What Fireworks Means to a School Shooting Survivor
I despise fireworks. I think that some of them are so pretty, but the sound triggers me. Every time a firework goes off, I can feel it in my chest. The breath gets knocked out of me, and I freeze. At that moment, I am transported back to School. I am back in the classroom with my teachers and fellow student.
At that second, I can see the fear in my teacher’s eyes as he looks down the hallway at the commotion. “Run,” He says with complete fear in his eyes. The look in his eyes will forever be etched into my brain. Confused, I run down the hallway and watch as a freshman falls and slides into a locker. I can’t bring myself to stop and check on her, and I’m pretty sure that makes me a bad person. I’m doing what my teacher said. I am running, from what I don’t know.
As I Get Outside
As I get outside, I stop running. I just assume that it was a fire and that I am safe outside. The fire can’t get me here. “Someone brought a gun to school.” A stranger says behind me. At that point, I can’t think. I take off sprinting. I almost get hit by a car, it was literally centimeters away from hitting me. I can hear the teacher yelling at the students to get into a classroom in the tech building because it’s safe. I sprint into the building.
I almost enter the first room as soon as you walk in the door, but I decide that that classroom would be the first to get shot if the shooter comes up here. I run a few classrooms away, and set against the wall, and wait for any information. Students and teachers start piling in. I look around and realize I can’t trust anyone. At this point, no one knows who the shooter is. Finally, the teachers shut and lock the door.
Calling my Brother
The first person I can get a hold of is my brother. He tells me that there’s been a shooting at the school and that someone has died. My heart sinks, and all I can think about are my friends. Fear courses through my veins as I struggle to get a hold of them. Luckily, they’re all okay. I go on Twitter, and desperately try to find some information. Someone sitting close to me tells me who the shooter is. I am completely shocked and In denial. I’ve known this kid since seventh grade, there’s no way he did this. I was wrong. He did do it.
We are sitting and waiting to be told what to do next when a student starts banging on the door. He was banging on the door so hard, and asking to be let it. Fear overcomes my body. I remember begging God that they wouldn’t open that door. Luckily, they didn’t. We sat there until like 9:30, and then we are told we must get on a bus.
They let us out of the room, but we all must go in a single file line. Teachers and Swat line the walls and make a pathway to the buses. The look in the eyes of the swat member will be in my head forever. We get on the bus, and we sit there forever. I remember looking out the window of the bus and seeing a news helicopter flying over us. I just remember being angry that they were already swarming. I mean, people just died to show some respect. It was insensitive.
At around Eleven, they gave us a police escort to the nearest middle school. We took the back roads there. They piled us all into the gym and waited for our names to be called so we could leave with our parents. I remember getting home at noon, and my family had the news on. I hear them reporting things that didn’t happen, so I just go to my room. I couldn’t sleep that night, my adrenaline was pumping. My friends can’t sleep either. We all stay up and talk.
Going Back to School
I was battling anorexia at the time so I didn’t eat anyways, but at this time I go the longest I ever have without eating. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I was terrified. Going back to school, was horrible. We went back on a Friday. We all met in the gym for a moment of silence, prayer, and to hear about all the resources we had available. The school was never the same. We jumped at every dropped book, we were constantly looking over our shoulder. We were all wary of strangers. We enjoyed the service dogs that came to the school, that was the best part. We played card games to pass the time.
I always told myself that If something like that happened to me I would never go back to school, and I finished my year out there and then became homeschooled. I couldn’t bring myself to sit down in that school and worry about who was walking through the door. I couldn’t sit there and continue to jump at every dropped book. I’ve only been to the school twice since then, and I still struggle with going there.
I keep in contact with the teachers I was in the classroom with that day. You will hardly ever catch me in sandals in public because they aren’t good running shoes. Every year, I plug in my headphone and blare my music so I don’t hear the fireworks. I can hear gunshots, and I can shoot guns (I’m a pretty good shot), but there’s something about fireworks that I can’t handle. I just wish people would be more considerate of people like me every year.
Have you ever felt invisible? That no one really sees the pain that you carry around on a daily basis? Has your pain ever been so intense and you have stuffed it so far, that you are numb to emotions? Have you ever been called emotionally stagnant or unable to feel things as they happen? Well, that’s me in a nutshell.
Childhood trauma, young adult trauma, adult trauma, PTSD, whatever it is that you may face. It’s a bitch. In the moment, I feel nothing. I’m always on mode go go go go go and then once I’ve gone, I relax. Then, I cry and feel all the feelings. It’s horrible. I’m working on processing the traumas, whether big or small, past, present or what I foresee.
