Doing Something With My Heartbreak

I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s not because I’m sittin’ around, feet up, with a nice cold one in my hand.

I have never been one to do nothing with my heartbreak.

I believe in doing something with what I say. The people closest to me will tell you that my biggest pet peeve is that when someone says something, and then doesn’t follow through on what they say. I refuse to be one of those people.

Remember how I wrote at the end of last year on how to support victims after a mass shooting? And how I also wrote at the end of last year about creating dialogue around gun violence?

Well, I’ve been working very, very hard on things to follow up on both of those. I’ve been a busy little bee, community organizing and meeting amazing people throughout the community.

One of the things that I am helping to head up around creating dialogue is happening this month. On April 17th at 2pm, in my neighborhood, we will be having a silent walk to commemorate victims of gun violence.

Why my neighborhood? Because I live in the Shooks Run Neighborhood, where on October 31, 2015, a man open carried an AR-15, opened fire, and killed 3 people before being killed by police.

It struck close to my heart, in some ways literally and in some ways figuratively. I had to take a month to feel it all.

Needless to say, it’s definitely a part of why I haven’t written. Heartbreak comes in waves. I had to wait out the tide. And the timing was really hard, too, because only weeks before, I’d written my letter to Congress.

Then 27 days later, impossibly, there was another shooting, this time at Planned Parenthood about 2 miles away from me. For the 2nd time in 27 days, my city was on national news. My heart broke.

But with my heartbreak, I did something. I started a GoFundMe and was amazed as the community stepped forward. We raised $1000 in 4 hours over social media to take catered Panera Bread to staff at both hospitals where victims were taken.

I needed my time to grieve… but I have never been one to do nothing with heart break.

Then an opportunity came in early December for me to join a group of artists and community organizers in Colorado Springs. They were all interested in reclaiming safe space, and I jumped at it. The overall heartfelt response from the group was an interest creating de-politicized, safe space around the common heartache that everyone shares around gun violence.

This, honestly, was the only reason I even joined the group. Since the Planned Parenthood shooting, I’ve been very careful not to have much of any political conversation around gun violence. There was so much infighting after that shooting. I wasn’t ready to speak until I had a safe place to speak in. I wanted to be part of a group that brought a safe place to explore the heartache beneath the positions.

The amazing organizers at Common Space Collective that I’m working with are creating that safe space.

And we want to reclaim our common space, so we’re going to have a silent walk.

April 17, 2pm. Corner of Kiowa and El Paso. Walking through the neighborhood taking the same route that the shooter took. Ending at First Congregational Church for a short workshop on how to listen.

This is my town. These are my people. My neighborhood. And I’m doing something like this because I believe in it. I have never been a person to just believe in something without putting action to my beliefs. This is my way to say, to myself and my community – “You are safe here. We’re here with you.”

Join me?


 

RSVP to the Facebook Event here: Silent Walk Honoring Victims of Gun Violence
For more information on Common Space Collective, go here: Common Space Collective

And stay tuned here at my site, more announcements to come!

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Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

dialogueguncontrol

For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!

Wolves

I’ve been absolutely outraged by Ferguson and the events there, and this is what came out tonight. I felt compelled to share it with you. Excuse my stumbling words; please know that I don’t know how to write about this. But I’m trying. I recognize my own privilege and the role that it plays in this situation and it breaks my heart. I want to be part of a change.

When Anders Breivik
dressed up as a policeman
on July 22, 2012
and took the lives of 77 people
we were horrified
that someone could be such a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Could not believe that someone
took on the clothing
symbolizing safety
and used it to disguise
attack.
Yet when officers who
every day wear the uniform
“accidentally” take a
minority’s life
the news doesn’t talk about it.
everyone goes about their day like
sheep aren’t sometimes
wolves
and sometimes it’s hard
to tell the difference between the 2.
This is a poem
I’m not even supposed to write
because my skin has spoken enough
I have a wolf
hiding under lily white
there are no words
that I can say that
do less damage
because I come from a long line of people
who appear safe in society
until they show their teeth.

