I can hardly remember a time when searching “Virginia Tech” didn’t return pages upon pages of April 16th results. I should be able to – I searched it many times while applying and dreaming of what college life would be like – but I can’t seem to be able to think back that far. I don’t know if it was the countless formulas, the 17 mile double workout days, the continually changing and fading faces of my surroundings, or the blurring, whirling, smack-the-snot-out-of-you feeling of the whole experience, but that time period is gone and never to be recovered.

I’m a senior. I’m graduating in less than a month – 26 days, you know, roughly – and I’ve been doing the whole “looking back on my experiences/what have I learned?” deal. I know, it’s not amazingly original, or even really penetrating average, but honestly, we all do it. You get to the end of something significant and you want to feel it was worth it; that you grabbed onto some tangible feelings and stuffed them in your pockets to take them, along with all your other useless junk, with you to some other place to start your “real life”.

My first day of classes at Tech, William Morva escaped from Montgomery Regional hospital, killing a hospital security guard and going on to kill a police officer, launching a day long, nationally televised, man-hunt. We didn’t have classes. My grandma, after numerous attempts, finally got through to my cell and asked if I was all right. My mother’s call followed. They caught him before afternoon practice – which we attended – and within a week it felt as if nothing had changed. We talked of the incident like it was a dream, the only real connection and reminder of the actual incident being a small memorial of flowers on the Huckleberry Trail – a paved path which we avoid at all costs, opting instead to run through the various dirt trails and roads that extend into the foothills around campus. This didn’t feel personal. This wasn’t our tragedy.

The week leading up to April 16th was filled with excitement and focus. I had recently run 14:26 over 5k and thought, at the time, that I had a shot of placing in the 5k of the ACC Championships that weekend. We trained and joked and I entertained thoughts of victory celebrations and humble nods to those I had beaten – I finished a “humble” 14th place to skip ahead. Then suddenly it was all gone. Nothing seemed firm and consistent anymore. I can remember looking out my window and seeing a man in a bulletproof vest and black baseball cap, hand gun raised to his shoulder, yelling at students returning from class to get in the closest building. I can remember the students faces, blank with fear and confusion as they ran to safety. I remember the rumors spreading throughout the dorms of guns and deaths and the surreal feeling that took hold when familiar images, places you could describe by architectural design, flashed forth on every channel you changed to on the T.V. I remember it eventually ending and the death count escalating in broken updates like a friend feeding the score of a lopsided football game by texts. Then going over and sitting, with a girlfriend at the time, on my lap, crying uncontrollably against my shoulder. It all happened so quickly, so immediately that we had no time to think. It was just reaction.

I remember walking off campus to get away, being stopped by a Japanese news group, commenting briefly on the day and later feeling ashamed I had even stopped to talk. I remember watching planet earth with teammates and friends, escaping it all for a few hours, only to return to my dorm later and cry in the shower; sobbing quietly bent over against the wall as the water washed over my body. I remember all these things so clearly and yet, the rest seems a blur.

Over the past four years there have been three shootings, one decapitation, and one suicide – to my knowledge. I did not imagine these things while dreaming of college. Hopefully no one does. But this is the reality and as I sat, riding back from this year’s ACC Track and Field Championships, the 4th anniversary of April 16th was coming to a close. I had attended every candlelight vigil before yesterday. I had stood at the first and chanted, sung, cried with all the rest, an experience I will never ever forget. I chanted at the second. I stood at the third.

To be honest, I’m glad I was not at the forth. Not for the sake of remembering, for if you truly feel that you cannot hold someone in your heart without being present at a certain time and place, than limited are you in honoring and remembering those you love. More so though, for the lonesome feeling that overcomes me each of the past times I’ve gone. Almost all the faces I saw that day streaming with tears are gone. When I start talking about the day now people just nod and listen out of respect. They offer nothing, for they have nothing to draw from and I can tell that sometimes they feel uncomfortable; their eyes averting my own or their face goes stiff and mouth forms a straight line under their nose. Gone are most of those who experienced it first hand and so now I am left to stand with those who respectfully remember, but yet the memory they are honoring is not exactly a memory of the events, but more of a recap of what happened. It isn’t their fault. They love and hope just the same and so I do not call them pretenders, for they are not, or hoard the memory for myself, for it is not mine to hoard. The memory is in itself everyone’s combined and so everyone is entitled to it, but this does not bring those faces back and does not change the feeling of detachment.

I cannot share the immensity, or even put into words the feeling of rushing to stand in Cassell Coliseum as we chanted “Let’s Go Hokies” louder than we ever had at any sporting event. I cannot explain the gripping reality of the President of the United Sates’ presence merely twenty feet away in reaction to an American tragedy. It is this inability that makes me lonely among so many happy smiling faces. I have had many, many beautiful experiences in the past four years with the most amazingly courageous and heartfelt people I have discovered thus far. And so I continually ask myself, why is it that I should remember April 16th so much more than those? Because it was a moment of extreme sorrow? Or maybe it was a puncture in the bubble all college students surround and consequently protect themselves in. I could and will, in my own mind, forever search for an answer.

Riding home last night though, on the bus, sitting with teammates – one a fellow graduating senior – I thought yet again about what I had learned. Sitting there, enjoying their company I could only think of one thing. The simple fact that we all endure; that throughout time, man and woman have endured through countless experiences and have each time gained strength and continued on. The thought that even as we sat sharing, laughing, and sitting in the comfort of companionship, we would always carry the memories of that day and the lives of those lost deeply within our hearts was a warm feeling in itself.

I cannot say all that I’ve learned in one post, or even if I had the next four years to explain. I cherish all that I have experienced, the good and the bad, for I feel it is what we draw from both that make us who we are. It’s amazing how fast it slips by though. Four years of memories all culminating in one exchange of paper and a handshake. It’s almost like a dream you’d rather not leave. I’m graduating. I’m done. I don’t want to leave. I know I will one day. I know I will go on and start a new life, get married to a beautiful woman and start a family – last two I’m very hopeful for. With all the dreams I have remaining and all the adventures and experiences that await me I could easily feel overwhelmed, but I can honestly say I don’t. I feel calm. I feel ready, for I know throughout all I will endure, because these are the things I remember.

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