Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Nov. 7, 2019 in the Graphic’s special edition “Where We Stand: One Year Later.” The author, for sake of privacy, asked for the article to run in print only but agreed to publish the piece online for the three-year anniversary.
Like any regular Wednesday night, I made my way up to Drescher for House Group at Jeff and Cathryn Walling’s house. Jake was taking my phone to text random numbers messages about frozen peas and other silly things. Refusing to listen to any of my pleas to stop, Jake received a much-deserved slap on his forehead. Cathryn left frozen pies for us to throw into the oven, with a couple leftover on the counter when house group concluded. Between my decision to bring a pie home and stepping foot out the door, I had forgotten to take a pie with me.
It was that time in the semester when everyone gets a little busier, and Annabelle and I had gone from seeing each other every day, for anywhere from a minute to a couple of hours, to missing multiple days in a row. Annabelle wanted to go to Borderline; being someone who has not a particular interest in country line dancing but also someone who loves Annabelle, I decided to go. I rushed back to my room to throw on some white high-tops and a red-and-green flannel I thrifted in Virginia.
My roommate was already in bed and pleaded with me to not go out that night. The volleyball game had a couple of minutes on the clock — Annabelle, Hattie, Jake and I decided to sprint down to Firestone. As we were heading down the stairs, people started hiking back up, telling us the game had just finished. The end of a game is synonymous with free Chick-fil-A at Pepperdine. So I told everyone to go faster.
Sure enough, there was plenty of Chick-fil-A sandwiches left over when we got there. I stuffed one in my pocket and ate the other. We ran into Conner and Janie, talked about who-knows-what and convinced Janie to come to Borderline with us. The walk up to Rho parking lot never gets easier. It was my first time going up via the baseball field, cutting through the stands and going up what seemed like much steeper stairs. But blasting “One Time” by Justin Bieber with Annabelle as we walked up made it all worth it. We met up with everyone in the parking lot, splitting up into two groups: Annabelle drove Hattie and Janie; I drove Tanner, Hannah Kate and Jake.
Realizing I had forgotten my pie, I asked if we could make a pit stop before Borderline. We walked in on Rachel, Julia and Jonathan watching a scary movie. Tanner squeezed between them on the couch and asked if we could just stay there for the night. I grabbed the pie and told them the other car was already on the way so we had to go. Through the canyon, we went and drove onto the 101 freeway, getting off on Moorpark Road.
I parked my car in the last spot of a lane, and we looked around for the entrance. Before I got to the door, they drew two big, black X’s on my hands. The bouncer also made Tanner cut off all his wristbands from previous concerts (and he was very sad about that). Hannah Kate paid first at the counter: $15. I turned around to look at Tanner and tell him I did not want to pay $15. He didn’t want to either, so he asked, “Should we just leave?” But Hannah Kate had already paid. Jake went up after only to have his card denied. Tanner and I thought it was a sign that we shouldn’t go in. Jake tried one more time, denied again. He asked Tanner to pay for him.
All four of us walked in $60 later. We went on the left first, walking around the pool tables and looking at the bar. We looped to the other side to find Emily before they started teaching a dance.
Props to anyone who knows how to line dance or is capable of picking it up.
The next 10 minutes were a mental and physical challenge to keep up and remember the steps. It did look like quite the art when pieced together, and I did feel quite successful when I got 32 counts down.
On one of the turns, I saw Josie and a couple of her residents behind me and waved. The song concluded, and I’d had my fill of line dancing for the night. We made our way to the short wall around the dance floor where people stood. I talked to Josie, and she introduced me to all her residents there. Annabelle, Hattie and Janie finally arrived. Turns out, Janie had left her wallet at school — with her ID — and they had turned back. Having just arrived, they wanted to hit the dance floor. Surviving only a few simple moves before people started twirling faster, they came back to where we were standing.
I took a Snapchat video of Annabelle dancing, clearly not matching up to the moves on the rest of the dance floor. It had not been 10 minutes since they arrived when I heard the first sound.
