Coping with Tragedy at Virginia Tech

It doesn’t hit you right away when you see police cars parked outside of your dorm. You think, maybe someone got busted for drugs or maybe there was a break-in. When one of your co-workers calls from work and asks if you’re okay, you say yes and wonder why she needed to call so early on a Monday. It just doesn’t hit you that something could be horribly wrong.

 April 16th was supposed to be just another Monday morning in Blacksburg. It was chilly, snowing sporadically, and as I stayed in bed, still half asleep, I contemplated whether I was actually going to get up in time to go to my first class. It was just another day for me, another day in my wonderful Blacksburg Bubble, but around 8 a.m., April 16th transformed from “just another day” to a groundbreaking, earth-shattering tragedy.

It doesn’t hit you right away when your RA bangs on your door and tells you to stay in your room. You get an e-mail from the University that someone has been shot only two floors above you, but your first emotion is sadness and your next question is are classes canceled? It just doesn’t hit you that this is just the start of what will be called, “the deadliest school shooting in history.”

It doesn’t hit you when you turn on the news and you see your small-town school on CNN. It doesn’t hit you when you see that one person is dead or even when 21 people are dead. In your mind, it’s a number. You know it’s a big number, and you know this isn’t normal, but your brain just isn’t there yet. When the number grows to 33, you start to feel it. When you find out your friend and hallmate is missing, you feel anxious but you’re sure she’s fine because it just hasn’t hit you yet.

The truth is, it hits you when you least expect it. When two women at a Panera Bread 40 miles from campus come up and apologize for your loss because they see you are wearing orange and maroon, it hits you. When you receive 100 text messages and 15 voicemails in an hour, you begin to realize that people know. Then it hits you.

But the full effect comes later. It comes at 1 in the morning when you receive a phone call that your friend Rachael Hill, the one you thought was okay, is not so okay. When you are standing in the hallway with five of your best friends trying to cope with the news you have just received, it finally hits you. Like a tractor-trailer. You can’t speak, or cry, or even stand up. You just pray because you don’t know what else to do, and it hits you, that it is probably going to get worse before it can get better.

It hits you the morning following a sleepless night. When your eyes are glued to the T.V screen and you see your school, your beautiful school, splashed across the screen, and your friends, and your classmates, and people you passed on The Drillfield everyday–their pictures being shown and their names being released with the words “33 dead” boldly written underneath.

And the days after that hit you hard. But in a different light, you learn to cope with what has happened and you are thankful to be alive and thankful to go to such a wonderful school where we stand together and have so many people standing behind us.

It hits you when you try to buy something maroon and orange 250 miles away from Virginia Tech, but everywhere is sold out. It hits you when there are hundreds of Facebook groups centered on this one event which you thought only mattered to you. When colleges across the United States are having memorial services and decorating their buildings and dining halls with your school’s logo, it hits you. It hits you from the inside out, and brings you to tears.

Then, a week later, you go back with the realization that things aren’t the same, but as you walk across campus and see the flowers, memorials, and banners from around the world, it hits you. You realize that that you are loved and supported by millions of strangers, and that it really is going to be okay.

It hits you. It hits you that the saying really is true, the good all too often die young, and while it is so terrible and so sad, everything happens for a reason. But when you hear stories, and share memories, it hits you that life is so valuable and that the lives lost were so incredible. And yes, it hits you when you see the stuff being moved out of your friend’s room directly across the hall, but being hit is how you begin to cope, and coping is how you press forward.

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