But for what it’s worth
(and it may not be much)
my two sisters were gunned down
in a church parking lot
a paragon of what is perceived by
society as safe
(nevermind what they say about
gays and gun rights and women)
and ABC, CBS, NBC begged me
to put myself on display
it was a “tragic loss of innocence
in a place you’d least expect.”
Every day
there are people just as young
as my sisters were
terrified to walk down the sidewalk
or through the grocery store
or anywhere really
and honestly I’m just sorry
that this society deems my story
as more “worthwhile”
more “horrifying”
because of the color of my skin
when the very ones who swore
to protect and defend
instead, take innocence
steal it in the places you’d least expect
so please
from me
keep telling your stories
and I will sit down
I’ve had more than enough airplay
I’m just sorry, and broken
that instead of a one-time occurrence
you face this every day
hundreds of Anders Breiviks
hunting you down and they don’t stop coming
and honestly…
I could be one of them.

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes (The Day My Sisters Died, Part 3)

If you are just joining in, I invite you to read Part 1 and Part 2, here and here.

——-

st. jude
(St. Jude – The Patron Saint of Desperate Cases and Lost Causes)

“If this is salvation, I can show you the trembling.
You’ll just have to trust me. I’m scared.
I am the patron saint of lost causes…

…We’re not questioning God.
Just those he chose to carry on His cross.”

-Anberlin, *Fin

I was a lost cause walking into the Emergency Room that day. The whole world was swirling around me, like a tornado. I sat in a plastic chair in a daze. The news was droning our story above me, but I was in so much shock I couldn’t process it. I heard my mom, as if from a distance, asking the ER nurse where Stephanie was. The nurse was repeating details of where Rachel was, but not Stephanie. Even knowing the truth, I didn’t want to admit it. I felt sick to my stomach.

After a few minutes, a detective from the police department came and found us. He led us through the hospital in what seemed to me like a maze. I could barely focus. Suddenly we were in a quiet conference room. My friend G– had followed, but wasn’t allowed into the conference room with my mom and I. I am not sure where Grace, my youngest sister, was. I can’t remember if she was there or not.

The only questions I remember from the detective were where we thought the shots had been coming from, and whether we knew anything about why the shooter had attacked us. I explained where I thought the shots had come from, later on finding out they had come from the exact opposite direction. That’s just how confusing it was. I also told the policeman that I knew the shooter had come from the YWAM base in Arvada down to where we were. Honestly, I had no logical reason for that. I just absolutely knew (and was correct). I thought at the time that maybe it was because I’d also been involved with YWAM.

After the questioning, we were taken upstairs to a huge waiting room. I walked in and saw one of my boyfriend’s friends there. I went right over to him and he hugged me, tears sparkling in his eyes. I sat down with him and my other friends who’d arrived. My mom and sister went into a smaller room off of the waiting room.

Another detective arrived and they called me into the room. I knew what this was going to be. I saw the look on the detective’s face, the agony in his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I have to tell you that your daughter Stephanie is dead.” My sister Grace let out a loud cry. My mom had tears streaming down her face. I remember feeling numb, not crying. My friend G– looked at me and grabbed my hands. “I need to tell you something important,” he said. “You need to remember this.” Yet today for the life of me I can’t remember what he said just then. I just remember his desperation. “We’ll pray for resurrection,” he said a moment later. “All is not lost.” I knew it was.

We waited.

My dad was in surgery. They were trying to take Rachel into surgery, but were having a hard time because she kept losing blood. My boyfriend arrived in the middle of this. I took him to a side room and that was where I told him that I loved him for the first time. He tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t be stopped. “No, you need to know. I love you.” I was desperate.

His mom was there, trying to find out what we needed. Scores of other people showed up. My friend Sarah, who had tried to get to the church but couldn’t get through the police barricade, kept trying to get me to eat. I wasn’t hungry; how could I be? She and my boyfriend insisted I should eat. When I told them the only thing I felt like eating was dark chocolate and Mountain Dew, they went to the gift store and bought me a bar of Cadbury’s dark chocolate. Someone handed me a bottle of Mountain Dew.

It’s so odd the little details you remember. Friends. Chocolate. Mountain Dew.