Having a sister who is sensitive to loud sounds, such as balloons popping and fireworks, I am hyperaware of sounds along those lines. It did sound like a balloon popping. Others said it sounded like champagne. I looked around, but no one else seemed to notice. When the second one went off, people started to look around. By the time the third, fourth, fifth, sixth went off consecutively, I grabbed Hattie — the only one to my right — and ran from the shooter.
The rest of our group was to my left, and I knew I did not want to see the shooter or witness anyone get shot. Tanner did turn and looked at the shooter. We were fewer than four feet away from the cashier, where the shooter entered. When I grabbed Hattie, I pushed us down to our knees and dragged her to the wall in front of the stage to be out of the shooter’s line of sight. The loudest thought that crossed my mind in the moment: “I can’t die right now, I have to stay alive for my sister.”
“This isn’t happening right now. There cannot be a shooter. This isn’t happening,” Hattie said, her voice trembling with fear and anger.
All I could respond is, “Hattie we have to get out of here.”
I had seen the bright-green exit sign about five feet away from us. As soon as I heard the gunshots stop, I pulled Hattie up and started pushing her. I must have let go, because Hattie went into the kitchen door right next to the exit. I was running down this ramp, seeing people trip and fall down the side of the ramp.
Never having been to Borderline before, I had no idea where my car was in relation to this back exit. But I never let my legs stop moving. I kept looking back, trying to find familiar faces. I kept thinking, “I can’t leave them in there, will they meet me at my car? How long do I wait for them before they start closing the parking lot?”
Before I knew it, I was at my car door and unlocking it to get into the driver’s seat, locking the doors and taking a minute to catch my breath. I tried calling 9-1-1, but the line was just beeping. Before I could take another breath, I saw someone knocking on my window. He was telling me to let him in, that he was a cop, that he was bleeding.
“I can’t. I’m sorry,” I said.
But after his multiple pleas, I unlocked the door and told him to sit in the back seat. He rushed in to sit next to the boysenberry pie I had picked up maybe an hour ago.
More people were running out now, and I feared hitting someone as I backed out. Just as I was turning out of the parking lot, four police cars came rushing in. The guy in the backseat told me to roll down my window and honk at them to tell them what was going on. But none of them stopped. I turned onto Moorpark Road and took him to the only place that was still open: Jack in the Box. He told me to drop him there and come back in 30 minutes. If he had passed out, take him to the hospital. I told him I did not have time for that and we needed to get him help right away. At that point, I got a call on my phone.
Annabelle had jumped out of a window and made it to her car. I still remember the moment her voice cracked, telling me what happened, to completely sobbing. That was the first time my heart kicked into action because I felt it tear in half. I told her to stay down and not to go out until it was safe. I told her to call her family, text them and tell them what had happened.
As I was still on the phone, I texted my family group chat two texts: “There was a shooting at Borderline” and “I am safe.”
I hung up with Annabelle for her to call her parents. The guy sitting in my backseat was talking to his friends, too, and they hadn’t found everyone. But he told me his name was Ty. Shots went off again. I reversed out of the parking spot and drove right over the grass and off the curb onto Moorpark Road and decided to take him to my friend’s house. I parked out in front and walked up to the door, knocking with urgency but also announcing it was me as to not scare them.
My friend’s dad, a retired cop, opened the door, and I told him there was a shooting at Borderline and this guy was hurt. We went in to sit on the couch as he got the first aid kit and cleaned up Ty’s bloody arm. He gave me a couple of wipes for my knees that were pretty scratched up and a long cut on my thigh.
I texted my friend Kayiu there was a shooting at Borderline and asked her for live news updates on the status of the shooter. I asked Josie who she was with and if everyone she was with was accounted for.
In my staff group chat, along with Josie, I tried to get a head count of everyone who was there. I was still waiting to hear back from everyone who rode in the car with me. Once my friend’s dad bandaged us up, he said it would be safe to go back to get our friends because the place would be surrounded and filled with cops by then.
