You know your job is different when you spend the morning prior to starting your work day in tears. That was my experience last Thursday as I prepared myself to cover the Every 15 Minutes assembly at Oakdale High School.
I was on the other side. The non-spectator. The media.
Equipped with the list of names and roles the day before, made Thursday morning all the more difficult. I knew many of these students. I’ve watched them grow from sweet little kids to responsible young adults. I knew their parents. I knew their anxiety as they waited to learn which role their student would hold. When would they be notified and how would they sleep one night without their child?
As I readied myself for work, I texted a few of the moms, thanking them … sharing my grief and displeasure with my job on that day.
Yes, these are the moments you know your job is different. Major metro reporters are not texting mommies as they get ready to cover an assignment of such serious matter. Oddly, I needed them as much as they may have needed me.
The thought of photographing their children in a ‘faux’ fatality scene overwhelmed me. How would I do this, without falling apart?
Gone are my days of game face, sans kids, hitting the Education beat. I’m a mom. I know the love they feel. I know their fear and heartache. Again, I know these kids. I love these kids. These are ‘our’ kids.
Then I thought of how fortunate we were to know that Friday they would return home. They would complete the process, finish it out and go home. That doesn’t happen in ‘real’ life. This pain would be temporary. It would be impactful and it would be memorable. That is the point really. To imbed this in the memory of all involved.
Truthfully, I did approach the scene with a ‘game day’ mentality. ‘Focus’ I texted to a friend as he checked in to see if I was okay. As the drape was lifted and the scene revealed ... I gasped. This was not real. This was ‘fake.’ It’s truly hard to put into words the feelings that overcame me as I listened to the students acting out their roles.
Hearing the chaos as I traveled around shooting photos. Hearing the plea of ‘Frankie wake-up. Frankie’s not moving.’
I hated my job in this moment. I hated that my job was to show the ‘scene’ to the community who was not privy to what we witnessed, yet I was grateful. Conflicted, pretty much sums up work that day.
Hence the life of the small town reporter who covers the community she calls home. Friday would prove to be no different. This would be the day of the funeral.
The crazy thing is, you think you can prepare yourself for this. You know it’s not real. You know it ends once the final story is told.
There’s just one problem … Emotion cannot be rehearsed.
As the video played … Happy, smiling faces of our kids, Oakdale High School Mustangs … you knew what was coming, but it still hits you.
As the scene was replayed from the prior day, emotion returned. The participants were now able to see what their selflessness created. The parents, families and loved ones were able to see what was created the day before. Emotion is real.
Letters were read. Tears were shed and reality left the room in that moment. The idea that this can and does happen, the gravity of loss, the emotion of ‘what if’ was very present in the OHS gymnasium.
Dry eyes were hard to find last Friday. The impact on the participating student body was felt. The embraces from family and friends at the conclusion took me right back to Thursday morning.
Yes, this was a ‘fictitious’ situation. We all knew that. Yet at the same time we were each given a precious gift that most will never know. We were able to see what life would be without these kids and then we were able to tell them.
I live life sharing my mantra, we don’t get days back. This is our one chance and each and every day, so use them wisely. Personally I am proud of these kids and their families. They now get their second chance. They have given us all a life altering lesson, now it’s ours and ours alone to navigate and remember … Every 15 minutes.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.