Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve woken up to news of a mass shooting. It’s not even the first time I’ve written about a mass shooting. Even more sad, it’s not the first time I’ve heard “this is the worst mass shooting in our history.”
This one just hit me harder than the rest.
I have lived in Colorado my whole life and was 7 years old when the Columbine shooting happened. I remember my older sisters at the front door and someone, I can’t remember whether it was my mom and dad, my parents and my sisters, or a combination of the four, but there was an argument about whether or not they should go to school that day. I remember my mom was hysterical and terrified. That same weekend I went to my church and I remember the church praying for all the families and victims of the shooting, and I remember the church praying for the parents of the two shooters, because “they lost children too.” I was 7 years old.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I remember seeing that same hysteria and fear in my mom, as she watched the attacks on her home. She was calling our family and friends, trying to find out if everyone was okay. They were, thank goodness. She told me I would never forget where I was on that day. I remember hearing snippets of news and taking them to school with me. As third graders are trying to make sense of what happened, I remember saying, “It was a suicidal attack,” in third grade. I remember a boy telling me, “it was terrorism.” And I remember going home and asking my dad what a terrorist was. He told me it was someone who wanted to scare people. I asked why they would do that. I don’t remember what he said. How do you answer that question to anyone, let alone a third grader?
I think that’s the day I went numb.
One seemingly normal July night, my boyfriend texted me, “Did you hear what happened at the Batman movie?” I hadn’t, but soon enough I learned. I texted the one person I thought might be at that theater, she was safe. Then I waited on social media to make sure everyone else was safe. The next day, my sister came home hysterical. She wasn’t at the theater, but she worked overnight close to the theater, Batman is her favorite character. She had gone to the movie that morning, after work. After the shooting. The same look of fear came over my mom’s face. “Was she in the theater?” Thank goodness, she wasn’t, but it hit home. My dad knew someone who died while saving his girlfriend, he said to me, with tears in his eyes, “Ask Alex if he would do that for you.”
A few months later, I was home from college for the weekend and when I got there, the news was on. A shooter came into a classroom of kindergartners and started shooting. This time the look on my mom’s face was more shock than other emotions. They were only 6 or 7 years old. The next day, our family dog died. I told my mom that Oreo heard there were some kids up in Heaven who needed a great pet to play with.
Four years later, I woke up next to the same boyfriend who told me about Aurora, and told him, “49 people were killed at a nightclub last night. They say it’s the worst in our history.” “49?” he asked incredulously. I texted my aunt, is my cousin okay? He’s okay. Thank goodness.
And a day ago, I woke up, checked my phone and read, “At least 50 people killed in Las Vegas; worst mass shooting in US history.” I read it aloud to my same boyfriend, now fiance. I found out it was at a concert. I thought back to what I had seen on social media the past few days. My high school best friend had family at that concert. They had marked themselves as safe on Facebook (A feature I wish we didn’t have to have, but am relieved we do). Thank goodness. I checked an old high school friend’s page to see if he was okay. Nothing yet. Hours later, he let us all know he was safe. I was driving home from work and started crying. I got home and my fiance had the news on. I walked away, I couldn’t watch it anymore, listen to speculation, listen to any of it anymore. I went to my room and started crying. It was raining, and I remember my mom telling me once, if it rains after someone dies, it means that they went to Heaven. Something that I hadn’t thought about for years, but I remembered last night. My fiance came in and gave me a hug. “I just want to fall asleep in a hug.” I told him. “It could have been you.” It could have been any of us. “I’m so sick of this.” I told him. The world had finally broken me.
I didn’t even list all of the shootings or attacks that have happened in my lifetime. I simply listed the ones that shocked me enough to remember exactly what I was doing. I’m tired of hearing about mass shootings. I’m even more tired of them getting more and more deadly than the last. Every time I think that I’ve been shocked enough, and nothing more can do it, someone does.
I keep seeing posts that say, “Thoughts and prayers won’t help.” It makes me so sad to see that. People are grieving, trying to heal, trying to make sense of everything, and you’re telling them that’s not enough? Or that they’re doing it wrong? Is there really a right way to handle these events? I posted on Facebook yesterday that I just wish we could take one day to mourn, to grieve, to digest, before the politics take over again. And that is not to say that I don’t want to talk about gun control. Let’s talk about it. Tomorrow. I just want to take a day to digest it all, get all the facts, and ask the questions that my 7 year old self is still asking today. I want the victims families to be able to breathe for a minute. I want the wounded to get the medical treatment they need first. I want the first responders to be able to hug their families first. I want the survivors to hug their families first. I want us to unite, for twenty four hours, before we go back to the same hateful division that we just experienced. And then let’s all sit down at a table and figure out what we have in common, and how we can deal with our difficulties based on what unites us. Imagine what we could do if we focused on what unites us, rather than yelling at or labeling those who disagree with us.
I woke up today not able to shake the gloom of yesterday. So I did the only thing I could think of, I wrote.