We’ve driving home from middle school; I’ve got a full car load of 8th grade boys. Their backpacks take up all the empty space at their feet, and they all smell slightly of sweat. I crack the windows because it’s April and the breeze is almost warm. Someone has a Z-bar and they all want some.
“It wasn’t a gun,” one of them says to the others. I just listen, from the driver’s seat. “It was a bunch of bombs, and they exploded everywhere.”
“Nu-uh, dude,” another says. “It was a terrorist attack and it was lots of guys with grenades.”
“Grenades? Grenades don’t do that, bomb like that. You don’t even know what grenades do,” someone counters. I don’t bother to look back to see who. It could be any one of them; they all converse in circles.
“I heard they arrested a guy.” That’s from the back row.
“Yeah, they got him. Dude shot at the police, but they still got him.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t shoot at him back. I would have shot him back, you know?”
There’s unanimous agreement. “Yeah, he killed people. People who were just standing there.”
They talk about guns. How many they will have when they’re grown up. How many their dads have. There’s one dissenting voice; that we don’t need any. No one needs any. “You’re crazy,” someone argues. “We all need lots.”
We pass a bank on the right. The flag out front is flying half-mast. My front-seat passenger points. “See, that’s for the people who died.”
From the middle seat: “I thought it was for Newtown. Those kids.” I glance sidelong at him as I check for traffic. His mouth is pinched tight.
There’s a pause, a heavy bit of silence as we cross the intersection. Then: “No, that was the old thing. This is the new thing. The flag always flies for the new thing.”