Valentine’s Day for most people is a holiday that brings to mind flowers, chocolates, love, and friendship. For people who are from Parkland, it has a different meaning altogether. On the morning of February 14th, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was nothing special. Almost comically suburban. Best known for the state award winning marching band and Anthony Rizzo (he played for the Chicago Cubs). By the evening, the school that my parents had moved cities to have me attend was featured on almost every TV channel on the air, for all the wrong reasons.
The person I was on the morning of Valentine’s Day in 2018 was not the same person who came home from school, and not the same person writing this now. As we get closer to the day every year when old Facebook pages and group messages become active again, it strikes me once again how sad it is when young people die. When people die, they are frozen in time. For people who haven’t figured themselves out yet, they die as an amalgamation of things they liked to do, or bands that they listened to every once in a while, or the career they picked on a whim that weekend. Sometimes I like to think about what’s written in the memorials for the victims and what they would think about it now. My friend Carmen was remembered as kind, caring, compassionate, driven, and hard-working. Would Carmen still want to research ALS, or would she be trying to go into ophthalmology? Would she have picked UF or UW? Would we still be in touch, or would we have lost contact like all old high school acquaintances?
The 2023 anniversary brings with it new heartache, another shooting on the campus of Michigan State University, and another group of students added to the horrific club that you can’t be in until you’re in it. One victim in particular stood out to me, Arielle Anderson, a college junior who dreamed of being a pediatrician. Her life summed up in 4 or 5 words, kind, caring, compassionate, driven, hard-working. She seems so similar to Carmen on paper, but she could be so different. Kind, caring, compassionate, driven, hard-working. Empty words that can’t encapsulate someone’s personality even if they tried. But that’s all we’re left with, anecdotes of core memories that would have become the foundation of a future that was stolen from them. When I think about it, it opens a hole in my chest that can’t be filled.
Valentine’s Day… is now a day of mixed emotions. Sad about what happened and who we lost. Happy to reach out to old friends and see how they’re doing. Guilty for feeling happy because we’re supposed to be sad. Guilty for moving on and not remembering all of the victims, who were kind, caring, compassionate, driven, and hard-working. But I do remember.
I look at old videos and articles of myself when I was interviewed after the shooting, and there’s a sense of hope there that I’ve lost. Change was looking so close until it wasn’t. Everyone said it felt different, but it wasn’t. Every year around this time, I keep wondering how many more people are going to have to go through this experience before our legislators can do something about it. How many futures will be stolen and replaced by kind, caring, compassionate, driven, and hard-working.