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Doug Mains, Location: Off Campus


My one-year-old had just fallen asleep on my chest. The e-mail (or was it a text?) interrupted the crossword puzzle on my phone. Run. Hide. Fight. I texted my wife from my son's room. “Active shooter at MSU.” I pulled myself up from the La-Z-Boy recliner, quicker than usual, and carried my son to his crib. He stuck his butt in the air, as he always does, and I covered him with the blanket as if it were a shield. My tiptoes were hurried and heavy.


I sat on my bed, refreshing Twitter, begging for answers. News. Anything. Eventually, the tweets came in. Someone mentioned the police scanner. I downloaded the app and turned it on. Chaos. One dead? Five dead? One shooter? Three? It seemed clear that the first shots rang out at Berkey Hall where I had had a class last semester. I traveled back in time to not long ago, and I watched myself sitting in the first floor lounge of Berkey, reading or writing before class. I turned to my left and saw the man walk through the door. A short, masked man, robotic, with a jean jacket and a pistol in hand. I imagined escaping to room 118 where my Literary Theory class took place. I sat in the frontmost right seat, closest to the door, as always. I heard the gunfire. The screams. I pinned myself against the wall and watched the blood of my classmates seep toward me on the cold, cold floor.

“You could have been there,” my wife said. She came into our bedroom, already crying, after she’d gotten the others down to bed. She had tucked them under blankets and watched them fall asleep. She curled up next to me, listening to the police scanner and asking about the doors. Were they locked? We stayed there until one in the morning, frozen, listening to the sirens outside our window. We feigned sleep only when we heard that it was over—that the shooter was dead, at least. It was far from over.


My mom recently told me she regrets not being there for me as a kid. She said, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and you were just so quiet." I don't fault her, but I see what she means. Even still, I struggle to be open and honest unless it's behind the words I write. Perhaps I don't let people in unless it's on my own editable terms. At MSU, I've felt undeserving of teachers' attention and antiquated around my peers, as if I am merely visiting a community that's not meant for a man in his mid-thirties just now finishing his bachelor's degree. I become a fly on the wall, insecure and unsure of how I'm perceived.

After the events of Monday, I'm even more unsure of my role, but I seem to regret how I've approached my time at MSU thus far. Why is it that I've been so insecure? So selfish, really. I don't yet know what to do differently, but I'm jarred by what happened and frightened for my classmates, and my professors, and I'm a little more nervous to send my kids to school in the morning. It seemed to hit me hardest when I heard their names and saw their faces in the news. I can't stop thinking about Brian, Arielle, and Alexandria. I can't stop wondering what I can do in the wake of such senselessness. Everything I try to write seems to start and end with “what the fuck”. Nothing in between.

I'm wondering now if my position as a 35-year-old undergrad is not a disadvantage but a unique opportunity. I always tended to see things upside down. I message my classmates on GroupMe because they're the only numbers I have. I text my neighborhood friend who is a professor and who had one of the victims in his class. I try to remind myself that I'm a Spartan, even if I'm nontraditional. I try to prepare myself to be different when I return to class—more outgoing, more others-focused, less insecure. I want to help facilitate a safe space in the classroom, and I want to fight for the safety of our children, my children, my peers…

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to challenge myself to be a bit squeakier. To speak up for the deceased and for those living in fear. To speak up for myself and for my kids. To speak up for change.

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