Twenty-one years ago today, one of my high school classmates was murdered. I was a 15-year-old tenth-grader sitting in la clase de español when the principal made the announcement over the PA system. It was the last day of school before the holiday break.
I can feel the moment as if it were yesterday, the way the news hung in the air, the silence and shock that followed. I remember my fear and the sleepless nights. I remember the well-intentioned sentiments of those who told me I had no reason to be afraid because the suspects (one of whom had sat next to me in band the previous year) were in custody. But what they didn't understand (which I probably didn't understand either) was that my fear wasn't so much for my own life; my fear was at the finality of death, the suddenness of it. The then. The now. I remember the lump in my throat when I went back to school after the break and saw the empty seat next to me in the one class I had shared with the victim.
You don't forget certain things. For me, it's usually the emotions of a moment and the clarity (or lack thereof) of thought that I remember. Sounds (certain songs, especially) and scents provoke memories and feelings. It's like time travel (for example: whenever I hear a Guns 'n Roses song, I'm suddenly in 8th grade again). My mind goes back and forth between the past and present.
It's hard to believe it's been 21 years since my classmate was murdered. In fact, it seems impossible that it's been that long. But it also feels like it was a lifetime ago. And it was--it was more than a lifetime, in fact, for my classmate, who was only 16 when she was killed.
Whenever there is a tragedy--be it a school shooting, a natural disaster, or other loss or trauma (either personal or public)--I think of the survivors who will relive the event hundreds (or thousands) of times; it will shape the rest of their lives. They will grieve indefinitely and will keep progressing through life, remembering. Even if they forget momentarily, they'll always remember again. But how long will people not directly affected by the tragedy/loss remember?
I wonder why it sometimes has to take devastating events to remind us to think of and help others; to remind us of what/who is important; to remind us of those who are suffering all over the world; and to remind us, ultimately, of life's fragility.