With the latest happenings up the road at UVA, it made me think of how these types of occurrences seem to be increasing in frequency.  It’s something unexpected and often unprovoked.  It hurts and surprises in ways we do not expect or want.  We miss those taken from us and feel stripped and robbed without them.  We may be at odds on the playing fields, but as the entire Virginia Tech Athletic community sat, heads hung in a moment of silence for Yeardley Love, I couldn’t help but feel for those at UVA.

Recently I revised and turned in the essay I posted earlier in the year on here – The End was the post title – and sent it in to a writing competition to be judged.  Although certainly hope it wins, I think the most enjoyment I could ever receive from the piece was actually creating it.  Looking back on those days and weeks when everything was fresh and still open to infection, I found that I still had a lot of feelings I hadn’t taken the time to understand.  It was definitely gave us all a different perspective of college life and so when I heard the news of what happened at UVA this past week, I truly felt for what they were and would continue to feel in the coming days.  I’ve thought about reposting the essay as an insight into another’s confusion with a terrifying act, but kept second guessing myself as I didn’t want it to seem like a self-glorifying type of act instead of my intent as a form of comfort in what they might be experiencing.  I am not saying either of the events are alike in anything more than they happened in college towns.  I post the final revision below and hope that it might provide comfort, distraction, insight, entertainment, etc. to all who need or desire it.  Read and know, everyone has someone to talk to.

DEGREE OF REMEMBRANCE

I can hardly remember a time when searching “Virginia Tech” didn’t return pages upon pages of April 16th results on Google, or countless news reports and footage on YouTube. I should be able to – I searched the phrase while applying to school and dreaming of what college life would be like.  I thought innocently of cool summer nights talking with track teammates, meaningful morning runs where no one spoke, but instead silently gaining strength from the simplicity of each other’s presence and meeting someone special, someone indescribable to me then, someone I’d immediately know to be the woman of my dreams.  A bag full of hopes and aspirations without knowing what I was in for; stepping from the ledge before looking where I would land, like many do every year, only, mine was different.

I’ve tried to remember that period of naivety many times since, but cannot seem to be able to think back that far. I can remember graduating high school, the sun beating down on the shoulders of our dark gowns as we sat on plastic foldout chairs in the middle of the football field and beads of sweat running down the back of my spine as if I were melting away within my clothes.  I remember my party in our half finished house, the walls and floors bare plywood, but the ceiling lined with beautiful pine my father and I had nailed in by hand.  Walking around the blood and sweat of my senior year weekends I was telling all who asked what I planned to study, what I envisioned doing four years into the future – a successful career in advertising, creating commercials for Nike.  I even remember walking out to the end of the driveway with a girlfriend, planning to leave with her, but upon looking back at my grandma, her small delicate frame standing alone on the porch preparing to wave goodbye, changing my mind.  I don’t know if it was memorizing countless formulas, the 17 mile double workout days of track practice, the continually changing and fading faces of my surroundings, or the blurring, whirling, smack-the-snot-out-of-you feeling of the whole experience of the past four years, 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, 6 hours and some odd minutes, 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, it doesn’t matter to me now. 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 into your pockets to take them, along with all your other useless junk, with you to some other place to start your “real life”.  It’s what, your told whether you’d like to hear it or not, life is “all about” – these experiences, these events that somehow weave together to create some web of meaning, some sense of purpose, some sort of conclusion.  The experiences that allow you to move on, allow you to go forth into the future informed, productive citizens of the country are what you’ve just encountered they explain to you and because you’ve been given the right guidance, the right push, you are accept this without a second thought, without a blink of the eye.

My first day of classes at Tech, William Morva escaped from Montgomery Regional Hospital.  He went on to kill a hospital security guard and a police officer just off Virginia Tech campus, launching a day long, nationally televised, man-hunt. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day.  We were held to our dorms, not allowed out for fear that Morva would strike again while attempting to hide himself among us. My cell phone rang soon after the national networks started broadcasting the events.  My grandma, after numerous attempts she said, had finally gotten through to my cell.  She asked if I was all right, if anything had happened and then, after speaking briefly hung up, saying she thought my mother would be trying to call now. My phone rang again almost immediately after.

They caught Morva before afternoon practice, finding him hiding in a group of bushes on the recreational fields on the lower end of campus.  We were let out of our dorms and I went to practice and ran like normal, like nothing had happened with the exception that now our talk contained made up scenarios of what some of us might’ve done had we come home to find him hiding in our apartment – two older teammates found a couple bats near the baseball facility and brought them home to keep beside their beds after that. Within a month it felt as if it had never really happened. We talked of the incident like it was a bad dream, the only real connection and reminder of the actual reality being a small memorial of flowers on the Huckleberry Trail – a paved path beside campus that extended to the Christiansburg mall, six miles away. In some way, this didn’t feel personal. This wasn’t our tragedy.  We had not been touched.

The week leading up to April 16th was filled with excitement and focus. I had recently run 14:26 over 5000 meters and, being an optimistic and hopeful freshman, thought 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 later in the week. Then suddenly it was all gone. Nothing seemed firm and consistent anymore, the assurance that life would remain constant for as far as I could currently think, gone in one day.

