
when all was still and bright and innocent,
and when shooting was only an act of the stars.
If you asked me at seven years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you, “A marine biologist, a storyteller, and a mother of seven.” However, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, parenting—or even the concept of parenting—would never be the same. After watching CNN clips of the attack on Sandy Hook for weeks, I questioned whether I still wanted to bring children into this world, imagining the daughter I might someday have and how we might navigate fear, anxiety, and love in the 21st century. Even though this daughter was only imaginary at the time, I mourned for her childhood that was already stolen by rising gun violence across America, despite not even being born yet. This fall, my wife and I will be sending our eldest daughter to Kindergarten. We worry about her being bullied because she has two moms, about COVID-19 finding its way into her asthmatic lungs, and about boys carrying misplaced anger and guns. When we drop her off, we will squeeze her until we can’t breathe—until our hearts almost stop—and then we will let her go.
Trisha Cowen works as an Assistant Professor of English at Westminster Trisha M. Cowen is an Assistant Professor of English at Westminster College. She earned her doctoral degree in Literature and Creative Writing at Binghamton University (SUNY) and completed a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. Her creative work has appeared in The Portland Review, Bitter Oleander Press, and Passengers Journal, among many others. She is the author of a fiction chapbook about lesbian motherhood called Mobiles in the Sky (2014), published by Gertrude Press. She lives in Pennsylvania with her wife and two young daughters. For more information, go to https://trishacowen.com/