I didn’t believe him. But he said Borderline was now the safest place to be with all the cops there. I was still waiting on a live update from Kayiu, but Ty said his friends were waiting for him.
At this point, my dad had woken up and seen my texts and asked where he should meet me. We started to drive toward Borderline, only to be met with cops who guarded off the road under the freeway. My friend’s dad called me and told me not to go back, as the news reported that the shooter had not been found. I turned off to the left to make a turn in one of the small roads leading to businesses.
I was getting calls and texts from multiple people who had seen my Snapchat story, and I quickly declined and ignored them as I tried to contact Tanner before his phone died. I told both Ty and my dad that we would meet at Big 5.
I never said goodbye to Ty that night. I parked my car, and he ran out to hug his friends while my dad was waiting outside his car for me. Before I got to my dad’s arms, I felt the tears rush to my eyes.
Those tears raced down my cheek as I said between sobs, “I left them in there, Dad — how could I leave? If it was Angel [my sister] who was there, I never would have left without them.” And my dad just held me there, telling me it was not my fault in words I can’t remember now.
We sat in my dad’s car for a while as I told the Graphic group chat that I was there, notifying my staff group on updates — Josie still had two missing, but she was in somebody’s home, and then speaking on the phone with Connie Horton, Maura Page and other authorities at Pepperdine.
At this point, I had not heard from Hattie at all. I later found out that in her school active shooter drills, she was taught not to text other people, as shooters have found people hiding with their phone sounds. But Tanner sent me his location on Hannah Kate’s phone and told me he, Hannah Kate and Janie were all together.
My dad and I started driving the long way around to get to them, as the roads were blocked off. We got to the complex they and others had run to and firefighters who were tending to people’s injuries. Janie had taken off her cowgirl boots before she started running and ended up hurting her toe quite badly. We all hugged and did not say too many words. For a November night in Thousand Oaks, it was quite chilly, and I remember seeing neighbors bring out blankets for the people who were waiting by the firetruck.
We all sat in my dad’s car and waited to hear from Jake. He said he was in a house now with another girl who was at Borderline. He told us not to come until it was for sure safe to get him. We waited another 20 minutes in the car. Still no updates on where the shooter was. But Annabelle had run out of her car and joined others by the police cars. She found one of the women Josie was missing.
We would have waited all night for it to be safe to go find Jake. So I decided that we were going to start driving toward the address he sent. We got to the house and texted Jake. We waited a few minutes before he and the girl came out to our car. I hugged both of them before they got in the car. Five of us squished into the backseat of my dad’s Honda Civic with my dad and Tanner in the front. The girl’s parents were asking where to meet us, and I told her to tell them CVS. We drove back around and found her parents waiting on the side of the road, welcoming her into their arms.
Annabelle still hadn’t seen Hattie and Emily yet but had been in contact with them. I told her we would wait for her in the Big 5 parking lot. Jake’s phone battery was quickly dwindling as we were looking up more news on his phone. Helicopters were flying. Cop car lights flashing. There was a lot of silence, and occasionally Jake would throw in a joke.
Hattie and Emily were escorted out, along with everyone who had been hiding in the bathroom, to be joined with Annabelle by the cop cars. People from my staff group offered to come pick us up, and DPS officers asked if we needed rides home. But I told them to hold off until we were reunited with the rest of our group.
We waited in the parking lot for at least an hour — still had no idea who the shooter was or if he was still in the building. We still had not heard from one Pepperdine student out of the 17 who were at Borderline. I cannot recall how many times we had to confirm that number for Pepperdine officials and for some reason, I could not remember Janie’s name, and I felt awful asking her for her name at least three times.
While we were waiting in the parking lot, I saw two of my friends, Kayiu and Araceli, park their car and rush over to the scene with their video camera to report on the situation. I hugged both of them real tight before they walked over. More questions popped up on my phone. Not as many answers.