My dad came out of surgery and was in the recovery room. They asked if we wanted to go see him, and of course we did. We were escorted through two sets of double doors. My mom, Grace, and I huddled together as we walked through the doorway. My dad looked only semi-conscious, laying there on a white hospital bed with tubes everywhere. My stomach was dropping lower by the minute. We gathered around the bed.

“Where’s Stephanie?” my dad asked.

We looked at each other – my mom, Grace, and me. No one was speaking! Why wasn’t anyone saying anything? A resigned sort of feeling came over me and inside, I bucked myself up a little.

“She’s… she’s gone,” I said.

I have never said any words in my life that were worse than those three. Out of all of the horrible moments in this horrible day, this one was among the most awful. I watched as my dad’s face contorted in pain, and my heart seized.

After a couple of minutes we went back out to the waiting room. I felt like I’d been tackled by a 200-lb linebacker, and I was laying in the middle of the field with a concussion. Friends came and went. I sat with them, trying to distract myself. My mom came and got me when the doctors said we could go see Rachel. They couldn’t get her body warmed up enough to go into surgery, and she was losing blood fast.

So my mom and I, my friend G–, and two of the pastors went in to her room to pray. My boyfriend sat outside the door.

I think I lost my mind when I walked into that room. This was my baby sister. I’d always, always looked after her. When she was in the hospital a year before due to an ovarian cyst, I was the one that stayed with her longest and didn’t want to leave. When we were little and under the care of some sadly misled babysitters, I was the one who snuck into a dark bathroom to check on her as she was in time out for 25 minutes. She was MY baby sister. I may not have always been the best oldest sister, but Rachel was so special to me. Only 2 months before, I’d become weirdly overcome by sudden emotion and told her, “I just don’t know what I’d do without you. I just want you to know that, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

All this must have rushed through me when I saw her laying there, eyes closed, tubes everywhere, ribs bruised. I prayed. I don’t even know if prayer is a good technical term for it. What I did was to say everything in my power, to beg with all the words I had that she would stay with me. I used my words like swords to fight off evil; Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings, facing the Witch King.

I quoted all of her favorite movies; she loved movies. Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. I told her that she was my Marianne, and I was Elinor, and please, please don’t leave me here alone. I called desperately on God to save her life. I asked her to please come back from the darkness. And I sang.

“Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up.

Because you are loved.”
Josh Groban – Don’t Give Up (Because You are Loved)

Finally, I’d said everything. I’d prayed everything. I’d sang everything. I knew it was time to give her to God. My friend G– disagreed with me. I stayed in the room to go along with him, but it was clear. It was time for me to let God do whatever He decided. Soon after, we all left and went back to the waiting room.

Grace and I sat building a puzzle in one corner with a friend of hers. It was late; 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I tried to distract myself by just looking for pieces to the puzzle in front of me. Some minutes later, one of the pastors appeared. The look on his face told me everything. I sucked in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. Rachel has gone to be with Jesus.”

I started crying then. It hurt, oh it hurt more anything I could imagine. Grace started crying too. I was afraid I’d make her cry even harder, so I stifled my tears, to be strong, for her. We sat huddled together, Grace, my mom, and I. Trying to hold ourselves together somehow. The pastors prayed, as a sort of benediction.

The nurses came and asked if we wanted to see Rachel one last time. My mom, Grace, and I walked in to the quiet dark room that only minutes before had been bustling with light and activity. Rachel lay on the bed as if she were asleep. Her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful. I could feel her, still in the room with us. The nurses had mentioned that she could, as an organ donor, donate her eyes. As we stood there with her, we softly discussed. “No, we can’t,” we decided. She was the only one in the family besides my dad who had gorgeous blue eyes, and they were one of her trademark features. We couldn’t do it, it was still too close, the pain too sharp.

There were many other defining moments over the next few days. Planning a funeral. Visiting my dad in the hospital. Finding pictures of my sisters for the press and for the funeral pamphlet. Meeting Rachel’s best friend, Aimee, for the first time. The viewing. The service. Hearing stories… one of the most amazing being from the paramedic who took Rachel to the hospital.

He said she’d died in the ambulance. And suddenly she came back, and light filled the ambulance and even her skin color changed. I can only imagine; her blue-gray skin is tattooed on the walls of my mind. How breathtaking that must have been. Even in the darkness – light.

