Today was a unusually strange day.
And even though almost everything has quieted down and almost all puzzles have been solved, my mind can’t stop. And so, although I might not ever hit “Publish” on this post, I have to write it. I have to get it out into the universe.
When I was in middle school, my girl scout troop participated in the mall sleepover. I don’t remember much about that night except that we definitely didn’t sleep, we weren’t allowed to lean on the gates to the stores or their alarms would go off, and Cinnabon was open all night long. But that mall sleepover was awesome. It was what we talked about for weeks and weeks after. I bragged for months that I had both stayed up all night long and seen the mall at 4AM!!
Also when I was in middle school, I walked to the mall with a couple of my friends after school. Looking back, I have no idea how Oakland Mills was connected to the neighborhood the mall is in… and now that I’m thinking about it, if it is even possible for this to be true… but moral of the story is, we were barely teenagers and we were hanging out in the mall without supervision – and that was just fine.
I have a million memories of the Columbia Mall. Of riding the carousel. Of shopping at 5-7-9 and the candy store where we bought bags and bags of Jelly Bellys. Of when we got a Spencer’s and a Hot Topic and when the whole new wing was added on. I remember going to try on homecoming dresses and getting our nails done before the big dance. I worked in that mall one dreadful summer at Abercrombie & Fitch. My sister worked there at American Eagle for a few years.
We grew up with that mall as a place where everyone from miles and miles around came to eat lunch, go shopping, reconnect with friends, go for a walk (I know, weird), watch a movie, pick out a new refrigerator…
It was one of the places where I never, ever once felt afraid.
Today, some nut job walked into my mall with a shot gun. Today, someone thought that taking people’s lives would make things better or prove a point or whatever they could possibly have thought to justify their actions. Today, two innocent people who were just starting their lives were lost to absolutely senseless violence.
There has been one other day in my life when I felt like the world had ripped away a big chunk of my safety net. That one other day turned out to be a million times more personal and tragic for me, but today made me furious because it was not an accident. I never wanted to witness that side of mankind. I never wanted to witness a personal attack on my community again. But today, that man or woman placed a giant cloud over a building and a community gathering spot that holds so many memories for me. That man or woman put the lives of the people of my hometown in danger. That man or woman thought that for some reason they had the right to decide who would live or die.
So although whoever is responsible for the tragedy in Columbia today probably had never heard of me or thought about who they could possibly affect with their actions across the nation in California, I am taking this personally. Because every time I walk past the elevators above the food court, I used to laugh and think about the time that Karey and I were walking next to each other and she kept running into me. I hate the fact that this person is going to make me think of shot gun blasts instead. I hate the fact that someone can do something so horrible that would taint such a positive place forever.
My mom said today something like, “At least we don’t live in war… Although maybe this is our war.” I can only fear that it’s true. I used to tell people that I wanted to get out of Maryland after high school to “escape the bubble.” I have since learned to appreciate that bubble for its nurturing environment to grow up in.
I feel like today that bubble burst.
I cry for the children who were out with their parents and had to run for shelter. I cry for the fact that this is their childhood and that reacting to a shooter is a thing they have to learn. It is heartbreaking that the world and our country are heading down this horrible path of constant fear of violence. It is horrible that anyone thinks a shotgun is a solution to whatever pain they are going through.
I know that this post didn’t answer any questions or really solidify my views on anything, but seeing my hometown in the news and fearing for the lives and safety of those I love makes me so unbelievably angry. It makes me horribly sad. It makes me ache for the days when I thought the world was a nice place and that I was going to have the life where I somehow skipped around all the scary parts. Where children all out lived their parents and everyone grew fat, happy and old.
To the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy, I am unbelievably sorry. I know my anger and my pain are only a fraction of what you are experiencing right now and I hope the community rallies around you to remember the ones you have lost and help ease your sadness.
Columbia, I have long since left you to explore other places, but you will forever have a giant piece of my heart. You will forever be full of happy and heartwarming memories, and you will always hold so much of my wonderful childhood. I send my heart out to you and to all of the people who will not let this single event and this single person taint the bubble that holds it all together. I send my love to everyone who, like me, feels like they need to protect that specialness for generations to come.
The sun will be rising in Columbia soon, and I hope it brings the first brand new day of working towards making places we all cherish safer, while healing the wounds that yesterday brought.
My framed photo of the People Tree will be front and center on my book shelf starting tonight. Thinking of you – my home – Columbia.
(I just want to reiterate that I wrote this post out of anger and sadness at the events that happened today. I’m sure I will look back at it after a good nights sleep and think I was being a bit dramatic or outrageous, but at 1AM, this is my stream of consciousness.)