I’ve tried to write this article six times, yet each time it feels insufficient. So if this isn’t working out for you, don’t judge me because it probably isn’t working out for me either and I’ll more than likely delete it within a day or two.
The reason is the sensitive nature: shootings and terror.
I had been too young (10) to understand any aspect of The Twin Towers collapsing, heck I didn’t know much of New York City other than what James and the Giant Peach taught me. It was such a whimsical memory at the time- coming into the living room after school and not understanding why my nan was crying over the ironing board and the news was on at 4pm. In later years I’d visit the site and be friends with people who saw it fall, I met someone who still had PTSD from seeing the towers fall before her eyes. But that’s to come.
It was a documentary circa 2004/5 playing on channel five late one night that introduced my innocent eyes to the world of shootings. In my early teens, my curiosity and desire to discover more of the cruel elements of the wider world were starting to creep into my head. I inhaled my late night documentaries and films like they were my rebellious friends, they taught me social controversies and what lay beyond my idyllic New Forest town. But one evening- one evening changed that. I’d seen many a late night documentary on murder cases, my nans obsession with CSI had potentially lessened the emotional response to those. But one evening- one evening. I was introduced to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. My curiosity was fascinated and hooked.
I sought more information, lost in articles and police reports and media releases. The horror played out in my mind in alternative versions night after night, my night terrors started to resemble school shootings. I had a fierce case of depression (no, not the self diagnosed emo kind, even though it was 2005) and my night terrors were a part of that. The school shootings started forming their own, my mind creating their own Klebold and Harris every night slaying their fictional corridors. I wrote a screenplay on the recurring characters, something frighteningly dark which I destroyed permanently when I rediscovered it on an old computer recently.
When the London bombings happened in July 2015, my first reaction was archive. Not the stereotypical reaction, I know. I had been schooling up on media theory, and knowing the value of archive I filmed the news reports until I had filled up every writable home VHS tape I had. I cried myself to sleep when I eventually drifted off, and kept a collection of the newspaper clippings on the accident for the next few months until they fanned out.
The mind boggling sense of mass murder in terror or school attacks was a fixation I couldn’t shake. While I controlled my emotions a little better and learned of the cruelty of life first hand, at every incident I became obsessive. I’d consume every documentary, I’d seek the police reports, local media, in the modern age of media consumption it became all too easy to find the journalists most heavily involved in stories and where to find the most accurate information.
As I grew older, the pain grew more real, the emotions more raw as the information came thick and fast through our real time journalism culture. Virginia Tech, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Brussels, Umpqua, Sutherland Springs, Paris- the Paris attacks especially. The technology meant finding the victims and escapees online, social media allowed you to find their own personal accounts and trauma stories. Paris felt so close to home, and the details and stories became somewhat more prolific and romanticised to a sadistic degree than the equally close Brussels. Each atack set me into night terrors. I was reliving the survivors stories I reread a dozen times every night, the panic would have only have been incomparable to what they felt, and in that I was petrified. The Oslo summer camp killings in 2011 echoed during my own summer camp seasons. I’d look at the lake, close my eyes, play the scenario of Anders Breivik stepping foot on our soil. The 2018 film July 22 ignited night terrors, but I couldn’t stop. Repeat watch, tears, research, fueled by despair and confusion on the world until the sun would rise and I’d admit defeat.
Yet still, I never thought it would effect me- despite proximity and frequency in London, a place targeted multiple times, you never think it’d happen to you.
August 28th 2016
After a camp season, I visited a friend in Kansas City for a few days after doing the NYC thing. From KC I took a flight to Los Angeles to meet up with two friends who were road tripping through the West Coast, where I’d join them for the Los Angeles > Las Vegas > Nevada desert road trip leg before heading back east to Philadelphia.
Scooped my bag off the luggage belt, things felt a little quiet. It was late in the evening. On the escalator there were hushed and worried tones, people showing their phones to each other, but nothing at that point to warrant pulling out my earphones to ear drop.
I was trying to land wifi to connect with my friends when the main terminal friction became clear. It happened lightening quickly. There were no staff, I was pacing for a soda machine but met instead worried travelers holding each other and looking frantic. Next thing we know there are riot vans screeching alongside the terminal. There were armed officers sprinting to match outside, and a couple inside legging the breadth of terminal entrance to exit. Shutters came down on the window wall so we could no longer see outside. An internal door to another terminal opened, and hysterical travellers in their dozens pushed themselves out the door crying and breathing sharply. At this point, my earphones were definitely out.
Most people would like to think that they’d be the hero in these situations. But in truth, you never know how you’ll act- nobody does. I was stuck to the floor watching the terminal crumble around me in slow motion, the shadow of the recent Orlando shootings above us all.
And then, a false alarm. A miscommunication about a guy in a Zorro costume.
You can’t make this shit up.
