February 13, 2016, Glendale- The slight, bespectacled girl embraced her tall, athletic friend, and caressed her blonde forelock. “Are you scared? You are safe now.”, the shorter girl spoke, in comfort and assurance.
There were about 500 of us here, tonight, at Independence High School, in the southern corner of this vibrant, artsy city, immediately to the west of Phoenix. Yesterday, two girls, who were openly in a relationship, died in what appears to have been a murder-suicide. We were here to pray and place lit candles at the makeshift memorial that lines the southern exterior wall of the gymnasium. Those who felt like talking, did. Those who needed a hug from someone they knew and trusted, got all the comfort they could handle.
I am a stranger here, tonight. It was 2011, when I last worked in a classroom at Independence High, as well as at the other campuses of Glendale Union High School District. I had good experiences here, and got on well with the students. This evening, though, drew me like moth to flame. I explained my ties to one of the current school counselors, who was introducing herself to anyone who seemed out of place, and making sure we had a connection to the school. It was enough for me to just stand and silently pray, offer positive thoughts and accept a candle from one of the other teachers. It was graciously lit by a well-dressed student, and I joined a line of people in placing the candles at the memorial site. I stayed for about 20 minutes further.
Candlelight vigils have become all too common- as have the acts of despair, of giving up, which lead to the cause of the vigils. One of my online friends responded to my initial post about the girls’ deaths, with one word: “Bleh”. My own response, every, single time is a sinking heart.
This is Valentine’s Eve. People at other high schools are having dances and parties. People across this maddening, beautiful Valley, with its frenetic traffic and culture of anonymity are crowding into hotels and motels, paying premium prices for the sake of a holiday. At Independence, suffering proto-adults, and their elders, are doing what far too many of their peers have had to do, since 1997: Mourn those among them who have fallen victim- sometimes by their own hand, sometimes by the Hand of Anonymous Rage.
It would be nice to be able to simply say: STOP!- and have it be so. For now, though, all I can do is be here for people I’ve never met, people who might recognize me from five years ago, people who are part of a generation I have come to love with the highest level of intensity. I want “my kids” to thrive, to dream, to live to the fullest.
I dream- of the day when vigils may come to an end.