Seven years ago today, while I was sitting in my Art History class in Burruss Hall at JMU, I received a text notifying me that at least twelve students had died at my sister’s university.
I remember placing my finger over my bottom lip and just staring at my desk. I couldn’t hear the lecture. I felt like all the air had been taken away from me. My thoughts returned to earlier that morning when I’d sat in my tiny half-sized RA dorm room. There had been a news story about murder, and I talked to my mom on the phone. It sounded like a sad, isolated event, but I thought only two students had been involved. Twelve?
My lecture ended, and I didn’t talk to anyone.
I grabbed my things and walked outside into the crisp April day, and I then I saw my boyfriend. He had walked all the way across campus to see me. He looked worried. He said another number. A bigger number. Twenty. My heart sank.
I graduated from a Pre-Engineering high school and the majority of my classmates were now at Virginia Tech. I needed to hear from these friends. He asked me if I had talked to my sister and I said, “She’s okay.”
Earlier, my mom had told me my sister was walking to class and it was snowing …but then I realized how much time had passed since that conversation. It occurred to me that students who were alive two hours ago weren’t alive anymore. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I remember thinking she’s okay, she’s okay, she’s okay.
Thankfully, within seconds, I learned she really was okay. My mom and dad were at home. My mom was on the landline with my sister, and my dad was on his cell phone with me. My sister was safe and with her classmates. I was so sad, I was hurting, I was fearful of the unknown, but mostly I was relieved to know my sister was okay.
Thirty-two members of the Virginia Tech community were killed.
I have a lot of memories and feelings about that day and that tragic event. It’s not my story to tell. And my experience is so removed.
I always spend some time on April 16 thinking about how any conversation you have could be the last. How long-distance friends mean so, so, so, so, so, so much and are worth keeping in touch with. How love overpowers hate. How love keeps communities strong. How blessed and lucky I am to have my sister in my life.
My sister has had a profoundly positive influence on my life. We talk pretty much every day. She’s talked me through migraines, broken hearts, and tough decisions. She texts me happy things and funny things and always sends me me comfort and encouragement when I needed it most. In short, I don’t know what I would do without her. She is such a beautiful reflection of this powerful, united, positive Virginia Tech community.
Be kind today.