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Charlotte Horne

February 13 was mostly normal, before 8:30. I had an economics midterm and spent most of the afternoon worried about my score and trying to catch up on other work in my dorm. I was there at Holden, talking with my roommate, when we got the emergency alert through a groupchat.

At first, it didn’t feel real. We always train for this kind of thing. As a kid, I’d planned what I’d do if it happened. But in the moment? None of that stayed with me. I couldn’t really tell you what state of mind I was in – As soon as it registered that something bad was happening, I just left my dorm room to call my dad, like I usually did when I got on the phone. I didn’t fully grasp what was really happening until our RA left the safety of her own room and snapped me out of it.

 

(Looking back on it, I think a lot about our RA. She spent that whole night trying to keep us calm, safe, and informed, despite going through the same terror we were. I hope she was recognized for it. If you’re reading this, Abbey, thank you.)

 

We sat there in the dark, dresser pushed in front of the door, quietly listening to my roommate’s dad as he spoke softly over the phone trying to keep us calm. As it was happening, I knew less than my family off campus. My mother, sister and brother were all crowded around the TV watching the news at home and texting me while I sat under my desk trying to get updates on social media. And what I was seeing was multiple shooters and reports of gunfire all over campus. We knew the shooting had started somewhere near Grand River - but if there were multiple shooters, then they really could be anywhere, couldn’t they? All the while emergency vehicles lit up the room through the blinds. We could see the shadow of a cop pacing in front of our door, hear the muffled sound of his walkie-talkie. It felt like something out of a disaster film. Again, unreal. Unimaginable. It’s not something that happens to you.

 

I don’t remember much of what happened after 9:30. I was numb most of that night. We were lucky enough to be locked down in our room, but I struggled to fall asleep.

 

The next morning, my roommate left to go home, and I sat alone outside Holden waiting for my family to pick me up. They were late arriving. It was then, sitting quietly in the aftermath, and seeing the memorials and cameras and police tape on my class buildings, that the spell finally broke. The reality of the situation hit me all at once and I finally understood what was happening. And it broke me. I refused to talk during the drive to my parent’s house and when I finally got there, I sat down by the water and cried.

 

I was dissociating, badly. A part of me still feels ashamed and horrified by how out of it I was. I should have been more vigilant, I should have been more ready, I should have been all these things - But we can’t choose how our body responds to something like this. I’m not sure anything I could have done would have prepared me for this, and I often wonder if I’ll be able to be vigilant when something like this happens again. I’m twenty years old and I’ve had two brushes with mass shootings in my lifetime - I tell myself they’re rare, but I can’t convince myself that it will never happen again. There is no going back to what was normal before. Safety and old age don’t feel like a given anymore. I feel scared all the time.

 

2023 was the darkest year of my life. But if nothing else, I treasure the fact that today, one year later, I’m still alive. Maybe that’s enough.

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