When I was 13, I was kidnapped from a gas station, raped in an abandoned field and shot at point-blank range between the eyes while on my knees. What other details are there that need to be shared? I can describe in detail what it felt like when the bullet slammed into my forehead and my body flew back or my memories from the ambulance and ICU. But that one day isn’t even a significant fraction of the story.
“Gun violence survivor” is what happens after. The months, years and decades after is when the change is most significant. Some of those changes I’m only just now beginning to understand. “Before,” I was an active child. I spent my afternoons riding my bike or walking with a group of friends to the park. There was also a variety of dance classes, softball and piano lessons. During the scorching summer afternoons, we would cool off in a pool without a worry in the world. I remember those days vividly. Not just for their sense of carefree adventure, but more for their sense of invincibility and lack of fear. I had my whole life in front of me, and it was filled with endless possibilities. But then, on my first day at a new school, I was kidnapped, raped and shot in the head. And everything changed. Everything.
Now, fear is my first breath when I wake up in the morning and the last breath before I fall asleep. Fear is so ingrained into every thought and action that I am always amazed that others – those not impacted by gun violence – don’t carry this burden. I miss not being afraid. I want to ride a bike down the street without being terrified. I want to walk my dog, or go to the grocery, or watch a movie without having fear sneak its ugly head into it. But being a survivor is more than fear. It is in everything, and I cannot ignore it. I do not get to separate that part of myself and hang it up in the back of my closet for another day. It is not a chapter in my life that I can neatly wrap up before starting anew. It is ingrained down to my very cells. It changed my DNA, ate away the existence of that girl that I was before and left someone different in its place.
I still wonder about that little girl who yearned for adventure, fearless, perhaps even stubborn, but who definitely believed she wore a cape. Where would that girl be? Would she be afraid to walk to her car at night? Would she jump out of her skin at loud sounds? Would she feel like she had missed out on possibilities because fear was always hovering? Where would her path have ended up? But, I can’t think of that because I am who I am. A gun violence survivor. And that other girl was lost a long time ago.