February 14th 2018
It had been a shitty day at work, I’d been at hospital the day before with heart problems so I wasn’t running through fields of wheat with glee. I spent a quiet evening with a book and some prescription painkillers, choosing to leave my phone (and my avid news checking habit) aside to try get some calm. But the damn thing kept flashing.
Have you seen the news?
*David Miller has posted in Starlight Staff 2017 group*
Libby have you seen what’s going on?
And there it was. A school shooting in Florida. A member of key staff worked there.
I googled the name of the school- Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Scrolled through the staff list.
I didn’t believe it. The name before me. I read it, I whispered his name, one of my friends and someone I had respected and admired beyond comprehension. Scott.
I hardly slept, hooked to every news report and cross referencing any lead. Searching local reporters twitter accounts.
On my way to work the next day, the news came. Our camp director announced it merely an hour or so after formal identification. Scott had died. He’d opened his classroom door to let escaping students in, saving them like the true hero he is. He never managed to close the door behind them.
The news- I can’t describe. I got sent home from work early through my hysteria, scrambled onto the train from London to the New Forest. I screamed and cried and my eyes could barely open through swelling from tears.
There’s no words to epitomise how truly wonderful and iconic that man is-was. He was a legend at camp, adored by everyone, he lived for his boys and taught them how to be true men.
The day after, a cold BBC report on the victims felt a dagger to my heart. I sent them a photo I took of Scott which he liked, a request to at least respect him with more than a cold name and age. He was a hero, an incredible man, he deserved more than a cold statistic.
The image I used in a facebook post became a widespread image- from BBC to Runner’s World and various publications, even cropping up on tee shirts. I saw the double A4 gloss spread with my photo I took of Scott. I felt sick. I remember taking that one innocent Friday afternoon, he was talking to junior boys about cakes. It didn’t belong in a glossy spread.
I followed the Never Again movement, an extra inspirational colleague Jeff Foster (also my fantastic morning meeting and laundry buddy of 2017) was also a teacher at MSD and trained Emma Gonzalez and her peers in their publics speeches and government campaigning. And there was Jeff, who normally enjoyed gossiping over a cup of tea in the cottage basement as we waited for our laundry to be done, being photographed and interviewed en masse for his involvement in the Never Again group.
At nights I would have nightmares on the events on 14th February at Marjory Douglas. I’d reconstruct the statements and interviews I devoured, my mind creating its own reenactment night after night. I saw Nikolas Cruz down the barrel of the gun, I couldn’t stop watching the release of his police interview footage where he pitied himself and was held by his brother. He held his fingers to his head as if to charade shooting. I followed every news story online, that haunting animation with the floorplan, every court hearing that was broadcast on YouTube or court websites. Seeing the intricate works behind the jurisdiction which followed the ever developing Cruz case was a world away from the aftermath of shooting not even that long ago. We could follow the journey- through accusations of prison compassion as he gained weight and the argument of it being down to anti-psychosis medication, even to the court battle over a school paper disclosing his educational background without consent. No walls, no presenters, raw. A new character profile built of much more intimate and informed substance than the psychotic mass murderers of the nineties and noughties.
I look at him, and then I think of the wonderful Scott at camp. It just doesn’t add up.
In London I hated it, I was a nervous wreck for car backfires. I lived in a dodgy area with heavy police involvement, I saw many fights and stabbings in the neighbourhood. I’d hear another bang and I’d be on the floor, hands on my neck, wondering if we’re about to be shot. A train carriage veers too much and shakes, I text my mother I love her. Turbulence in an airplane, I hold my journal and pray to Matthew and G.
I have two fears of how I shall die. One, is in a shooting as above. I read the Paris shooting stories and it installs a dark feeling within me, as if a deja vu. As if I know. The other, is in a car, and why I am such an awful passenger. I’ll yell if someone takes their eyes off the road for a millisecond, I cross my fingers and murmur a plea when a car comes too close. I see my death at least ten times a day on roads or in public, it’s crippling. I can’t get in many cars, and the number is dwindling as my nerves grow. Many public areas hold too much fear. There was a foiled Heathrow attack a year or so ago which has been planned for the day I’d been there. It’s constant.
An old colleague said she worked at the school with the recent San Francisco Balboa shooting, thankfully no one was hurt but the shooter. But her- another? How many? How are we allowing guns with NRA endorsement of political leaders, how can we quantify a hobby versus life?
It’s a hot topic which is something myself and the particularly lovely gentleman will forever disagree, and in truth, makes me question our suitability. He claims it is the people and not the weapon who commits the crime, unable and ignorant to the cold true statistics of America’s mass shooting ratio against the rest of the world. It’s quite perplexing, it is the first person I met who was so pro-guns and didn’t believe that tighter arm bearing laws would benefit the nation.
It comes down to people like Cruz. My nightmare haunter. Those eyes were the last to see Scott alive. Those fingers pulled the trigger.
Never Again. This is 2018. We live in fear.
We can only love, and hope.