I am the post-Columbine generation.
I am starting middle school, discovering the Harry Potter series at age 11, realizing that not everyone is your friend in middle school. My only knowledge of guns is the fact that a few years before, one of my favorite movies was Pocahontas, and that guns were the reason John Smith almost died. I know that my dad used to find Civil War bullets while he was surveying in Virginia, and I know that guns are this other-worldly entity in movies and in history.
We start doing drills. I am cowering under my desk, I am watching as we barricade the doors, I am trying not to cry in front of my fellow classmates. I am walking through the library every day knowing that someone had told me the kids at Columbine were killed in the library. I start to wonder what that looked like. Did they clean it up? Was there blood on the books?
At some point I realize that I am eleven, and I shouldn’t be thinking about these things.
But we are still having drills.
I am at summer camp, and a girl has a clear plastic backpack. She tells me they have to wear those, now. They can’t have “cool” backpacks like we had, the ones with our names embroidered or different characters on them. Because someone might have a gun.
I am the post-9/11 generation.
I am starting my freshman year of high school, and we are nearing the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade center. I have to wear an ID card with my photo around my neck. I get in trouble if I wear it on my waist, I get detention if I forget it. Some upperclassman has gone hunting before school and left a shotgun and a deer carcass in the back of his pickup truck, and suddenly the drills are real. Someone has a gun.
We keep doing the drills, and they keep telling us the ID cards are to prevent intruders.
But we remember Columbine, when the intruders were the students, and I start to wonder if the ID cards are just to help them identify our bodies.
At some point I realize that I am a teenager, and I shouldn’t be thinking about these things.
But we still have to wear the ID cards.
I am a sophomore, and playing Goldeneye with my friends after school. Someone produces a couple of AirSoft guns, the kind that shoot plastic pellets. It feels like a real gun in my hand, and I realize I don’t know how to tell the difference. I hold it up to someone’s head as a joke, because we are playing Goldeneye. Another friend yells at me to stop, because they can still hurt someone. We need to put them away.
I am eighteen, and I away at college, and a friend has invited me to ride with her to Wendy’s. I am in the back of someone’s Escalade when the gunshots go off, and I duck as my friend ducks and the driver ducks. Our windows are fine, we never see who or what was shot. The irony of the fact that I felt like I was in a rap video was not lost on me, but I did not accept any more rides to Wendy’s.
I am nineteen and have moved out on my own, with friends, and a roommate gets in a fight with a man on our front porch. Someone calls the cops, who are told that our roommate has a gun. I know this because I am woken up by screams of the police beating down the door and entering our home. I walk barefoot into the hall and, like I had seen on television, I put my hands up as the two officers keep their pistols trained on me. I am wearing a yellow blouse and a brown skirt that whips around me as the wind blows through the broken door. I do not understand how they think I could be armed.
They send me outside with no shoes, they act as if I have done nothing wrong.
But they still keep their guns trained at my chest and back.
I am twenty-one years old, and I have been away visiting family. I come home and come back to work at the retirement community I served meals at. My friend informs me with a somber expression that one of our residents has died, an older man who we all loved. He has killed himself. No one knows how he got the gun into his room, or why he had it. But he is dead, and I have not gotten to say goodbye.
I am twenty-two years old, and I have moved across the country. Every time there is a report of shots fired in our local city, my mom texts me to make sure I was not nearby. Eventually she stops: there are too many shootings. I tell her when they are near me.
I am twenty-three years old and the state of Wisconsin enacts concealed carry. My employer refuses to put up one of the signs saying that weapons are not welcome. I feel nervous around every customer who takes issue with me, not knowing which will be the one with the gun.
I am twenty-four years old and we are debating whether or not the new Batman movie will be any good. Someone opens fire during a screening of it in Colorado, and I decide I would rather wait for the DVD. We do not go back to the movie theater for months.
I am still twenty-four years old when a gunman opens fire on children in Newtown, Connecticut.
I remember the drills. I wonder if they are still doing them.
I wonder if they did any good.
I am twenty-seven years old, and I hear that a church in South Carolina has been attacked. I immediately scour the news to make sure that it was not anyone that I know. The shooter is captured not far from where some of my friends live, in North Carolina.
It is almost my twenty-eighth birthday, and a man has killed a woman he worked with in a shopping center I regularly frequent. She dumped him, or would not date him. It was a classic story, and the details are lost immediately because I am too busy being concerned with wondering if that could have been me, if I have ever spurned someone’s interests enough that they would want to shoot me. I am thankful I work from home.
I am twenty-eight. Last weekend, my phone started buzzing like crazy because Facebook had enacted it’s Safety Check for Orlando, Florida. Three of my friends names popped up, and they were thankfully alive. One of those friends later posted that she did not want to go to work after what had happened, because one of her coworkers had been killed.
I am the post-Columbine generation.
I am the post-Colorado, post-Sandy Hook, post-South Carolina, post-Orlando Generation.
Guns do not make me feel safe.