Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Child's Perspective on Violence -- 21 Years Later

All of the coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is a double whammy for me. It makes my grief for Mike a little stronger, but it also recalls my experience of losing my aunt to gun violence when I was nine years old. There is talk of hope that the students will forget what happened on December 14, 2012. Sadly, that's idealism. I did not even come close to my aunt's gunman nor did I hear the shots being fired and I will never forget that day in November 1991.

My aunt and uncle had stopped by my parents' house on Halloween to see me in my costume right before I headed out to go trick or treating. Their stay was brief because there was candy to be collected! They stayed for a short time, took some photos, and said their "See ya laters". That was the last time I would see my aunt.

The Friday night after Halloween (I don't remember how many days there were in between), my aunt and uncle were attending their niece's birthday party. The party ran a little late and they were driving home in the wee hours of Saturday morning. As they sped along I-295, minding their own business, Henry James rolled down the window and fired his gun. He said he "just felt like bustin' somebody". The bullet hit my aunt who died instantly.

I remember my Dad getting the phone call early Saturday morning. My parents didn't know what to do, so they tried to pretend that everything was normal when I woke up that morning. Little did they know, I had overheard the whole conversation and knew that my aunt had died. I didn't let them know I was aware. I didn't know what to do, so I just followed their lead and said nothing. I was numb to the news, so I don't exactly remember how I felt. My immediate response wasn't to shed tears, though. I had to pretend I didn't know of the tragedy that had occurred.

My parents spilled the beans when it was time for me to go back to school. The story hit the newspaper. The media caught wind of the tragedy and started interviewing my dad and my uncles.  My parents tried to shield me from all that was going on, but it was impossible. You never quite realize how much the media replays a story until you are trying to avoid hearing it. Mom and Dad tried to maintain some sense of normalcy, but it didn't work. My family had been the victims of gun violence and that would change our world forever.

While I didn't initially have a strong response to the news of my aunt's untimely death, the trauma affected me over time. I spent a year in counseling dealing with the trauma and trying to overcome the effects of the tragedy. The trauma manifested in two ways: I had my first migraine ever (I've only had a migraine one other time -- after Mike died) and the biggest issue was that I was afraid to leave my house. My reasoning for staying in had to do with the fact that my aunt and uncle had come to visit, left, and then my aunt never came back. My parents would try to get me to go to sleepovers with my friends, I would go and then "get sick" so I could come home. I couldn't imagine us not being together as a family. In my nine year old mind, if one of us left the family, they would not return. That association took quite some time to break, but eventually, I felt more comfortable leaving my family without fear.  I also used to have a nightmare once a year about this tragedy. It's only been about 3 years since I stopped waking up filled with such fear once a year.

As a result of my own family's tragedy, I will never own a gun. I'm not trying to use this post as a platform to express my views on gun ownership. I have many friends who own guns or who think the right to bear arms should be exactly that, a right. What they own is their business as long as they don't use it for harm which I know none of them would. I am just saying I personally will never possess a firearm.

The children of Sandy Hook are much worse off than I am. They were directly affected by this tragedy -- seeing and hearing the massacre unfold. I heard the media say they hope the students will be able to forget what happened. Never. And for those of you trying to shield your children from all of the coverage, that might be impossible. Perhaps, at the right time, it is better to explain what happened and that it is not a common occurrence (at least, let's pray it's not). But, 21 years later, I remember all of those details of my family's own tragedy. I will never forget it; it's a part of me.

Pray for our country and pray for all the members of Newtown, Connecticut. Nobody will ever forget that horrific day.

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