Just as it was in life after.

——

Life After

“This is the correlation
of salvation and love
Don’t drop your arms
I’ll guard your heart
With quiet words I’ll lead you in.”
Anberlin – The Unwinding Cable Car

In obvious ways, this event radically altered my life.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty it would bring me. In fact, a part of me still recoils to think of calling something so ugly a place of beauty. And yet. Darkness births light.

I learned resiliency.

I am so grateful and blessed today to have a life that is actually beautiful. But lest you think this is one of those stories with a pat ending; it’s not. I didn’t snap my fingers and recover. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Grueling days. Countless tears, screaming and raging as I drive down the highway. Falling apart in my therapist’s office.

Now, I often feel that my sisters repeat the refrain back to me that I sang to Rachel in the hospital: “Don’t give up, because you are loved.” It’s tattooed on my rib cage, in memory. There’s some days I need those words every five minutes.

Even now, the sting of loss doesn’t fully fade. I’m 25 years old and every day, I become more like my twin, who I thought was so unlike me. Beautiful, but so bittersweet. And oh so many days I wonder what they would think of me now. Who we would be together. We never got the chance to become adult sisters. I lost the ones who shared my childhood; Grace is 8 years younger than me and has grown up differently. I lost partners in crime. It hurts, every day.

Rachel, though, wrote something beautiful in her journal a few months before she died. She talked about how you can let sadness overcome you and live in that sadness, or find the courage to carry it with you, but to no longer let it define all of your life.

I’ve learned how to survive dark days. What it means to be supported unconditionally, even from beyond. The sacred beauty of God as I now understand It – not the God of fantasaical youth, or the God of limiting cages, but the God who favored freedom, grace and wild love.

Maybe most of all… I learned how to feel. Not to drop my arms to life, but to hold them up to where salvation and love come in. Light comes in.

Feeling all the pain, all the horror and sadness and maelstrom. That’s the important thing. See, I kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for years, through a marriage, divorce, and addiction. Trying to hold it all back. Caging myself in. When I finally peeled my arms down and asked for help, that was the correlation of salvation and love, rushing in. If only I could just keep showing up, every day, and have the courage to not drop my arms.

That’s what it’s about today; that’s what I want to share with you. That’s what it took to make it through and finally learn resilience. To just show up, every day, and not drop my arms across my chest but to spread them wide to the world. It’s grueling work, and sometimes it takes all I’ve got. My Higher Power, my sisters… they’ve all supported me through to this point, just whispering, “Don’t give up. You’re loved.” And I’ve learned though that it’s really amazing what happens when you give yourself to the work: It gives itself to you. The light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness does not overcome it.

—-

I wanted to graciously thank all of my readers for accompanying me on this journey of telling my story. Your presence, as I have said to you over and over again, has meant the world to me. Sometimes, healing comes to a greater degree through being witnessed. Thank you for witnessing me. I am grateful to all of you. Especially to those of you from The Rebels Project – an amazing community of survivors that I am so privileged to be a part of. You guys are in many ways like family to me; thank you for existing. You’ve been a light in my darkness. If anyone reading has been affected by senseless tragedy, I encourage you to get involved with The Rebels Project, a place where you can find understanding community and support.

I am also very grateful to the band Anberlin, whose songs I quoted because their CD, “Cities”, was the only thing I specifically requested after December 9. The Unwinding Cable Car was on repeat in my CD player for months. That CD got me through the darkest days of my life and I’m forever thankful it existed. Thank you, Anberlin – thank you for the impact you’ve made. I’m looking forward to seeing you on your last tour this year.

Alexithymia (The Day My Sisters Died – Part 2)

Trigger Warning: I know several people are reading who have also been through a similar experience to mine. In light of this, please know that some of this post may be disturbing to you. Please monitor yourself if you wish to keep reading and don’t read more than will unnecessarily disturb you. I am going to try to write this in a clear way, on a line between giving details without being overly graphic. However I know that each person’s triggers are different, so I just ask that you are very gentle with yourself as you read.

