Hope for Their Future

Outreach’s junior Board Member, Abigail Duclos

I had a dream a last night.

I am standing by my locker, middle of the sixth floor, grabbing my calculus textbook, when I suddenly hear this bang. There’s a guy standing on the opposite side of the hallway, weapon in hand. He doesn’t have a face, just a concave of skin over where his eyes, his nose, and his mouth should be. Then, there’s another bang. A girl appears beside me, and I recognize her dimly. She grabs my arm and pulls me away, yelling that there is an man with a gun. I want to scream at her that I already know that, that I see him, and that he’s a boy, not a man.

Somehow we reach the staircase, plummeting down each step, my ankles nearly giving way underneath the pressure.

We finally reach the third floor, the sound of ricocheting bullets still just above our heads. I turn around the staircase, turn towards where an exit should be. Instead, I just see a wall. No windows, no doors, nothing. My friend has disappeared, and I’m trapped, alone. Another bang.

I wake up, my heart throbbing, feeling like it’s gonna beat out of my chest, like how I felt watching the second season finale of Stranger Things.

There were some clues that it wasn’t real–my locker isn’t on the sixth floor, for starters, and I don’t carry around a calculus textbook, thankfully–and, yet, it felt so real.

Blindly, I checked my phone. 3:03 AM.

Just below the time, there was a news alert: “Four dead after armed hostage standoff in Yountville, California.”

My breath caught in my throat.

Around this time 65 days ago, 17 people were murdered in Parkland, Florida, and, around this time 19 years ago, in Littleton, Colorado, 12 students were killed at Columbine High School.

After Aurora, I worry in movie theatres, my eyes flickering towards the nearest exit, wondering if the next person to enter will be a mom out to watch the newest Hugh Jackman movie or if, just maybe, it’ll be someone much more sinister. After Las Vegas, I worry at outdoor concerts; after Paris, I worry at indoor concerts; after Manchester, I worry outside of concert venues. After San Bernadino, I worry in office complexes. I’ve never been inside of a club, but I think, after Orlando, I’ll worry inside one of those, too. And after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and an unthinkable number of “many more,” I worry in school.

It seems, after years of worrying, that that fear has finally entered my subconscious, my dream-land.

Even with the introduction of greater protective measurements across American schools, students still worry, both numb and hypersensitive, our eyes overly saturated with images of crying survivors and our hearts unwilling to deal with what our eyes see.

We cannot vote. Most of us have no money and little leveraging power. Slowly, however, the realization of strength in numbers has blossomed. The #NeverAgain and EnoughIsEnough movements, which harness the power of teenagers across the country to call for the greater regulation of the access to weapons, seem to shine like a beacon of light in the distance. The recognition that we shouldn’t be feeling this way has never been more powerful. The recognition that this isn’t right, that this isn’t a partisan issue. This is bulletproof backpacks and armed teachers and your classmate’s funeral. This isn’t about Republican or Democrat, about liberal or conservative. The sanctity of human lives is not and never should be a partisan issue.

We are teenagers. We should be going out Friday nights, procrastinating until the last minute on lab reports, staying up until 2AM studying for Bluebooks. We should be worried about Instagram likes and the math homework and Starbucks. We should be thinking about our grades, about our girlfriends and boyfriends, not about the possibility of being shot down in our schools.

Attendance seemed low the day after Parkland. My mom sent me an article titled “How to Deal with Anxiety After Another Tragic School Shooting”. Spoiler alert: it didn’t help.

I remember the day with incredible clarity. I went out with friends. I was blissfully ignorant, care-free, having not checked my phone since 3 P.M.. In the car, driving home, I checked my Twitter account. Seventeen names and lives hit me squarely. A tidal wave.

That night, my mind was consumed with all the possibilities, possibilities that I still feel unable to speak aloud, for fear of jinxing myself, as though we are in a wobbly turbulence-stricken airplane and mentioning the potential of a disaster might just send us all plummeting to the ground. The voice of my health teacher rang in my ears, the same teacher that taught the newest group of health students how to construct a tourniquet, just in case, reminding me to stop “catastrophizing.” More than anything else, though, I am positive that those thoughts, for that night and for many nights afterwards, were not exclusive to me alone.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders “affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.” Faced with everything from the mounting pressure of high school, coupled with continually decreasing college acceptance rates and an increase in the need for further education, to the hauntingly microscopic view of everyday life across social media and the rapid influx of news about daily catastrophes across the world at our fingertips, young people experiencing rising levels of anxiety is not unexplainable. For high-schoolers, the promise of a debt-filled and restrictive future wherein 62% of undergraduates report experiencing “overwhelming anxiety,” according to the American College Health Association, is not particularly appetizing.

As well, in a post-Stoneman Douglas, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook world, the ever-growing fear of being shot in what should be one of the safest environments is also growing. It isn’t just schools, though. One friend of mine, *Natalie, who agreed to be interviewed for the purpose of this blog, told me that she “sometimes will cancel my therapy appointments, because it’ll be, like, 11 o’clock the night before, when I’m trying to do my homework, and suddenly all I can think about is, ‘what if?’”

She picked at a loose hem on her jacket, before slowly continuing. “You know, there isn’t any security at my therapist’s office, nothing. So, what if someone nuts and violent comes in and shoots the place up. It’d be so…” She trails off, the word “easy” hanging heavily in the air, neither of us willing to acknowledge its presence.

She continued, “And then suddenly I’m convinced that it’s gonna happen. Maybe not today, but maybe next time, or the time after that, or in a year. And then I can’t go; I can’t handle it.”

I nodded, fiddling with my recording device, “It’s like you’re supposed to be getting better with your anxiety, but how are you supposed to do that when even getting help makes you anxious.”

“It’s just this horrible cycle,” she says, her voice low.

When I was younger, I was convinced that if you worried about something enough, it wouldn’t happen, as though the universe wasn’t cruel enough to make that happen to you. That belief, that conviction, has vanished with time. Now, the perpetual heaviness of waiting for something horrible to happen presses down denser than ever.

We, the people who live in a post-Stoneman Douglas, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook world, are not in charge just yet; but, one day, we will be. And we have a mission, a mission to let every single young person and old person alike feel safe and secure, feel protected, feel like they do indeed live in a true land of opportunity, feel like they can live for the future, to their fullest potential, not cowering in fear because lawmakers refuse to work together and protect them.

Now, more than ever, I recognize our strength. We may not be able to vote, we may not have money, we may just be little high school students with frankly too much on our plates already, but we can make a change. We can make ourselves known, our struggles and our beliefs and our message; our message is that we should not be scared, we should not have nightmares, we should not wonder if tomorrow will be the day, we should not shudder every time we get a new news update. We should have hope. I sincerely hope all of my peers, because I believe in us and our voices and our ability, and our future, our good dream, the one that we, and the like-minded, empathetic, and good adults who stand with us, will make and define.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the true speaker’s identity

Works Cited

Reilly, Katie. “March For Our Lives Attendance: Aerial View of Crowd Size.” Time, Time, 24

Mar. 2018, time.com/5214405/march-for-our-lives-attendance-crowd-size/.

“Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA,

adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Clark, Alicia. “How To Deal With Anxiety After Another Tragic School Shooting.” Alicia H.

Clark PsyD, Alicia H. Clark PsyD, 26 Feb. 2018,

https://aliciaclarkpsyd.com/how-to-deal-with-anxiety-after-another-tragic-school-shooting/.