Have you ever had a gun pointed directly at you while you thought, This is it, this is how I die?
In March it will have been four years since I briefly accepted my fate as a victim of gun violence, but I still remember it like it was only days ago. I will never forget those few minutes that seemed to last hours: I came home around 8:30pm after a trip to the grocery store with my then-boyfriend. Pulled my truck into the parking lot adjacent to our apartment building, and backed into my usual spot beneath the light pole. Shut off the engine. I was halfway through replying to a text when someone struck my window. Looked up as then-boyfriend jumped out of the vehicle. Saw someone in front of my windshield with a gun pointed directly at my face. Out of instinct, I ducked down in the seat as if that would be enough to save me. Where the fuck were my keys? Why did I shut off the engine already? Why would he jump out of the truck like that? Am I going to die? Two more guys held guns to then-boyfriend’s head. Oh my god, we’re going to die. This is it. This is how I die. For a few moments, I truly thought I had already been shot and was dying. I felt nothing. Heard nothing. Saw nothing. Everything went black.
Four years since that night, and I still have nightmares and flashbacks.
I am terrified walking to my car alone in the dark on a campus that has had multiple attacks and attempted armed robberies since my enrollment. Walking in a parking lot by myself at night gives me anxiety. I can’t leave my door unlocked for even a second while parked alone even in the daytime, and I make sure to leave the car running. Honestly, even getting into my car on dark winter mornings in my own driveway freaks me out. When I see a gun in public or privately at home or a relative’s home, my insides knot up and I feel like I’m going to be sick. Full disclosure, I grew up in a family with many firearms, have handled them myself, have them in my own home. Yet still, they make me nervous.
But this story isn’t about me.
This story is about Alyssa Alhadeff, 14. Martin Duque Anguiano, 14. Nicholas Dworet, 17. Jaime Guttenberg, 14. Luke Hoyer, 15. Cara Loughran, 14. Gina Montalto, 14. Joaquin Oliver, 17. Alaina Petty, 14. Meadow Pollack, 18. Helena Ramsay, 17. Alex Schachter, 14. Carmen Schentrup, 16. Peter Wang, 15. These weren’t just victims of yet another mass shooting. These were children – the part of our population that we swear to protect. This was our young. And let’s not forget the faculty who sacrificed themselves to save just one more student: Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis, Christopher Hixon. These three incredible humans went above and beyond their job descriptions to maintain the safety of their students.
Many people have read the story and moved on, numb to the news because there were 31 other mass shootings in 2018 prior to this one.
We’ve heard the story before and we’ve seen the anti-weapon and pro-weapon posts about gun control and arming our teachers. But for me, this one was different. I heard the news the morning after the incident, and all I could picture in my head was my old high school. Once a week I go there for a tutoring session, and as I walked in the door that afternoon I had chills.
My mind was flooded with memories of packed hallways, students standing at their lockers or heading to class.
I recalled a day my senior year when rumor had it that a student had been caught with a gun in his vehicle. Suddenly I could see my old friends, smiling and laughing, waving as I walked closer. And then I started to hear screams. I could see panic and confusion and fear. I heard gunshots and saw a friend with a bullet in his head. Then I saw a freshman sobbing over her best friend’s body. All these images kept popping up in my head, and it took everything I had to keep my composure. And then it hit me – even though the rumor was never confirmed, it could have been us.
This wasn’t just some random high school in some random city in another state.
This was our school. These were our friends, classmates, teachers, mentors. And every single time I hear more about what happened in Florida, my heart breaks. It is so hard not to cry, especially realizing that this could have been us. It could have been any school in the country, and this time it was theirs. But next time, it could be ours.
When did our schools become an active war zone?
I know I’m not the first – or the last – to write on what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida, and what has happened in over two hundred schools since January 2014, and what will continue to happen until we figure out how to stop it. But I do have an idea of what those kids felt when they heard shots or saw a gun pointed toward them. And once you’ve felt that terror, once you’ve accepted that you are about to die, you lose a piece of yourself.
After you realize you’ve survived, nothing is the same.
Any sense of safety you felt before is now gone. Your innocence is taken from you. You are constantly on alert, wondering if you will look death in the eye again tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. That sense of fear never goes away. This is how I have lived every day the past four years, and this is how children from last week’s massacre will feel every day for possibly the rest of their lives.
No child should have to die as a result of gun violence, yet in these first 48 days of 2018 there has already been a total of 449 children killed or injured by firearms (Gun Violence Archive). Since January 2014, that number has seen a 35% increase. As of today, the death and injury count for children alone totals 14,551. That’s 14,551 children too many.
Our children deserve better.
Our teachers and faculty deserve better. They deserve more than thoughts and prayers. They deserve new policies. More intensive background checks for gun purchases. Better school security. Parents who not only discipline their children and raise them to have respect for the lives of others, but keep a close enough eye on them to recognize the signs of potential violence. Changes that will prevent the next school shooting. Stop sending your thoughts and prayers, and start sending letters to your representatives. Start making phone calls and writing emails.
Start demanding change, because next time it could be us.
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