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Staats: Valentine's Day, 2018

When you told your mom you loved her
before you caught the bus this morning
you meant it in the way a teenager means it
when they kiss their mother on the cheek,
cereal on their breath,
backpack on their shoulder,
head in a million places.

You meant it in the way that assumes
you will see her that evening after track practice;
in the way that assumes
you will seal the day with another I love you
before you turn out the light.

When you told your mom you loved her
at 2:21pm on February 14th, 2018,
with saliva choking in your throat,
you meant it in the way you could never mean anything else in your life.
You meant it as an apology
and a cry for help
and a plea for her to hold you like she did when you were little
and the monsters in your dreams were stuck in your head.
Mom, the monsters are real this time,
I swear it.
They're real and they're just around the corner.
They're real and their teeth are bullets that bite the backs
of friends who did not have time to tell their mothers they loved them.
They're real and I'm so
so scared.

I love you.
You can't hear over the scream of your heartbeat.
You can't feel over the heat of blood in your veins.
You can't see behind the black spots in your eyes.
I love you.
You are sorry for everything you ever did wrong.
You are repenting for every sin you might have committed.
You are praying to every god you didn't think you believed in.
I love you.
You are penning eulogies for the words you never said.
You are penning eulogies for the life you never lived.
You are penning eulogies for your classmates in the next room over.
I love you, Mom.
And I mean it this time.
I mean it as the Valentine's Day card I didn't write you,
as the consolation for missing dinner last night,
as the apology for every time I took for granted that I'd have another chance to say it.
The monsters found out where I go when I'm awake, Mom,
and this time you're not here to fend them off.

. . .

I love you, too.
Is everything

Editor's Note: This composition was one of many posted on in response to the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  Ella wrote this piece imagining what it might be like for students trapped in a school invaded by a shooter.

Ella Staats is a senior at Burlington High School and has been writing poetry and prose for 5 years.
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