“His imagination had so abstracted him that his name was called twice before he answered”
-James Joyce, Dubliners
I spent most of my high school days living in Parkland, Florida. My family moved to California over the summer of 2017, months before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Parkland is an affluent community; the median household salary doubles the state’s. It takes half an hour to get to the beach, and some mornings my friends and I took sunrise dips in the Atlantic before class. We moved to California over summer 2017 so my sister could pursue acting professionally.
On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old former student opened fire on the Stoneman Douglas campus. I was in California, sitting in a restaurant with some younger friends. They didn’t know how to process it. I didn’t either. It felt like everything was crashing down; my family was a wreck. Our friends lost loved ones. It felt real despite the distance. I watched as, across the country, a national movement came out of Parkland. It felt satisfying, but there’s no consolation for lost life.
My family has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for the better part of two years now. It’s the last “small town” in Los Angeles County, as my mother says. Kids grow up and stay because they love it. It’s a well-to-do area. Its schools turn out annual Ivy League acceptances. The football games are electric. There’s a Six Flags in sight, one I worked at. Santa Clarita, for a young person, is the California dream. My little sister has become the Cali archetype.
On Nov. 14, a 16-year-old student opened fire on his Santa Clarita campus. I rolled out of bed late and still got the news before my mother. My little sister was in school there. I was in Tuscaloosa. Helplessness seized me again. I had to trudge from class to class knowing that, on another campus, the lives of my friends and family were in active danger. I still don’t know how to process it.
I was still getting frantic texts and calls on the night after the Santa Clarita shooting. A friend said, “This shouldn’t be happening here.” She’s right, but it shouldn’t be happening anywhere. It’s time for us to stop pretending like gun violence exists in isolation. Gun violence is a tradition in this country. School shootings are becoming one too.
Another Santa Clarita student said, “I wasn’t surprised that it happened,” in the days following. American students are accustomed to the idea of danger. They’re used to living with a gun pointed at the back of their heads. I’ve done more emergency drills than I can count. When I hear of other school shootings, it’s difficult for me to acknowledge their full terror. It’s easier to pretend like they’re far away. We need to resist that urge to abstract.
When the camera crews start packing up and your city stops trending, the story ends; but not for these communities. They’re left to pick up the shattered pieces, ones we can’t see. Violence, of any kind, is an abstraction until it becomes personal. There are no financial or geographic barriers to victimhood. It could happen just as easily on our Quad. Until it becomes personal for the majority, the American campus will always be a potential target, a sleeping battleground. It’s time to empathetically grapple with gun violence. Actually, it’s overdue.