Forward Together Forward

Valentine’s Day for many is all about showing your partner how much you care about them, showing love to your family and friends, or even strangers passing out positive affirmations to others on the El (Chicago public transport trains). For some though, like me, it is a solemn day. A day where we remember one of the scariest times of our lives. I wish I could celebrate Valentine’s Day with my husband and not think of this dark day, but myself and hundreds of others dread this day and remember what it felt like to be truly scared for your life.

In 2008, exactly 11 years ago today, a young man walked into Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire, killing 5 students, wounding others, and leaving a dark cloud on Valentine’s Day for hundreds. I remember this day, it has been burned into my memory. Receiving a phone call from my line sister, telling me there had been a shooting and to hide, not being able to call my parents because the lines were tied up, hiding in my room with all the lights off, tv on low, and hearing the helicopters, and sirens of police cars and ambulances outside. I had no idea if I was safe, where the shooter was, if my friends were ok, but could only sit on the floor glued to the tv as I watched my peers covered in blood and crying on the news. It was surreal. A moment where I felt nothing but fear, uncertainty and numbness. This is happening at MY school. MY SCHOOL. You never believe it, until it happens to you and 11 years later, I still remember.

Last year my heart ripped into two again, as I was alerted that on the 10-year anniversary of the NIU Valentine’s Day shooting, there was another taking place, this time in Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I cried. I was in shock. My mind kept saying, “No, not again”. These young high school students now will share this dreadful, terrifying and solemn day with us, and even after ten years nothing has changed.

Last night, I read an article in the Huffington Post by a mother who had written about her experience of her children’s school calling to say there was a bomb threat and the school was on lockdown. Thankfully, nothing happened, and her two children came home safely. She asked her children, one daughter at the age of 7, if they were alright and wanted to talk about what had happened, but they said no and continued with the rest of their day as usual. While her 7-year-old was changing out of her school uniform, she noticed something written in purple marker on her daughter’s arm. As she inspected this she read, “Love Mom and Dad”. When she asked her daughter what this was, her daughter looked at her and said, “in case the bad guy got to us and I got killed, you and daddy would know that I love you,” and she started to cry. The mother continued to write, “to know that my 7yo was put in a position to think that thought is absolutely gut-wrenching and it’s killing me inside.”

As I clutched my pregnant belly with my little girl safely inside, I couldn’t help but think, when my daughter is school-aged will she have to endure the fear that I, her mom, had when there was an active shooter in her school? Could this happen to my daughter? Will my daughter be like this little girl and write this on her arm one day? Will my child, like many others, experience such fear at a place where they are supposed to be safe? Will I one day, like the many parents before me, fear that their child was killed in school or have that phone call where I must wait hours upon hours to find out if my child is dead among others, or will they be one of the “lucky ones.” “Lucky ones,” I put this in quotations because no one who goes through this leaves without some type of scar.

I have joined Bulldog Solution in the March for Our Lives march here in Chicago, Illinois. The owner of Bulldog Solution has also suffered the loss of her brother due to gun violence. Students, parents, friends, and family should not have to lose loved ones from gun violence. We refuse to let this be the America where more generations must grow up in the fear of dying at school.

Today I remember, I think of my NIU family, and I think of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas family. My heart is with you. Valentine’s Day is a day of love, but for some of us, it will always be a day of sadness. We remember. To those who have lost loved ones, and have experienced this, I’m so sorry. I am here for you. I remember. I am with you. We at Bulldog are with you.

I leave you today with our quote that our NIU family gave on this day 11 years ago, “Forward Together, Forward.”

Alex Arriaga

Social Media Strategist and Facilitator
Bulldog Solution Inc.