On Friday night I was caught in the middle of a campus shooting. I survived.
Early in the day, I had sat in on a conversation between obvious gang members. Various pieces of their clothing, including the requisite kerchiefs, were the same color and signaled this to me. While I was not a member of the group or its discussion about an upcoming purchase of weapons, one of the members was apparently a close friend I tried to encourage to leave the ranks as we left the “meeting.”
Time passed as it is wont to do in dreams without indication or any other forms of clarity. And I found myself in the heat of an early late spring/nearly summer afternoon, sitting on a stone pillar, or maybe it was a wall, in a central area of the campus—like the quad or wherever everybody congregates on Any Campus USA. I was with a guy who, as it turns out, is a real-life former co-worker. As he and I talked, the gunfire erupted.
Taking cover was a slow motion event, as if I was watching and hearing the commotion unfold in a pointedly poignant newsreel replay. I saw the single gunman walk out and begin shooting what seemed to be an automatic weapon that was not short of ammunition and was behind him. He wore baggy clothes; some of which suggested he was one of guys at the morning meeting. I hid behind a bench; I think it was a bench, in my co-worker’s arms. Apparently, we were romantically linked.
But I could see him shooting; almost like he was aiming toward the sun. The image that struck me during the chaos was of a girl talking to her friend a little ways down the stretch of stone wall we were near. She wore short blue shorts and a tiny tee, her hair in a loose exam-day kind of knot. As students ran she looked around almost as if she didn’t realize the severity of what was taking place. The gunman was spraying Rambo style. And she was looking around as if to wonder what the commotion was about. I saw when the girl, finally running with her friend, fell into her friend, chest first, with a look of anguish. She was crying and looked suddenly so young; like a kid with a scraped knee who’s sincerely in pain and quite convinced that their pain will never end.
Her friend was trying to keep running and pull the nearly limp girl with her. When silence had come, only about 30 seconds of it really, my friend ran for what turned out to be one of his frat brothers among the fallen. I followed behind him telling him he shouldn’t go; I was afraid the shooting wasn’t actually over, that he was still in danger. I knelt over the two as my coworker held his gagging frat in his arms, blood soaking through his own tee shirt and dripping on the pale walkway.
We planned to take the bus trip to his funeral; he must have been from another town as we’d packed duffles for a real road trip, and I was convinced he shouldn’t go without me. He had to need me there. I still see him standing beside the silver bus telling me to calm down, but mostly, I keep thinking of the young girl. In the short shorts and tiny tee. She looked so young. And as sad as she was surprised about what was going on: that she was dying.