It was 1 a.m. Annabelle told me a cop would escort them to the Big 5 parking lot to meet us. I looked up every time a car came by, hoping that it was them. Twenty minutes passed before a cop came by and parked behind our car. We all rushed out of the car to hug each other. No words. Just teary eyes.
I decided to drive my car back, and my dad said he would drive the others, since Annabelle’s car was still in the parking lot. I unlocked my car, and Tanner, Hannah Kate and Jake piled in. Tanner laughed at the pie, still sitting in the backseat, still sticky, still a pie in the midst of everything.
I can’t remember when I heard bits and pieces of everyone’s stories. About how Tanner ran out of the back exit from the kitchen and went back for Hannah Kate. About how they hid behind a car and heard more gunshots, so they continued to run into the woods and did not stop until they reached the complex. About how Tanner saw me running to my car. About how Jake had a gun pointed at him a number of times before finding safety. Jake had ran into this neighborhood. He encountered an old lady who let him into her house and shortly after asked him to leave. He knocked on the door of a man who did not let him in because he had a daughter and pointed a gun right at him. He unlocked his truck for Jake to lay in. Jake heard cars going by on the street, fearing they were still looking for the shooter. It was not until the girl came to the house and explained that there had been a shooting that the man also brought Jake in and apologized for not believing him earlier.
We pulled into the Smothers parking lot. My dad got out of the car to hug me good night before driving back home. The rest of us walked across the music building and into the HAWC. Jessie and Payton were at the doors, hugging us as we walked in. Andrew was also there. We walked up the stairs to see a counselor and others.
I will never forget the HAWC workers bringing out chocolate muffins and coffee and seeing the applesauce and bottles of water on the side. We all took turns going to the bathroom because who knows the last time we went. We didn’t sit for long before we decided that we wanted to go back. We thanked them for being there and started down the stairs, down the hill and onto Lower Dorm road. When we got to Knott, Jake asked to pray. So we huddled up in the middle of the road, and he led us in prayer.
I decided to walk with them to Eaton, where we all went into the lobby. Hattie wanted to go back to her room but decided against it when she did not want to be alone. Jaime was waiting for us with Blake, making the couches into a circle and bringing his first aid kit down to us. We talked a bit more.
I remember Jaime sitting there and just listening. Jake had to take a phone call, and Annabelle and I were processing through some things. It was the first time I noticed how long a scar was on my thigh and traced my finger down it.
The adrenaline was fading, and my body started to feel tired. I walked back to Knott, noticing the darkness of the short walk more than times before. I tried to open my door and get in bed as quietly as possible. I grabbed my laptop to sit in bed and read through the news. My roommate woke up at that time and asked what I was still doing up. I said, “There was a shooting at Borderline.” She jumped out of her bed and hopped onto mine to just hold me in her arms. She sat there with me, reading with me as a scrolled through a world that I could not believeI was a part of.
It was almost 5 a.m., when I closed my laptop and tried to get some sleep. With sunlight peeking in a couple of hours later, I woke up to my phone vibrating. If it were not for all the texts and calls, I could have been convinced the night before was all a long dream. My sister sent me a letter, apologizing it would take something like this to happen for her to tell me she loves me.
Everyone, from people I had not talked to since high school graduation to my closest mentors, were reaching out, and I did not know how to even pick up the phone from people I was close to or how to answer the question “Are you OK?” The last time I had spoken on the phone was to update Pepperdine officials or find my friends. I remembered seeing there would be a prayer service at noon. I buried my face in my pillow and cried. I silenced my phone and tried to sleep a little longer, waking up too late for the prayer service.
Annabelle came over shortly after I woke up. We sat in my bed, scrolling through the news. One by one, everyone trickled into my room: Jake, Tanner, Hattie, Hannah Kate.
Hattie was leaving later in the afternoon to fly back home. Maura told us food was being delivered to DeBell and we were welcome to swing by. We were hesitant about whether we wanted to go get food and even if we wanted to go to group counseling.
We decided to go to DeBell. I ate this surprisingly good tofu with rice. We ran into Conner, and I remember telling him what happened the night before as if it were the most recent movie I had watched.
