It’s been four months since the UC Santa Barbara shooting. I was a senior there two weeks from graduation when it happened. News crews were all over our tiny streets even when there was nothing new to report. After graduation I moved immediately to a new state where I knew no one and my experience was unique. Then the news cycle moved on and the entire ordeal is now a distant memory for most people.
But not for me. Here are three things they don’t tell the survivors:
1. You will cry at random times.
I had a full breakdown driving to my boyfriend’s place last week because “Peace” by O.A.R. came on the radio and the line we’re only here, oh, for a little while makes me bawl like a child. I lost a friend and almost lost two others; it really brings into perspective how little the minor inconveniences are in our life. It’s heartbreaking seeing one of the victims’ moms posting on her daughter’s wall and saying she misses her.
My breakdown before that was during Fourth of July. I was expecting the fireworks to be triggering because they sound like the gunshots I heard outside the window that day, but instead what triggered me was seeing four cop cars huddled together while the officers directed traffic. I don’t know why that triggered me, but it came full force and I had no one to call. My friend called me saying that kids triggered her at her work by popping balloons. The smallest things will affect you in ways you would not expect.
2. Your parents will constantly worry about you.
My mom was home and my dad was with my brother in LA an hour and a half from me the night the shooting happened. I told them the only reason I was not on the street when the shooter was driving around was because I picked up an extra shift at work and was too tired to go to the bar with friends. They saw that as an act of God and that the small decisions you make change everything.
My mom called me every day for two weeks. My dad says in the 25 years he and mom have known each other he has never seen her so shaken up about anything. Moving right after graduation 3,000 miles away only heightened the worry, although the calls have stayed steady since the event.
3. You will never talk about it with the people who lived through it with you.
In the four months since it happened the only time I’ve had conversations with my closest friends about what happened and how everyone felt was the day after it happened when we soaked in information about what happened.
The only other time was over banana-bread beer sitting on a bean-bag chair with a friend because both of us needed to talk it all out but were too scared to ask anyone else. I have a friend who hasn’t been able to sleep a full night because of what she saw, but she never talks about it with me or anyone I know, and we all respect that. There is an unspoken understanding not to pry because coping is different with everyone. If someone wants to talk, they will.
School shootings are an invisible burden on the victims’ families, those who survived, and those who are close to survivors. No one understands the emotions unless you were there, sitting through the memorials while people cried around you in the school soccer stadium as you tried to avoid looking at the flowers because you weren’t ready to face what happened.