“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months. … We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.” — President Obama after the shooting deaths of nine people at a Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
I am a child of Columbine. I was a senior in high school on April 20, 1999, when 13 teenagers were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
I distinctly remember coming to school the next day. My first class was AP American Government, and we all filed in slow—bleary with shock and dread.
All of us knew what had happened. And we knew our teacher would bring it up—he was always trying us to see our government as a living, breathing thing, not something exclusive to the men in powdered wigs who laid the framework.
Sure enough, just minutes after the bell, we were reluctantly discussing it, when in the corner, one of the most popular boys in our year broke down in tears. When the teacher asked him why he was crying, he sputtered, “I don’t want to get shot at prom.”
I didn’t either. Nobody did. But nobody else was crying, mostly because we were sure, TOTALLY sure, that this was a one-off event. It wouldn’t happen at our school and it wouldn’t happen anywhere again. Nobody else in the entire world would shoot up a school, let alone walk into our senior prom with a gun.
We were safe. We were fine. Nothing was going to happen.
And nothing did happen to us.
But it did happen again. And again. And again.
In the years since, it’s happened so much that they cases are blending together for me. I’ll admit, when I read the transcript of the president’s speech, I had to look up the Tucson mention because I didn’t remember it. And it took me a few moments to realize that Blacksburg was a reference to the Virginia Tech shooting—only memorable lately because the camera man who was shot on air a few weeks ago had survived that shooting only to be taken down by a gunman at his job years later.
When I was sitting there in that American Government class, telling myself and the boy in the corner that it was going to be fine, I really did think that it would be.
Instead, I was wrong. Columbine has been a shadow cast across my adult life. It is actually more than a shadow—it’s possibility. A possibility that keeps getting confirmed every few weeks, when the president makes the same speech yet again, his anger growing each time he has to address a mass shooting at a school, church, movie theater, mall—anywhere.
Anywhere. It can happen anywhere.
I don’t worry so much anymore about myself being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’m constantly fearing my kids will be. Their schools recently have added secure front entrances—a symptom of Newtown, to be sure—but glass and steel won’t keep out the kind of darkness that drives this shadow.
As long as we continue to stand by without change, nothing will.
Note: This is the opinion of Sarah Henning. I speak for myself and not for my Mysterista sisters.