All of us walked to the Counseling Center together. People saw us on our walk over and asked us questions. I still couldn’t decide how I wanted people to react. When we sat down in a circle with a professional counselor who was brought in for the day, I remember us sharing how we felt we could not be as sad because we did not lose anyone at Borderline. We felt we did not have as much of a right to be upset when we were still here, sitting in a chair next to everyone we went to Borderline with. We went through a packet on the effects of trauma and what we could expect in the coming days, weeks and months.
Annabelle’s mom was flying in and staying at a hotel in Calabasas. Hattie had gone to fly home, so the rest of us — Jake, Tanner, Hannah Kate, Annabelle and I — piled into Hannah Kate’s Jeep and started driving through the canyon. We waited in the lobby for a bit, and one of the employees offered us cookies. We went up to the room and all lay on the bed together. We turned on the TV, and I remember feeling relaxed in that moment. I could smell Tanner’s socks, and I never knew if moving my foot would kick Jake in the face. We were starving and decided to go to Chick-fil-A before Annabelle’s mom got in.
As we were in the car, my sister texted me. She was at a concert in LA ,and she had been AirDropped a threat of a shooting. She said she hated to have to ask, but she wanted to know what she should do in the case of a shooting. I told my friends in the car, and I remember feeling this atmosphere of panic and almost shock sink in.
Tanner zoned out as he was driving and all of our bodies flung forward in an abrupt halt at a red light he didn’t see. My sister had gone out of the venue, where there were many people outside. I told her to go back in if there was somewhere safe, and she found a way to get into VIP. I told my parents to start driving toward LA in case she needed to leave because she did not have a car. My older cousin was asking if I could help evacuate my aunt in Oak Park. I hesitated to tell my cousins what happened at my sister’s concert.
With my thoughts still pulled in all different directions, the Chick-fil-A worker was just patiently waiting for me to order. I remember feeling like I was in some kind of dream, getting my half-sweetened, half-unsweetened tea, putting my straw in and having to remind myself this was all real.
We went back to the hotel to meet Annabelle’s mom, hugging each of us with teary eyes. She thanked me, and she told me she was so thankful for my dad. On our way back up to the room, I had just stepped out of the elevator when I saw a notification from my staff group. There was a potential evacuation. I quickly told everyone, and Annabelle’s mom suggested we all stay in her room. But I had to be back on campus, and Jake needed insulin for his diabetes.
So we drove back through the canyon, with most of the ride silent and tense. By the time we got to campus, my RD had informed us to warn our residents of a potential evacuation and to pack a bag.
I remember going from suite to suite with my roommate, telling them it was not that close yet but we needed to pack a bag in case we had to leave in the middle of the night. I remember convincing my worried residents that Pepperdine was the safest place we could be and everything was going to be OK. When we got back to our room, I realized we had forgotten to close the windows in the bathroom to prevent the smoke from coming in. My roommate told me she would do it and that I should take a shower.
Before I got in the shower, I found out that my neighborhood was being evaluated. But my parents were in LA waiting to pick up my sister after the concert. I started asking around to see if my family could stay with them for the night. My RD brought in a card and gift bag with goodies from Target. In it was Old Spice deodorant, something my friend knew I would appreciate. I did, and that scent is still something that brings me peace to this day. I took a quick shower and got in bed to continue checking the status of evacuations and fires. I remember praying that, if anything, we would be evacuated in the morning. I could not fall asleep until I knew my parents were safe.
The sun rose, and I woke up incredibly thankful we were walking to the Caf in daylight rather than in the middle of the night. I went around calmly knocking on the doors and asking my residents if they needed anything. We grouped up in the lobby, and I took the first group toward the Caf. Before we reached the CAC, my roommate asked if I wanted to go with her to her home. I told her I had to stay.
We waited outside on the back patio of the cafeteria. As we walked in, we were directed to check in at certain places. We were told to keep an eye out for our residents. Within the first hour, many people decided to leave, taking as many people as they could with them.