Click here to read part 1.

sisters
(L to R: Rachel, Stephanie (my twin), me, Grace. September, 2007 – 3 months before)

Alexithymia, the name of my sister Rachel’s favorite Anberlin song, has a strange meaning. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “the inability to express one’s feelings.” Psychologically, it can mean “deficiency or complete inability in assessing and describing one’s own emotional state.”

How can one describe their emotional state during a trauma? It’s impossible. Even after, looking back, I have no words that can fully express what I felt. I can only shape my words to form somewhat of a container for the feelings that occurred.

This is the hardest part to write for me because of so many things. As I write, in my head I hear so much noise. That is what is most present for me as I remember December 9. The noise was unbearable. Noise is still my biggest trigger. I hear it all in my head when I write and it’s excruciatingly painful.

I think maybe the silence I’ve had, though, is even more painful.

——

“It’s alarming how loud the silence screams
No warn, no warn, no warning…”
Anberlin

There was no warning. There was silence, and then there was chaos.

My mom was in the driver’s seat, my dad in the passenger. My twin was behind my mom, and behind her was my youngest sister Grace. Behind my dad, the seat was down and the door was open as we waited for my sister Rachel to get in. Behind that open seat, was me.

After the sound like a balloon popping, there was another pop, and another. And then the window next to my twin sister shattered.

My dad yelled, “Get down! Somebody is shooting at us!” My little sister screamed. My twin sister, just behind my mom, moved to get down. As I slid down in my seat in the very back of the van, everything suddenly became very still and slow. My thoughts came in slow motion. My dad yelled for someone to call 911, so I automatically grabbed the phone that was in my purse and dialed.

Though my mind was slow, my words weren’t. As soon as the dispatcher answered, I was spitting words at her in absolute panic. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something like, “Someone’s shooting at us, someone’s shooting at my family!” I felt like I was suspended in time. Thoughts floated through my head almost slowly enough so that I could see words appearing.

I’m going to need counseling after this.

I forgive this guy, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

This is the same person who shot up YWAM last night.

We’re going to be home by tonight, we have to… God said we’re going to go around the world, that we’re going to get this money,  so we have to survive.

Short, staccato noises kept coming without fail. They echoed, bouncing off the buildings, loud as all hell. Two dots appeared in the windshield as my parents cowered in the front seat, trying to stay out of sight. Glass was shattering everywhere.

I could feel the hate this person was directing at us; not really at us though, at some inner demon that tortured him. I felt as if, though I couldn’t see him, I was looking into the eyes of pure evil.

“I’ve been hit,” said my sister Rachel, outside the car. The screaming escalated. “Oh my god!” my dad yelled, jumping out of the car without thought to get to my sister. He was shot and fell on his stomach about 10 feet from the car (if I recollect correctly and that’s a big if).

My little sister had rushed past me at the same time, somehow miraculously escaping the gunman’s notice. I remember her as a blur, going past me. I clutched the phone in my hand.

My sister’s been shot!” I screamed at the dispatcher.

My dad was yelling “oh my god, oh my god.”

Screaming and loud popping alternately traded off, echoing, echoing, echoing.

I was babbling to the dispatcher. My mind wanted to fly into the stratosphere, and I was hysterical. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I said. But she had asked me where I was, so I pulled myself into the moment and described clear directions to our location.

The sounds started moving away, blessedly away. A silence that was not silent drifted down on us. Screaming was still coming from all directions, but everything felt chillingly, disturbingly still.

In the silence I heard my dad saying to Rachel, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you honey, I’m so sorry.”

It was then I saw my twin sister, Stephanie, in front of me. She wasn’t moving. She was face down on the carpet in front of the seat.

“Both of my sisters have been shot!” I screamed at the dispatcher.

Suddenly my mom was in front of me, sitting with my twin, cradling her head.

“Can you find an exit wound?” the dispatcher asked. “You need to stop the bleeding.”

There wasn’t any blood, though, except on her face. She’d hit her nose when she fell to the floor. That image is seared into my brain – my twin’s face, as if she were asleep, peaceful. But blood ran down from her nose. I wished to God she was just sleeping.

There was a small hole in the back of her yellow coat but that was all we could find. The dispatcher kept telling me, “You need to find an exit wound.”

