In February of 2018, I wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times, titled “‘It could have been us:’ 3,000 miles from Florida, a 14-year-old’s plea.” I wrote that I could “see myself there, because Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [was] just like mine: big, sprawling, packed with kids who I know are struggling, kids who have been told the adults will keep them safe from harm, adults who tell them it will never happen here.” It ran in the Sunday paper, alongside a piece by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson pushing for Washington lawmakers to vote on assault-weapons limits. I was on the local news, and received letters – and hate mail – from readers all over the Pacific Northwest.
Five years ago, I wrote that “change needs to be turned in not tomorrow, but today.”
But now – following the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting enabled by nonexistent assault weapons laws that took seventeen fourteen-year-olds who would be sophomores in university, just as myself, as you, as your peers, and the students you teach – three students at Michigan State University are dead. They are Arielle Anderson, a pre-med student who wanted to be a surgeon, Brian Fraser, president of Michigan State’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and Alexandria Vernier, the multi-sport athlete described by her high school superintendent as “an amazing girl that doesn’t come around that often.” I spend my school night not reading for my art history class, nor writing a lighthearted piece for the News’ WKND section, but about the same anger I wrote about five years ago, now a chilling terror that begets no descriptors. Arielle was 19, Brian and Alexandria 20. Three more peers – one campus reels, while others move on, mourning their own profound losses.
I have written about “shell-shock putting me on my knees.” I have written that my education on gun control in America in the years following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting “has been enough,” and that February 14th, 2018 was the day my childhood ended and adulthood began. I have written that “all I feel is the bone-rattling panic that comes when someone’s youth is crumpled between the bony palms of a scary world.” I have walked out of class in protest, but now I am not just afraid to walk alone at night. I have no emotions left.
Last year, it was a bomb threat at Yale and three other Ivy League campuses. This year, it was armed police storming Bingham Hall in the middle of the night. It is the weekly Yale Alerts and assaults of students just steps from dorm room entrances. It is paintball shooters and pellet guns and automatic weapons that are still legal to buy in much of the United States.
I have written to my family from a place they have sent me to learn about the world, reassuring them that the world has not hurt me. This time.
Today, I write that I cannot imagine a walk to class in which I am not afraid.