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 remember the student’s faces, blank with fear and confusion as they ran to safety. I remember the rumors spreading throughout the dorms of guns and a shooting and the surreal feeling that took hold when familiar images, places you could describe by architectural design, by memories you had created before them, flashed forth on every channel you changed to on the T.V.  We were all scared.  We couldn’t speak.  I sat with my roommates, staring silently at the small television that sat against the far wall of our dorm room.  My phone rang three times, once a call from a friend, once a call from my grandma, and the final being my mother, but other than those interruptions we didn’t speak for long stretches of time; we had nothing to say.  And when we could find anything to say, it only amounted to reactions of shock – oh my god; I can’t believe…; why is this happening?

I remember it eventually, after we had sat covering our faces in our hands for what felt like days, ending and the death count escalating in broken reports.  One station would claim a number and another would claim something higher, and another even higher than the last, until finally, when we had almost believed the reports to be terrible and cruel exaggerations, it stopped and rested at thirty two. Thirty two people we kept saying; thirty two students, classmates, professors, human beings, losing their lives in minutes.  I couldn’t comprehend it, couldn’t grasp what, exactly, had just happened.  I was lost, sitting in my own room, in my own chair, in front of my own computer, completely surrounded in familiarity and yet I was utterly and completely lost.

My phone rung once more after it had all ended and the school had deemed it safe to leave our dorms, only this time, as opposed to Morva’s, it was different.  No one seemed to want to leave.  Outside remained quiet and desolate for some time before people began trickling outward.  The call was from a girlfriend and before even finishing her sentence she began to break down.  She wanted me to come over and see her and so, slowly, I walked over to her dorm, looking around at all the other students crying and holding each other, not knowing what to do.  It made me sad and I walked even slower.  I remember going over and sitting, with the girlfriend on my lap, crying uncontrollably against my shoulder as I ran my hand over her back. It all happened so quickly, so immediately that we had no time to think. It was just reaction.

I remember, later, walking off campus to get away – the T.V. networks continued to broadcast updates about the names of victims, the shooter himself, replaying images I felt I never wanted to see again.  I remember being stopped by a Japanese news group while walking and commenting briefly on the day’s events and later feeling ashamed I had even stopped to talk. I remember finally making it over to the older teammate’s apartments and watching planet earth for hours, escaping it all it felt like, only to return to my dorm later and cry in the shower, quietly bent over against the wall as the water washed over my body.

I remember riding the bus to ACC’s days later and having to answer, at every stop, various questions; what was it like? Did you know anyone who was killed? Did you know the guy who did it? I remember my phone ringing on the way to ACC’s days after April 16th; my mom telling me that a good friend had dated the first victim; that she had given him her saxophone one day after he had fooled around with it, which led to him getting into music college and finally, the reason why she had called, had led to him playing it this weekend in Carnegie Hall on the day of her funeral.

I remember so much, so many little things that I could share; the feeling of absolute sorrow from hearing and seeing hundreds around you crying for the same reason; the simultaneous raising of thousands of candles toward the night sky; the crack of my coach’s voice, usually direct and unwavering, as he stood before us the afternoon of the 16th, thanking for our safety while trying to hold back the tears that leaked out the corners of his eyes.  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 amazing grace and raised my candle with all the rest – an experience I will never ever forget. I chanted at the second and raised a candle there too.  I stood silently at the third and raised a candle half-heartedly, wondering who was still here that had actually been present the first year.

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 what happened 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 avoid 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 their experience, but more of a recap of what happened by those who were here. 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; a combined mashing and mixing of sounds and tears and cries.  Everyone is entitled to it, but this does not bring those faces back and does not change the lonesome feeling I have standing out on the drill field with so many others around me.

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 standing merely twenty feet away and the fact that the only reason he was here was in reaction to an American tragedy.  It is this inability of description, of clear and precise understanding of my past that makes me so 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 in life thus far and so I continually ask myself, why is it that I should remember April 16th so much more than those other memories?  Why does it hold fast in the front of my mind whenever I search for what I may have learned in this time?  Is it 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 cannot rest, no matter how hard I try with the simple excuse that sometimes things just happen.

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 in their setbacks and continued on. The thought of how even as we sat there, sharing, laughing, and sitting in the comfort of companionship and safety, we would always be carrying the memories of that day and the lives of those lost within our hearts was a warm feeling in itself.  I tried once again to grasp a meaning, to figure out what I had gained from an event that I continued, in my mind, to travel back to; running over the faces and names and stories I had heard over and over and over.

I cannot say what I believe I have learned in a few pages, or even if I had the next four years to explain – the events are too numerous and the emotions still too damp to read.  I sometime wonder if I’ve learned anything at all, or if I’ve just wandered aimlessly through the past four years.  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; four years of memories all culminating into one exchange of paper and a handshake. It’s almost like a dream you’d rather not leave. I’m graduating. I’m done, but I find myself not wanting 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 – but I continue to think, just not yet. With all the dreams I have remaining and all the experiences that await me I could easily feel overwhelmed.  I could bend over and curl into a ball and waste away in some silent corner of space.  But I know I will not.  I feel calm. I feel ready, for I know throughout all I will endure.  I will go forth with all the things that have happened, all the images the flash through my mind, all the emotions that cut me open and exposed me for who I was and survive.  I know this, because of all the things I have told you about.  Because of all the things I remember.

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