Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Reading Columbine: My Background

It's not often that I get very personal on this blog. I keep things mostly book related and rarely comment on things that are happening to me or have happened in my life. I've started adjusting this a little and have participated in some more personal weekly memes but it's a new thing for me.

Today, I'm going to get very personal and tell you about my childhood. I do this only because it relates back to something bookish. As many of you know, I decided to read Columbine this month. While this would be a hard story for someone to read regardless, it really hits home for me. While reading it, I realized I couldn't review this book without addressing my history because it brought up so many memories and feelings.

The following explains the way Columbine affected me as a child in Colorado as well as how it has impacted the way I read the book:

File:The rock of Castle Rock IMG 5189.JPG
The "castle rock" my town was named after. You can kinda see the castle if you squint. 

If you couldn't tell already, I grew up in Colorado. I lived in a small town south of Denver called Castle Rock (about 20 mins from Denver and about 20 mins from Columbine.) If you've been to that area of CO, you will know that it is serious suburbia. The county I grew up in is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. It's tends to range from middle class to upper class and is as non-multicultural as it gets. I went to school with two African American kids who were brothers and the sons of a Bronco football player. I went to school with people who looked like me, acted like me, and had families similar to mine. Very sheltered!

Not my actual neighborhood but you get the idea.
My childhood in this suburban paradise was perfect. I wanted for nothing and I was surrounded by friends and my immediate family constantly. I lived on a perfect little cul-de-sac with 6 houses and all the kids I could ever want to hang out with. We would roam the neighborhood all day long jumping between each others yards and the neighborhood pool with relatively limited parental supervision.

In 1999, I was in 6th grade in my perfect little bubble. On the day of April 20th, everything was pretty normal until about lunchtime. At that point, the entire school was moved into the cafeteria, we all sat on the floor, and the lights were turned off. We were told we were in "lockdown" but to us, all that meant was that we were going to miss recess and we were bummed. I vaguely remember the teachers and adults scrambling around but I was mostly focused on sitting next to my friends and talking.

We were eventually told that we were all going home and our parents were picking us up which was very exciting. When my mom picked my brother, sister, and me up she was very upset. I don't remember how she told us that there had been a shooting at a nearby high school but I distinctly remember sitting in our great room watching the kid climb out of the window and crying with my mom. That was the day I learned that violence truly existed.

I was very sheltered growing up and was blessed to never be exposed to the true ugly side of life. That day I found out that two kids (kids! I was a kid!) killed a lot of their peers at their high school and it scared me.

I didn't directly know anyone who was killed but everyone knew someone at Columbine. The plan wasn't for me to attend Columbine in high school but my neighbor eventually did and we played them in sports. I remember my dad's co-workers and employees had kids who went there and hearing about how they hid out under desks from the "shooters." It was all very surreal and terrifying.

In the aftermath, things changed.  All of our school doors were locked 24/7, we practiced safety drills for "intruders," we were taught to report strangers in the school and to fear trench coats. As the weeks passed, no one forgot what happened but life returned to our new normal. Everyone had the "we are Columbine" stickers on their cars but the talk about it pretty much stopped. We grieved for the people we lost but we didn't dwell and we didn't discuss it anymore. We damn sure didn't refer to Eric or Dylan.

And that was the way it was until I moved to South Carolina in 2001. In 2001, I was in 9th grade and I can distinctly remember the first time I heard someone reference Columbine. I was sitting in Spanish class and a peer mentioned the shootings. I felt like I had been hit by a ton a bricks. Who is he to talk about Columbine? Is he from Colorado too? How does he know about Columbine?

I knew Columbine was a big deal but I guess I never understood what a national issue it was. To us, it was personal. That was our community and it destroyed a way of life for us, but I never took a second to think about how it affected the rest of the country. Egocentric, I know, but pretty common for my age at that time and developmental stage.

To this day, hearing someone refer to Columbine is still weird. I understand how it affected our country as a whole and put fear into schools, but it was too close to home for it to be a "national issue" for me. I'm sure people related to Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook feel similarly. You're too focused on picking up the pieces of your own community to realize that the entire nation is mourning with you.

Now that I'm older (now you know exactly how old!) I know that there were aspects of Columbine I didn't understand as a child and I'm interested in learning more about it. Reading this book brought up way more memories than I realized were there and it was very hard to get through. If you are interested in my thoughts on the actual book, stay tuned until later this week.

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