My mom was saying, “I can’t find an exit wound, I can’t find an exit wound.” She was crying, hysterical as I was. We looked and looked, not finding anything. My mom carefully turned my sister over. Still nothing. My twin’s brown hair flopped around her face, limp.

I got frustrated. “Here,” I shoved my scarf at her. “Put this on the wound!” I yelled at her. There was no wound to put it on but I had to do something for God’s sake. I felt helpless, standing by on the phone with hands full.

“I think she’s gone, I think she’s gone,” my mom said, half weeping. I blocked it away. I couldn’t deal with that yet. She asked me to get her keys and anointing oil from the front seat, so I got out and leaned in the passenger door to get it from her purse. I cut my left palm on the glass that lay on the passenger seat from the shattered windshield.

The dispatcher told me “Emergency crews are on the way. You need to look for them, let me know when they arrive.” I saw a white truck from the fire department driving towards us and as I went to wave him down, I passed Rachel laying on the pavement.

I can’t describe to you anything worse than what her face looked like at that moment. I felt like all the breath had been ripped out of my body. She was mumbling something as I walked by. She wore a shirt that had a sunset on it; I didn’t remember this until 4 years later. It’s oddly ironic to me now. Her face was gray and blue as twilight, horrific death was there. Everything inside of me was sinking like an iron ball in the ocean. There are not enough metaphors in the world to describe to you the depth of agony and despair that I felt.

My arms waved slowly at the rescue truck. “Over here! Over here!” I called. My voice sounded reedy and thin, even to me… hopeless, because hope was draining out of my body. “Emergency crews are here now,” I told the dispatcher. “Okay,” she said, and we disconnected. The man pulled his truck over with a screech and ran toward us. He ran past me, not realizing how intimately I was connected to the situation, focused on getting to the van where my sisters were.

At that moment other people showed up and someone grabbed me. “The shooter is coming back!” he yelled, and my sister Grace and I were dragged to a nearby black pickup truck, where we cowered in the front seat. Two boys sat in the back seat, staring at us. One said something to me, I don’t remember what. “Those are my sisters,” I babbled at him. I had lost myself by this point. I dialed my boyfriend’s number on the cell phone still in my hand. Voicemail. Unintelligible words spilled out onto the blank message. I disconnected the call. “Breathe,” I told myself, out loud. “Just breathe.” I tried. I rocked back and forth, trying to calm myself. My teeth were chattering. My little sister Grace sat across from me, dazed and in a similar condition to mine.

I dialed again, this time my boyfriend’s dad’s number. His mom answered. Words rushed out of my mouth. “My sisters have been shot!” I screamed into the phone. “Oh my god. Are you okay? What hospital are they taking them to?” I had no idea. There was an ambulance there now but I was disconnected from them, hiding in this truck. “I don’t know. I’ll call you when I know.” She agreed. I disconnected the call.

We realized the shooter wasn’t coming back and got out of the truck. I started wandering back towards the van, feeling detached, out of my body. An ambulance was there, and EMTs were everywhere. With my dad. With Rachel. They loaded her up into the ambulance. The siren blasted loud and eerie through the parking lot.

A police officer grabbed me and said, “Go into the Tent.” (This was the nearest building to our location, a tent-like structure used by the church for smaller events) My then-best friend had called me to see if I was okay. I told her what was going on. The police officer, frustrated, grabbed me by the collar and dragged me toward the building, intent on getting me out of harm’s way. My mom was next to me again, crying hysterically. My sister Grace was a shadow beside me.

My call with my best friend was interrupted when my boyfriend called. I told her goodbye and spoke to my boyfriend. We were in the lobby, near a collection of standing tables. Someone threw a pile of coats underneath and I crawled up on the coats and curled into a fetal position. I didn’t want to move. My mom was saying, “I think she’s gone, I think she’s gone…” and crying. “Ugh,” I thought. “SHUT UP.”

On the phone with my boyfriend, I was pleading, pleading, pleading. “Please come now. I need you,” I said.

“I don’t know if anyone is going down yet,” he said. I could feel his hesitation. A part of me thought, “What? This isn’t supposed to be how it works. He’s supposed to say I love you. I’ll be there right away.” But he didn’t. He kept stalling. I kept begging. “Please J—-, I need you. Please come now.”

