IF I COULD GO BACK IN TIME – the day that changed us all

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Have you ever wished you could go back in time? I do. Every once in a while, I wish I could re-do high school all over again, but go back as who I am today. In high school, I was this shy, backward, and not at all out-going young lady. I just went every day to just get through high school. Of course high school was not easy to get through. A lot happened at my school, and not just to me, but to everyone. Some of us dealt with it differently, some of us didn’t really deal with it all.

I went to a high school in Olivehurst, California. Olivehurst was a small community. We didn’t have a lot. We had a grocery store, a few gas stations, a post office, and a hamburger stand named Flat Landers, and as far as I am concerned, made the best burger in Central California. I am sure there is a lot more to Olivehurst now, this was 1991 when I started high school. It seems like a lifetime ago. Time flies by so quickly, you blink and 10 years have passed.  You blink again and another 10 years has gone by.

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I think I was your normal teen girl when I entered high school. I did notice that high school was much different from Intermediate school. I remember being so nervous and excited about attending my first day of 9th grade. I wore these white shorts with black polka dots with a black shirt. The shirt was a high-low shirt where it was longer in the back than the front. I was super stoked over my black and white saddle shoes and even more excited that the shoe laces had matched my shorts. I had my hair all poofed out on the sides. My bangs were flying high, it was just barely the 90’s and big hair was all the rage. To finish off my outfit I had this black hat with a black bow on the back. At lunch, these upper class girls made very rude, and insulting comments about my outfit. It made me feel like I was two inches tall. I was embarrassed and mad. I really liked what I wore, but after that day the hat never sat upon my head again, and I barely ever wore the beautiful shoes that I loved so much. I allowed those girls to get to me. I let them take away something that made me happy. If they said that to me today, I would have told them to go jump in the lake. I would have probably wore the same outfit the next day as well, just to tick them off. I don’t care what people think today. I have grown since that day.

So I can definitely say my first day in high school was a bit rough. I realized that people were mean and hateful, but I went on and did my best to deal with it. Later in that year, it got a lot more tough. May 1, 1992 started out like any other day. We all went through our day like normal and finally got to our last hour class. I was in State Requirements. It was a required class that taught drivers education, sex education, and whatever else the State of California thought we needed to know. Just like every day, we were at our desks, waiting for the bell to ring to go home for the weekend. This particular day we had a substitute teacher. My class was located in a large building with several classrooms upstairs and downstairs. None of the classrooms had doors, they just had a large opening to each class. All of a sudden we heard a large “BANG” and then another and then another. We didn’t realize what was happening, and then the screaming and running and chaos broke out. None of us really knew what was going on. I remember just standing there in that open classroom and we hear someone yell out “RUN, HE IS SHOOTING”. Our substitute teacher hid behind the curtains and then just ran and left us. I wish I could remember his name, because he was the biggest coward I have ever met. He didn’t even bother to make sure any of us we were safe.

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It was all sort of a blur and I don’t even remember walking to the back room of our classroom. About an hour after the crazed lunatic was done with his shooting spree, a couple of students came and found us hiding in a small office too scared to move. They told us we needed to go upstairs. Of course we went, not really knowing what had occurred the hour before and why we were so desperately needed upstairs. After we went up the stairs to the specific classroom we were told to go, we met the gunman face to face, Eric Houston was his name. The man who just the hour before, gunned down 1 teacher and 3 students and injured 10, was now standing before us in a black baseball hat with yellow wings on his bill, ammo vest and sawed off shotgun pointing in our face. About 80 students, including myself, were all squeezed in a small classroom like sardines for about an 8 hour standoff. That was the last thing that any of wanted to do on a Friday night. I think a few hours into the evening our minds were not allowing us to think about what just happened.  We were scared, but I know for myself, I blocked it all out. We ate pizza, made jokes and tried to act normal. I am sure we all secretly wished we were brave enough to wack him over the head and steal his gun to save us all from this never-ending school day, but instead we sat there and was forced to listen to Eric Houston’s sob stories. He did his best to justify his actions in brutally massacring four innocent people. He pleaded his case to us and explained that one flunked class his Senior year is what led to his downward spiral that had to end in the death of Mr. Robert Brens. The teacher that ruined his life, he said.

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After it was all over, we all got to go home and see our families, but it was still not really over. Well, not all of us, there were four of us that would never go home again. I had several moments where the flashbacks took over and reality slipped into some deep, dark, cavernous room. I couldn’t enjoy the Fourth of July anymore because the booms of the fireworks sounded way too much like that sawed off shotgun that thundered its way throughout the whole building that May 1st afternoon. I was angry, sad and emotionally distant from everyone. I made it through summer vacation, and when the next school year started I went through the motions of going to school but lost all motivation to do anything else. I lost friends, and let me tell you, I didn’t have that many to lose in the first place. I had so many nightmares I couldn’t sleep. Most of my nights were spent on the floor of my parents bedroom, because the fear of being alone in the dark was too much for me to handle. It took years and years for me to be able to even talk about what happened that awful day.

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That day effected so many lives I can’t even count. I am sure that I am not the only one that re-lived that day every year when they saw May 1st pop up on the calendar. Even though Eric Houston has been siting on death row in San Quentin for 25 years, it does not make the nightmare of that day go away. It does not bring back the four lives he took away from their loved ones that dreadful afternoon.

I would not want to repeat this traumatic day for any amount of money in the world, but, I would like to go back in time and change the way I dealt with the trauma afterward. I quit going to counseling, because I thought it was not helping. I shut people out. I quit softball and everything I loved to do.  My Senior year, I only went a half day because being there for more than two hours a day was just too much. I was angry with the world, but I felt that I couldn’t show any sort of emotion about anything. Showing my weakness was not an option for me. I couldn’t cry or maybe I wouldn’t cry.  Without realizing what was happening, I built a wall around myself and created my own social isolation. It was called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but I thought I was just fine.

If I could go back and change just a few things, I believe I would have enjoyed high school so much more. If I could go back and tackle all those emotions when I should have, I would be a more well-balanced individual today. Of course, going back in time is impossible, and they say hind sight is better than foresight. I can’t go back but, I can change how I deal with it now. Two years ago, I decided it was time to handle this bondage of fear and anger. A plan was needed, so I began writing my feelings and thoughts down in a journal, and went to a counselor. She gave me a few tips that were helpful in my healing, but ultimately, I had to be the one to decide that enough was enough. I had to quit allowing Eric Houston to rent space in my head, and face the fact that May 1st was just another day on the calendar.

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Anger had overcome me, I had to quit being angry and blaming him for ruining my life. He didn’t ruin my life, he effected my life in a very negative way. He ruined his life, and he is the one sitting in a small cell getting fat and getting beat up from other inmates. He will be the one, some day, that will sit in a small, white, stainless steel room with a crowd staring at him just beyond the glass, watching him take his last breath. Not me. I can go on with my life. I have the choice to enjoy it any way I feel like, and one man, can’t and shouldn’t take that away.

So I say I wish I could go back in time and change things, but to be honest, maybe I went through all of that to become the person I am today. We should learn from all our mistakes, trials and tribulations. All those situations will build you into a stronger individual. So if you are going through something, and you wish you could go back in time and change the past, just remember that moment may have molded you into something so much greater than if you had never gone through it at all.

 

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