By: Tessa Sweeney ’25
*Background information: After reading Alice Walker’s short story, The Flowers, students in Ms. Waterman’s AP Language & Composition class were assigned to write about a memorable moment when they realized that their childhood was over. This is Tessa Sweeney’s “And The Summer Was Over” essay entitled, Double Digits.
-Photo credit: The New York Times
I was nine years old, two months short of turning ten, waiting for my mother to finish up s’mores in the backyard of our refurbished 1990s home when the sirens started blaring. The fire was beginning to make me sweat. The sticky June weather along with the warmth from the fire made me queasy. The police cars’ sirens rang through my ears as one after the other passed my house. The fence was too high for me to see over, but just as I was scooting a rock from the garden over, my father ordered me to go inside.
My family rushed inside, fumbling for the remote to the TV. I sat down on our brown corduroy couch, s’more in hand. The marshmallow dripped down the side of my hand as I brought my mouth up to clean up the mess. I looked around at the artwork on the walls, bright abstract faces with white frames. There were old family photos from when I was a baby. A picture of me playing with an old, passed-down baby doll with its blonde hair in two pigtails, tied with a pink ribbon. My hair, not much darker than hers, was pulled back similarly.
I had come home from a playdate at a friend’s house about an hour earlier. Reminiscing now, I realize just how surreal this experience would have been for a young girl with a distorted sense of reality. We played horses that afternoon, Grace and I. We were the stablehands and her plastic toy horses galloped across the green carpet. All we cared about was if one of the horses was talented enough to win the race to the living room downstairs, not when or if our parents were going to pick us up.
The TV flickered on and my father quickly turned the channel to the news. My whole family sat eagerly as the news anchor pointed out the sweltering weather that was going to burden us for the rest of the week. It took half an hour for the news station to even report what was happening, that’s how close it must’ve been to our home. We were witnessing it in real time.
I recall getting up from the couch to throw away the paper towel that I had held my s’more with when suddenly the flashing lights from earlier appeared behind the news anchor on the TV.
Seven dead, many wounded.
I had never heard of Columbine High School or Sandy Hook until that night. It wasn’t as if my parents tried to hide these things from me, rather they just never came up in conversation. The death toll kept rising throughout the night. My siblings had gone to bed, but my body never left that couch. It wasn’t until the number hit double digits that my heart began to beat like a drum inside my chest. That night I went to bed thinking of the people who would never hug their mom again. I went to bed thinking of the people who would never see the sunrise; whose fingers would never be sticky with s’more once more.
I woke up in pain for those lives that were lost that night. June is supposed to be a celebration of summer and individuality. That June was a fever dream, the haziness of the fog in my brain cleared. I barely played with plastic horses anymore. I began to wonder why the world is so cruel to the innocent. I still find myself looking at pictures of those we lost years ago.
I was a kid drowning in a sea of grief for people I had never even met.