I didn’t like the staring eyes, and I didn’t like being in a huge place that felt so exposed. All I wanted to do was hide. So I ran up to the Sandbar, where I saw two friends from my Arabic class. They told me that one of my friends had cried telling the class about what happened the day prior.
I went into the Office of Student Accessibility to find my faculty family member from the Washington, D.C., program. The office was dark due to the power outage, and she had a dog named Oreo lying in the office. I talked to her for hours, talking about the whole thing from the beginning to the moment we were sitting in a dark office with Oreo.
I came back down to lunch being served. I thought it was so odd you could choose two pieces of sushi and then get an entree. It was food nonetheless. We claimed two couches, and the Caf looked like it had cleared out a decent amount. Before I finished eating, we were told we could go back to our dorms.
I walked back with two friends, taking a picture of them with their masks in the Smothers parking lot with the smoke behind them. I ran into my D.C. faculty getting into their car, and they invited me to come with them. I told them I had to stay. When I got to my room. I had barely lay down before we were told to return to the Caf.
Jake and I watched a couple of episodes of “Arrested Development” on the couch, and once the sun was setting, we FaceTimed Annabelle, who was in Utah now. At this point, many of my residents had already told me they were leaving, and we gave hugs not knowing it would be weeks until I would see them again. After dinner, there were rumors of seeing the flames from the Sandbar and people slowly made their way up to see for themselves.
I went up to the second floor to find my friends from the Graphic, updating social media and communicating to the public exactly what was happening. When one had gotten off the phone with a police officer, he told us we were going to be evacuated from our shelter-in-place. I went back down to our couch and started to put on my shoes. AKB spoke to us, assuring us again that we were in the safest place and we were not leaving. Shortly after, we were being served ice cream. I ran over to the library, seeing the flames creeping down toward the main campus shuttle stop. I put some Boom Chicka Pop in small cups for people staying in the library and made my way back to the Caf.
Everyone was getting ready for bed, and the lights in the Caf started to dim. Our couch was next to one of the exits — to feel like I could get out if needed. But being by the exit also meant more smoke seeping through the doors and needing to sleep with a mask on. The Caf started glowing from the flames visible through the window above Oasis. Students went up to sing with guitar, followed by a choir who led worship songs. On a two-seater couch, Tanner sat on the right side with my head in his lap and legs dangling off the side. Jake slept right underneath us. I fell asleep with head scratches and was rocked back to sleep every time I woke up scared.
I went to use the bathroom around 2 a.m., going to check on my staff group by Oasis. I sat with a few of them, talking about what it was like to have to make sure our residents were not worried when we had to mask our worries ourselves. We talked for a bit more until my body asked me for more sleep. One of my friends offered to bring his blanket for me to use. The Oasis floor was so cold and hard, and yet we fell asleep.
We woke up to people packing up around us. HRL staff was released. I went back over to our couch to gather my belongings and ask my friends where they were planning on going. We decided we would go back to our halls, shower and repack, and reconvene in my room after. We went to my car that was still parked in front of Smothers. The wooden plank that guarded the parking lot had been burned. And I found that so incredibly hilarious.
I found my Chick-fil-A sandwich in the cup holder in my car.
I stood in the shower crying. Out of all the questions that were running through my head, the biggest were: Why did I make it out and not others? How could people say that “God protected me”?
When I got out of the shower, Tanner and Jake came to my room. We didn’t know how long school was going to be canceled, and they hesitated to buy an expensive flight and have to come back next week. Originally, Jake and Tanner were going to come with me. The only problem was 10 people were already staying at my cousin’s house. We called Annabelle and decided it would be best for Jake and Tanner to fly to Utah to be with Annabelle and her family in case they had to come back soon. I checked in on my three residents who were still here and figured out where they were going to go. Two of them were deciding whether fly back home. We talked through the options in our messy suite. I told them they had some time to decide, and we would leave around 2 p.m.
