Trigger Warning: The following story contains vivid descriptions of gun violence.
I am going to my room. It’s dark and I’m scared. I look down at my service dog, Brandy, and tell her to turn on the light. She does. She lies on the cool bathroom floor while I shower. Her deep sighs and even breathing remind me that I’m with a friend. It’s all OK.
I’ve never been afraid of being alone before. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. Now I wince at sudden noises and slip back into that day.
I was a freshman at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. We were just two months into the new school year. I was looking forward to Sadie Hawkins’ dance this weekend. My friends were gathered in the quad waiting for the first lesson to start. We teased each other about the Spanish test we were supposed to take that day. Everyone was convinced they would do best and we joked about who would beat who.
Our laughter was interrupted by a bang, followed by another. I found myself stunned and devastated. From where I lay I could only see running feet. Screams and more shots erupted around me. I told myself to get up and run away. My body listened. I ran all the way across campus, up two flights of stairs, my hands pressed to my stomach. I felt it. It was warm and wet. I told myself not to look. Don’t look, just keep walking.
I tried a door – locked. I ran toward another, but watched him close in front of me. They locked down the school – trapped outside with me. Don’t look, just keep walking. Finally an open door to the same Spanish class we joked about before. My teacher, Mrs. LaGiusa, frantically ushered the students inside. I ran in and sat in my regular seat, holding my wound. A kid came up to me and said, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” It won’t be okay. I had been shot.
Everything comes back in a flash. I was flown to a hospital for emergency surgery. A .45 caliber bullet lodged in my abdomen, millimeters from killing me. I started putting things together. Another student had opened fire, killed my best friend Dominic and my classmate Gracie. Three other students, including myself, were wounded.
We should have been safe at school. We were there to learn, to make friends, and to be kids. But that was all torn away immediately.
After the operation I woke up to a new reality. My best friend was gone. My childhood was over. My family would never be the same. My “new normal” was bullets, gunshots, and dead friends.
It’s been almost three years. I’m now a senior at Saugus and applying to colleges. Going back to the same school was hard, but the alternative was worse. I could stay in this place, the crime scene, or I could go to a new school with people who don’t understand. I chose to stay. Brandy comes with me.