I never knew true fear until I faced the possibility that my entire family might be dead.
I remember that night all too well. I doubt I will ever be able to forget it.
My family, facing a boring summer night, wanted something interesting to do; one of the options that popped up was to go and watch the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. My parents, younger brother, and my brother's friend, who was spending the night at our house, jumped onto the idea. I was uninterested; I'd rather finish watching my favorite movie at home. Now, I don't think I'll ever even be able to watch The Dark Knight Rises.
My family and brother's friend said goodbye to me, jumped into the car, and left. Nobody thought anything of it.
Later that night, after I'd finished watching my movie, I turned to Twitter. A few minutes later, it hit. News sources I was following such as CNN suddenly began tweeting about a movie theater shooting. Initially, the only details mentioned that the shooting had been in Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
My stomach dropped, and I grew dizzy. I searched the Internet for a few moments, but when I couldn't find any additional information, I closed my laptop, unable to cope with the overwhelming wave of emotion crashing over me. On hindsight, I should have waited for at least a few more minutes, but I couldn't think straight. All I could think was, "My family went to see the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. We live in Colorado."
Until that moment, I have never genuinely felt the retched feeling that my life was crashing down around me. The fear that surged through me paralyzed my body. I didn't know what to do or what to say. For the first time in my life, I was faced with the possibility that my family might be dead.
I knew that there was no way I could really contact them. My brother left his cell phone at home, and my parents would have turned their phones on silent. If they were in the shooting, there was no way that they'd be in a situation to call me or check their phones, and if they were safe, any calls would go unnoticed.
So in that dark, empty house, I truly felt alone. The next set of thoughts that rushed through my mind ripped at my heart and tore any semblance of composure into threads. For the life of me, I couldn't remember the last time I said "I love you" to my family or the last time I'd hugged them. All the moments I'd spent fighting with my 11-year-old brother flashed before my eyes. All the times I'd clashed with my parents spun in my head. I should have told them "I love you" more often. I should have told them "I love you" before they left. I don't think I ever realized just how much my family means to me until I was faced with the possibility they might all be severely wounded or even dead. Maybe nobody ever really does until he or she collides into that kind of situation.
I did the only thing I could do. I waited. I paced around the house. I sat, paralyzed, on the living room couch. I woke up my little dog, if only for reassurance that I hadn't fallen into some alternate universe and that I wasn't completely alone in the world. I couldn't bring myself to check Twitter again, afraid that if I did, I wouldn't like what I'd see. I tried to calculate what time my family should be home. When that time came and passed, I gave in. I reopened the laptop I'd closed in a panic and searched for any piece of information that would allow me to keep my sanity.
Aurora. It was selfish of me, but that one word had me taking the first calming breath of many. Aurora is a suburb of Denver, which was a safe, four-hour drive from my home. Still, my anxiety refused to dissipate until my family came home.
When my family came home, the first thing I said to them was something along the lines of "There was a shooting in Aurora in a movie theater playing the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises." Indeed, darkness had arisen that night. Since I tend to cave in on myself and deal with my emotions in private, I don't think my family has ever fully understood how shaken I was by that night.
For the first few weeks, I told myself just to get over it. I told myself that whatever I felt was nothing in comparison to those of the families of the injured or killed. I told myself I was a coward and that I had no right to anything I might be feeling as an aftermath. What I felt didn't matter compared to those who had actually been victimized.
After a while, though, I started to let myself feel the emotions that were piling up inside of me. Because even though I may not have lost someone or have had a loved one get injured by the shooting, I was indirectly a victim, at least emotionally. No matter how much I wanted to deny it, the events from that July night traumatized and hurt me. I was 15 at the time, and those feelings of loss and helplessness I'd felt that night were feelings that adults should never have to feel, nevertheless a child. It was only after I faced my emotions and feelings that I was able to start moving on.
I faced a multitude of things in the aftermath of Friday, July 20, 2012. No news source had immediately been able to give me detailed information on the ensuing chaos, and I had had no way of contacting my family; the news and technology failed me that night. I learned how to not only sympathize, but also to empathize with the feelings of those who'd lost loved ones in the shooting, and I'd learned true fear. My eyes splayed wider to the world I live in.
Why am I writing about this now? Part of the reason is because I've only just now became a blogger for HuffPost Teen. Another part of that is because of where our government continues to stand today in terms of gun laws.
After the Aurora theater shooting, I hoped we'd see some change and progress as a nation. After the Newtown elementary school shooting, I hoped for the same things. Both times, changes were only made on a local or state level. Our nation continues to argue over guns every day, and with every passing day, there is an increased risk that we will face another gun shooting like this again. I come from Colorado, a state that already faced the notorious Columbine High School shooting over a decade ago; we have never forgotten.
We never forget our wounds.
Today, in my relatively new home, it would only take me an hour's drive to visit Columbine High School. It would only take me an hour to see the movie theater James Holmes targeted.
I'm not foolish enough to think that America could easily pass nationwide-restrictions on the types of guns sold and other such gun control measures. However, I cannot understand why America has yet to make universal background checks necessary for all gun purchases. Today, 91 percent of all Americans support these checks, as do 74 percent of NRA gun owners, and with good reason. A background check could have prevented a countless number of deaths. Maybe not all deaths, but they would at least provide another barrier for those with questionable backgrounds. I know they aren't infallible and that they won't always prevent guns from landing in the wrong hands, but it's a step. Perhaps some people are right in saying that background checks wouldn't have prevented the Aurora or Newtown shootings. I don't know. I do know that it can still prevent and discourage a number of future shooters. Not all of them, but it would still be a significant amount. It still provides a fence, a barrier, a small blanket of protection. The way I see it, background checks are a step towards effective, national prevention.
The case against background checks and for gun violence prevention research is more beautifully written in this HuffPost Impact blog. However, I hope that my story also gives people another emotional reason for universal background checks for all gun sales. I don't necessarily aim to tell people what they should or should not support when it comes to the gun control debate, but I aim to tell my story and why I believe in universal background checks for all gun purchases. I hope to provoke thought, and maybe if I'm lucky, readers will consider the shock and the cold terror I faced that Friday morning and see the recent, tragic events America has endured through in a new perspective. If I do sway someone who is part of the 9 percent that does not support universal background checks, I would be so fortunate.
Think about the people you love in your life, the people you know, and the people you're connected to. Think about the fear I went through because of one man. Think about the devastating grief so many people went through when their loved ones were killed. Think about how you would feel if you were on that side of the fence, if you knew or loved someone who was murdered. Think about how you would feel if you thought your family was caught in a shooting. Think about how you would feel if they really were. How can America let the bill for universal background checks for all gun purchases fail? How many more people have to be hurt or killed before we as a nation take such a simple step forward?