We loaded about a bag each in my trunk and started driving. We dropped off one at a house in the neighborhood next to Pepperdine and turned onto PCH. I have never been on PCH without seeing another car on the road. We zoomed all the way down, connected to the 10 and jumped onto the 405. We were still a little early for the flight, so we stopped by IHOP because we realized we were starving. Eggs, sausage and pancakes never tasted so good.
We dropped one off at LAX and started the long haul to get to Camarillo via the 118. With the 101 southbound closed, what would normally have been a 20-minute drive took almost three hours. I remember feeling my eyelids get heavy from processing all that delicious breakfast food as the sun was setting. I quickly popped in a Hannah Montana CD, and we jammed to the good ol’ throwbacks for the remainder of our drive.
I dropped my last resident off in Camarillo and was finally headed home — well, where my family was.
I got to my cousin’s house to see her and my sister run down the driveway. My cousin broke into tears before she got to me and quickly wiped them away. I woke up that night whenever there was a loud sound, and my sister would hold me in her arms and rock me back to sleep on our air mattress.
My sister told my mom I was at Borderline. My mom asked, “Allison went to Mexico?”
Throughout the next few weeks at home, my mentors and close friends took time to check on me daily, FaceTime me and pray with me. I remember one of my mentors saying that the questions I was still navigating through and feelings of guilt did not make God any smaller. I still wrestled with people telling me that “God protected me” because all I could think about was, “Did he not protect 12 of us?”
I remember my mom driving us up our hill to go home one day, and I heard God whisper, “Can we say I never left you because I never left Alaina’s side?” That was my bit of peace that I held onto for a while. The night of Alaina’s memorial, I was sitting in our house group, and I heard God say, “I protected who she is.” He went on to explain that Alaina’s identity, the passions she had and the way she loved, could not and will not ever change. I did not know Alaina personally, but I got a glimpse of who she is in the testimonies of her parents and friends. That is in fact something the world could not have stolen from her. My identity carries no more and no less value because I am still here today. But when God holds our identity, who we are is truly protected.
The weeks to follow did not get easier, nor did the following semester. I found emotions rushing in at unexpected times, and in other instances, my body would choose to be numb instead of letting my emotions run. I had nightmares of evacuating people. I had times I hated being alone. I had seasons of being so irritable and hating the way I wanted to compare my experiences to someone complaining about theirs. But I had mentors who took the time to talk through things with me and love on me. I remember explaining to my RD that my biggest supporters did not have lives full of rainbows and unicorns. I am sure they had a sick kid or a big event coming up, and they still chose to love and invest in me. That is why I vowed to myself that no matter what I was going through, it was not enough of an excuse to not love one someone. That is not to say I tossed self-care out the window. But yet, it was finding this balance of being filled up to fill others and knowing myself well enough to know where I was at.
I came to the realization that if I was just waiting for the storm to pass and convincing myself that life will get better after the storm, I will miss it all. After this storm comes another, and so it goes with life. Sometimes you just have to put on some rain boots and dance in the storm.
But hope is not optimism and purely looking at the good. It is acknowledging there is hurt and pain all around us and believing we can still find the light in the midst of darkness. My hope was the dream catcher my friend gave me, the Old Spice, the head scratches and the “Hannah Montana: The Movie” soundtrack.
When I began writing this piece, I wanted it to be anonymous. I did not want people to treat me differently, nor did I want people to call me a hero. I am just someone who has experienced hardship, like any human does. I still get upset at times, I still get stuck in questions and I still get frustrated when I can’t control things I wish I could. I share this story with parts that I have come to peace with and others I may never understand. But I understand the power of a “Thinking of you” text. I understand that everyone is going through something and we must approach each other with love. I understand I need to be patient with myself and learn a new understanding of grace day after day. I understand I would not have gotten through everything without God and community.
Vulnerability tells me I cannot control how people take my story or how they will respond to it, but I trust it will reach the people it needs to reach and encourage people that when they don’t know what to do, love.
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