Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My April 16th

Just like everyone else, I remember it so well.

The day started when I decided to skip an AM class to study for a test. One roommate, D, had stayed home to wash her hair. Yeah - we should have been on campus.

Then it started. Someone had been shot. In a dorm room. It was on the news and we got a call from D's dad. We told him we were okay. I called both my parents - they hadn't heard anything about it yet so I was fortunate to tell them I was fine before the chaos broke loose.

We kept the news on as I continued to study, but something was wrong. The number on the bottom of the screen kept increasing. The body count was increasing. People were dying, on my campus. Our phones were ringing off the hook, text messages coming in. Everyone all over the nation had heard about the shooting on our campus and wanted to know how we were. People I barely talked to in high school, friends of my parents, friends of friends. Then it went international. All of my camp friends from across the pond were trying to find out if I was okay. Thanks goodness for Facebook, you know? Because eventually calls and texts would no longer go through. We finally got a hold of our other two roommates and both came home safely. Around me was pandemonium and I had to stay strong. I was the only one in the house who had ever dealt with death, with tragedy. D's dad ordered pizza so we didn't have to leave the apartment. Her Aunt called and prayed with us over the phone. We were okay for now and I kept it together for all of us.

Then I heard the worst sound I've ever heard. It was a wail, a sob, a scream. All day my roommate J was looking for her best friend. She had received the call that Caitlin had been shot and passed away. Immediately I went to try and comfort J but what do you in a time like this? They were both from NY and had signed a lease together for the next school year. I watched as one of my best friend's life crumpled around her. J started calling all of her friends to tell what had happened. As I heard her say over and over "Caitlin is dead" - wailing into the phone, I was completely heart broken. I tried to help make the calls. J's boyfriend tried to help make the calls. The school opened up rooms at the Inn dedicated to the students who had been killed or wounded. I drove J and her boyfriend to the room designated for Caitlin and we sat there for hours with family and friends, telling stories of Caitlin's great heart, her smile, her love and passion. We sat there grieving together. All night, I stayed strong.

Of course at this point Virginia Tech cancelled classes for the rest of the week. We went back home and mourned together the death of our 32 Hokies - amazing people with incredible stories. I stroked D's hair as she wept in my lap. I tried my best to make arrangements for anything J needed. Mostly we hugged each other and kept each other close. Again, I stayed strong.

I stayed strong until I couldn't handle it anymore. I stayed strong until I realized I needed to be able process everything my own way. We had the convocation inside the Cassell Coliseum. I went with my family - D and my cousin and his friends who had also become family over those couple of years we spent together. When it was over I told them I wanted to walk home. I needed to be by myself for the two miles back to the apartment. I hadn't made it past the stadium when J called me. She heard I was walking home and couldn't bare it. She was so afraid for me to be on my own that she insisted they come pick me up. Of course, I said okay.

It had been two days since the massacre. I was sitting on the porch when I called my mom. I needed to come home. My parents immediately got in the car, along with my Godmother, and came to pick me up. On the way home we stopped for gas and I went in to use the bathroom. When my dad saw me trying to watch the news, he ushered me back out. We stopped to eat at a McDonald's. My mom said they knew I would want to come home but waited until I was ready to say so. While eating I let a few tears roll down my face - the first ones I had really shed since it began. I pushed them away. I stayed strong.

I returned to school the following week. I finished some of my classes - others I couldn't focus on. I came home after the semester ended and I thought life was getting back to normal. I felt off all summer. It was the beginning of August when I finally broke. I had forgotten a child's inhaler and we had a minor incident at camp. Everyone was fine but I was so distraught because I knew that I had not been on top of my game. I went into a bathroom and wept. For the first time since that day, I wept. I cried until I couldn't cry any more. Then I wrote down everything I remembered from that day and I kept it with me. Then I pulled myself together, went into the world, and I stayed strong.

This was the toughest experience I've ever gone through. Every year it has gotten a little bit better and this year I finally feel ready to tell my story. I continue to work hard and be the best person I can be. We have to live for 32. We will neVer forgeT. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.

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