I’m a wife and a mother, as well as a gun survivor. Before I was eight years old, I experienced my first assault with a gun, during a home invasion. I’ll never know why, when I was held at gunpoint as a little girl, I came out alive. This was the first of several incidents of gun violence I have been forced to endure. Strawberry pie at the beach was the last beautiful memory I had before my first incident of gun violence. When I smell strawberries or salty air, I am reminded of a time before my life changed in a way I couldn’t control.
But these memories are often overtaken by darker ones of violence and fear. My attempts to avoid them are ineffective. I am forced to relive them, over and over. Some days are harder than others. There are times when I can still taste the metal of a gun that was used to hurt me. Like many survivors, I had periods of my life when I acted out and engaged in self-destructive behavior. I had not understood why I felt such overwhelming panic or periods of numbness. I still have night terrors. When I travel, I need my own space and my “time out.” I can’t sleep over at a friend’s house. Something as minor as a distinct smell can prompt a reaction. When I walk into a new place, I’m hypervigilant, looking for the exits. I assess people in the room who potentially could be armed, or give an “off vibe.” I always have to know where the bathrooms are. I try to face towards the exit if possible.
Some people would say that I am unlucky. I am still alive, so I would argue that I am lucky. I have wonderful, supporting family and friends. I feel incredibly lucky to have found the survivor network. I heard another survivor talk about the importance of following through on a commitment, if you make one. That has inspired me to speak out. Coming forward to share my story has been difficult. For years I wanted to be invisible, or at least be like “normal people” going about their day. But that is changing. I would like to do what I can to finally make a change, instead of hiding and avoiding my past. I want to help change the future for my own children as well as everyone else’s. No one should go through the pain of surviving or losing anyone to gun violence, intentionally or not. Gun violence is still traumatic to me. However, I do believe that change is possible.