I’m one, and I’m spinning through a golden field. I remember that much; everything else is a blur—a story told so many times, it feels like a memory. Sunrays splash my dress, a lovely white thing ornamented with pearly ruffles, extravagant lace, and jingling beads. It’s unbearably itchy, but I’m dancing, so I don’t mind. It’s the dance of childhood—arms aloft, face angled towards the sky, accepting all the world offers.
It’s my birthday, so Mom takes me on a trip, a trip interrupted by screeching sirens. I cry fat tears onto my white dress, and I’m sure my mother’s arms are all I know.
It’s my first birthday: April 20, 1999, and it’s a day when Colorado wilts under the weight of unimaginable loss at Columbine High School.
* * *
I’m fourteen, and I’m on a bus, listening to my peers exclaim over a similar shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Despair washes over me, but it doesn’t last. It’s not that I don’t comprehend the horror—it’s just that I’m numb to it.
It’s December 14, 2012, and it’s a day when people two thousand miles away mourn children far younger than me.
* * *
I’m fifteen, and I’m ambling to school after lunch with friends when a guard screams, “Get inside, NOW!” I feel so terrified I think I’m hallucinating, losing myself in a whirlwind of moments that mean nothing and everything. Remember our sweet sugar days and the sour blueberries and the things that went bump in the night? Remember the flashing lights and darkness, green fields and tears, laughing kids and thumping boots, distance but also right here? I’m caught on a cliff, falling but also using all my strength to hang on. I’m running from my childhood, straight toward something I haven’t begun to understand.
I make it to my classroom. The locks are turned, the lights extinguished. The colorless speakers crackle to life, informing us of a shooting at Arapahoe High School, eight miles away. Far less than two thousand. It is this proximity that drives the point home, as we’re stuck at school all day afraid a boy is shooting our friends, as we hear the synthetic laughter of those who aren’t affected and the complicated sorrow of those who are. It is this proximity that makes me realize I’ve reached the place I’ve never been before.
It’s December 13, 2013, and one girl dies. I cry for her, and I finally cry for all the others, because I get it now—acts of horror occur in this world all the time, without fanfare. The fact that a shooting can occur in a school, in a haven of innocence, in our home, means we are all vulnerable, and I have to find meaning beyond my imagined protections.
I hold onto the day I was fifteen, and I was running towards adulthood. But I also hold onto the day I was one, and I was dancing through childhood. The world held endless possibility. And it still does. The only change growing up has wrought is perspective—perspective to appreciate the moments when I’m on a bus, not worrying about anything, because I realize how easily these moments can be shattered by tragedy. People always view childhood and adulthood as opposites, but maybe there isn’t a single moment when I crossed from one to the other, and in fact I am in a constant limbo between the two, always dancing and always running and always maintaining my grasp on the moments that define me, whether they occur in the golden fields of childhood or the intricate halls of adulthood. Perhaps all I can do is hold onto both of these essential parts of myself, pushing through the bad with the knowledge that something good will always come, if I only know where to look, and what to remember.