Have you ever taken the ACE test? The Adverse Childhood Experience study? My score is 6. This means that “People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years. ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health, and criminal justice.”
Drug Allergy Testing
So, this past week, I had to take Hunter back to the allergist at Vanderbilt. This time, not for seasonal allergies but for a Decadron Challenge. Doing this definitively tells me whether or not he has an allergy to this specific drug.
Luckily, we had the same nurse as last time and the dr that we met via telehealth the first time. These ladies are so very nice. They explained things to Hunter and me very well. We had to leave a bit early and I got so turned around that we were almost lost.
This place is in a shopping mall. I kind you not. We had to go to a mall to go to the doctor. It is so weird. Add that to the fact we have to go up one escalator, down a thousand hallways, and up an elevator to get to where we were going. I was tired, he was getting anxious, we all know the drill.
10 Minutes Late
We got there, just in the knick of time. The nurse called us back and said how she remembered us from the last time. She did all the things and got us to our room. Hunter was behind me, twirling his shirt and hopping. I sat down, feeling defeated but stoic. Ready for this next test, next doctor, next hospital, next next next.
The nurse came over and asked to hold Hunter’s hands. She looked at him and told him exactly what we were going to do. That nothing, today, would hurt him. She comforted him and asked him if he was okay. He said he was scared and she softly assured him that there was nothing to fear. That touched my heart of stone.
Then, It Happened
She got him settled with the promise of Teddy Grahams and power aid. Next, she rolled back to her computer and started typing something, asking me the normal round of questions. Then, she quickly turned her chair around and looked me dead in the eye.
She said, “are you okay?” This was done with such sincerity that it threw me off. I was speechless. Then, I felt it coming. Tears welled up in my eyes and I gently said “no.” She rolled over to me and patted me on the leg and said that it was going to be okay and that I was going to be okay.
I Felt Seen
At that moment, I felt as if she could see directly into my soul. That she saw everything that had been stuffed down and she wanted to assure me that it is okay. I am okay. This is all going to be okay. I felt such comfort and calmness. A peace fell over me and I could physically feel my body relaxing.
On cue, Hunter must have felt something too because he did his thing. Ever since he got sick, we have listened to Ms. Debbie. She has recorded us about 8 songs. He knows them all by heart and asks to listen to her because it calms him. He turned around and said, “can we please listen to Ms. Debbie?”
We both listened and praised God together. I am learning, listening, and trying to trust in the process. It is coming up on 4 yrs and we are both just tired. God, give us rest and heal his weary body.
In the Still of the Night, The Monster Comes to Play
In the Stillness
I love the time of day when I can go upstairs and just be. For the day, I am done. I am done with school, cooking, cleaning, putting out fires, phone calls, texts, etc. My stuff, a bottle of water, and coke come up the stairs with me. I turn on all the fans, dim the lights, wash my face, and pile up in bed. Yet, In the Still of the Night, The Monster Comes to Play.
For a bit, I am good. I will scan all the things like email, Instagram, and such. Facebook is a thing of the past. I cannot stand the fakeness, passive-aggressive, political, crap that it is. A “friend” can be a friend to your face but behind your back, they are a glorified 12-year-old living in the land of middle school.
That shit is for the birds. I’m so much better than that.
Then, the stillness sets in.
My life is SO loud. I mean my son-in-law is LOUD. Everyone is loud. We have 21 chickens, 19 cats, a whiny dog, a granddaughter, and kids galore. It is always something. At night, though, other than the fans, it is silent.
That’s when the thoughts come in. These are not good thoughts. Normally, I watch the Detail Geek (car detailing guy from Canada) and talk to Donna. We talk through several of his details and giggle so much. Catch up on life, talk about our issues, and the issues of our children… all the things.
Since she passed away, in October last year, I have stopped watching him. I get so emotional when I do. Then, I go to pick up the phone and I realize she isn’t there. All of the unresolved trauma and grief floods me.
When Donna’s daughter died, I did not process her death for a year. Her death was so hard on me. I have loved LA from the moment I met her until the moment we buried her. Donna and I had always been close but our bond was unbreakable after LA died.
I remember the night that I called her. Crying. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe. She could not understand me. Finally, she said for me to stop and tell her 2 things that make me laugh when I think of her.
I stopped crying and replayed that story over and over in my head. The darkness began to have a bit of light and the monster retreated for a moment back from where it came. Donna is gone. Now, I have no one to tell that story too.
So again, the monster comes out to play in the stillness of the night. When I am alone with my own thoughts and the depression begins to overwhelm me.
Bats. Hair dye. Bats. Hair dye. Monsters go away because I do not want to play.