One Year Ago…

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
I was sitting in my Holocaust studies class, in room 1214 on the first floor of the freshman building. I remember every detail, even now a year later. We heard the first couple of rounds – warning shots. In the moment, we didn’t know what the sound was. Could this be real? I’d seen school shootings on the news and heard about it all the time, but how could it happen over here, in my town, my school, my home. My class reacted instantly, and we began to hide as quickly as possible. I can still hear the loud bangs in the building repeatedly in my head. That sound never goes away. We were all so scared and had no idea where the shooter was. Then shots fired through the window door to our classroom. A bunch of rounds. I watched as all the windows shattered and glass scattered the floors of our classroom everywhere. That’s another sound that will never escape my mind. I can hear all the screams pour out. I thank God every day that I ran to the left side of the class room that day and I am thankful for the desk that I hid under protecting me. The girl next to me kept repeating to me, “This is just a drill, I heard that they are going to do this type of drill soon”. I looked across the room to see what happened and then I made eye contact with one of my classmates who had been shot and badly wounded. The look she gave me was frightening and put me into shock. Her eye was the size of a tennis ball and blood was everywhere. That’s when I knew: this was real. This was really happening. It wasn’t a drill. We had to tell her to be quiet because the shooter was still in the building and could still be outside our classroom. After the longest twenty minutes of my whole life, the S.W.A.T. team came in and got us out. They told us not to look down and to walk out with our hands up. I have never seen so many police, ambulances and helicopters in my life. I followed the instructions and ran as far as I can away from the school and then contacted my family. Later that day we found out that Helena Ramsey and Nicholas Dworet died instantly in my classroom and five students were injured.

  The days after the shooting, I was completely numb. I didn’t want to eat or leave my house. The shooting was all over social media and the news, that’s the only thing I saw, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was so strange to hear the name Parkland, Florida on all the channels all the time and to see my classmates and teachers getting interviewed. Returning to school was very hard. Every day was just a constant reminder. Our school didn’t feel like home to me anymore. It felt like a prison. I couldn’t focus in class. It was difficult for everyone. The hardest part of the day was going to my fourth period class and noticing all the empty seats there was.  

    Some days you want to forget about what happened, and even completely erase it out of your memory on others. Somedays I felt so angry and confused. I think about the “What-ifs.” What would have happened if I sat in different seat that day? Hid under a different desk? Why did I survive? I was left with so many question questions and so much guilt. How did I survived and not my classmate who sat next to me everyday? I would think that he had such a better future than me.  

Now, one year later, I am writing about this experience as I sit in my community in Guachapala, Ecuador on a gap year.  When I found out about the opportunity to go live abroad for a year before college, I knew I had to do it. I wanted to see the light again. I wanted to find happiness and a better perspective on life. I’ve been abroad for about six months in Ecuador already. I’ve learned so much about myself. I grew to be so much more independent. I came here with no previous spanish knowledge and seeing how far I become is amazing. It proves whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve it. I met amazing people on this journey as well. Traveling gives a different perspective and shows how much more there is out there and how small you are in such a huge world.

Recovering  after surviving a school shooting isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. It is a long ongoing process of healing. I am so proud of myself how far I become since last year. A year later and I still think the worst every time I hear a loud bang or people screaming. When I am with large crowds, I still get anxiety and always look for the closest emergency exit. That is something that will take years to go away, if it ever does. Every time I hear about another shooting on the news, it takes me back to February 14th all over again. I know the whole process after a shooting occurs. The vigils, all the funerals, the entire community and world coming together and then the grieving process which will go on for years. 
But, I don’t try to forget about the shooting anymore, it became part of me and how I Iive my daily life. I know not to take life for granted. 
    When the shooting started, my class was learning about hateful acts committed during the Holocaust. Throughout the semester, our teacher posted a question: “do you think this world can ever abolish hate?” And we were repeatedly taught the famous Holocaust phrase, “never again.” We never thought that phrase would apply to our school. 
After the shooting, all I saw was hate and fear. The world just seemed evil to me. I was scared to live my daily life. No matter where I went, I didn’t feel safe. Valentine’s Day will always remind me of this hateful act. It won’t be a day about candy or chocolate or teddy bears. But I will also remember how everyone in my community and our country and our world helped make the process easier. I will remember how many people volunteered their time and resources to show their support and love for our community. During my time in Ecuador, I have found some light again. I learned that not everyone is evil, and there is a lot more good out there than bad.  
    There is nothing that I could do to change what happened that day, instead I accept it and honor the seventeen victims in every possible way. I know that I have angels all around me and that are going to watch carefully over me.