Finally the words came through the phone. “Okay. I’m coming. R– is going to drive me down to meet my dad.”

Somehow, we moved into the tiny auditorium in the building. People still thought the shooter would return and police tried to shuffle everyone into the auditorium to be safe. (I don’t know how they thought this was safe) My mom, my sister Grace and I all sat down at a table. I was on the phone. My mom, a coat draped around her shoulders, was talking to a woman who had appeared. Grace was crying and talking to another woman who had come to the table and knelt down next to her. I crouched, bent in half, on the phone with my boyfriend. My mom was explaining to the woman what had happened. “I think she’s dead, I think she’s dead,” my mom babbled. I turned away and plugged my ears so I couldn’t hear those awful words.

“My mom keeps saying my sister is dead and I can’t deal with that right now,” I told my boyfriend. “You need a Bible,” he said to me. “Get someone to give you a Bible.” I lifted my head and asked for a Bible. Someone brought me one, and I turned to Psalm 91, the only thing I could think of to read. I read it out loud, twice, because I couldn’t concentrate on it if I read it silently. After I finished the last verse, I suddenly began singing.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

I was terrified and hysterical. It was the only truth I could think of to hold onto.

Just after I’d stopped singing, I got another phone call, from the man who’d led my DTS team the year before. I answered and he asked if I was okay, if my family was ok. I could barely force out the words, “No, it’s us.”

“Oh my god. I’m coming right now,” he said.

Right around then, someone found us and realized who we were. The pastor came up. Another friend I’d known since the summer, J—, saw me at just the moment when the pastor pulled everyone in to pray. He came up to me and wrapped me in a big hug, and I didn’t want to move. I’ll never forget his face; the sadness, the pain. The pastor prayed. And when he finished, finally someone went to find out which hospital my sisters had gone to. My boyfriend still waited on the phone.

Someone told us that the shooter had committed suicide. I felt an extreme relief. All I had wanted was for someone to STOP HIM. My body relaxed just a little in overwhelming gratitude.

A policeman came over and I explained that a friend was coming to find me and they NEEDED to let him through. A few minutes later, G– appeared. “G– is here, hang on a minute,” I told my boyfriend, and G– wrapped me up in a huge hug and didn’t let go. I was wishing he wouldn’t, all I wanted to do was be held at that moment, because I was shattered into pieces inside.

I told my boyfriend I was going to get off the phone now because G– had arrived. So I disconnected. We sat for a few minutes waiting while they got a van to take us to the hospital. They told us where Rachel had been taken, but not where my twin, Stephanie, was. No one seemed to know, or they were keeping it to themselves. Finally, we all piled into a church van. G– came along in the van, and I was grateful, I needed someone there. I sat in the back next to my mom as we drove.

We were at the light at the Fillmore and I-25 exit, just before arriving at the hospital. I was looking at the sky, and it was in that golden hour just before sunset. And I saw Stephanie – my beloved twin sister – and she was with God. She was smiling.

I knew she was gone.

——

To continue reading, go to Part 3. 

Merry Christmas

The last few days have been all hustle, all bustle, and here I am now on Christmas Day. Last night, I gorged on international junk food…

  
(You HAVE to do the Tim Tam Slam!!! http://www.wikihow.com/Do-the-Tim-Tam-Slam)

And all this international junk was glorious. I sense a new tradition! I encourage you to follow in my (highly addictive and delicious) footsteps. 😉   (Don’t worry. I went running this morning – for the first time in months, but it happened)

But I’ve thought of you all today… out here in WordPress world. And I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas, wherever you are, whatever junk food you are consuming. 😉 Whatever family members you have to endure. I’m over here whispering the words my sponsor told me last night… “just stay present. that’s where the magic is.” Anne Lamott told me the same thing this morning. On this the most ritualistic of all our ritual-like days… stay present and find the magic.

Love to you all and Merry Christmas. (Which I say instead of Happy Holidays not because I am religious – HA – but because I just love the word Christmas… it’s all sparkly and glittery and stuff and that’s what I’m sending to you. Sticky glitter like the ribbon I tied around my presents this year – the sticky glitter of presents and presence… may it hold you through the rest of this day. Love)