I currently live in the city of Aurora, Colorado. It has a reputation for being a bit impoverished (by Denver standards) in some areas and not a real great place to live. I don't mind it - there's a lot of diversity here and offers a great bang-for-your-buck. Up until 7/20/2012, most people in the US didn't know much about Aurora. That all changed overnight with a midnight movie showing.
I remember the Columbine shooting in 1999. I remember where I was when I heard about it - I was on a bus returning from a track meet where I beat my P.R. in the 1600m race. The school was about 70 miles from me, but it seemed like it was in a different country. I didn't feel very phased by it. I remember singing Amazing Grace over the intercom at my high school in memory of those who were killed. I saw classmates shed tears, but it still didn't really phase me much.
Fast forward 13 years...
I loved the Century 16 theater in Aurora. Sure it was a bit sketchy, the decor was a bit dated, and the floors were sticky. But it had the cheapest tickets in town, was so close to my house, and was never very crowded - even on opening night. I went there to see movies often. I was planning on seeing the new Batman movie there as well.
I stepped onto the elevator on Friday morning with a coworker who quickly asked me if I had heard about the shooting.
"What shooting?" I asked. After hearing a quick summary of what had happened, I wondered if that was my theater. I got to my desk and pulled up the local news online. There, on the front page of the 9news website (and virtually every other news source I checked) was a photo of the familiar facade of the Century 16 theater. My theater.
I knew it so well. I could close my eyes and transport myself there. I could look down and see the scattered kernels of popcorn, feel the ridges of the floor beneath my feet, see the patterns in the carpet, see the sconces that lit up the walls, feel the arm rests that were a little bit too high for my comfort, see the layout of the various theater rooms I had been in, and picture the entries and exits. Then I could see the people around me. Then I could see the emergency door opening and a man lifting a gun and firing into the crowd.
I felt sick. I couldn't focus on work. All I could do was constant refresh my Facebook news feed to check and see if all my friends were okay. Some hadn't posted since June. June! I felt even more sick. Some friends began posting pictures of people in hospitals, talking about others who got out safely or went to the wrong theater by mistake.
It was hell. That whole day was absolute hell. I will never forget it. Not a single day has passed since then that I haven't thought about it.
I think it has been one of the biggest life changing events I've ever experienced, and not in a way that I really expected. My conscious, intellectual brain knows that there was nothing I could do to have helped the victims at the scene of the shooting, nor could I have known about it before hand or prevented it. Still, I've felt an unreasonable amount of guilt and depression over the whole thing because I wish with every fiber of my being that I could have been there to tackle the shooter or be a distraction so that more people could have gotten out alive. I would have gladly traded places with any of the victims so they could go on to live a happy, fruitful life. It’s one of those cases where I have to just admit that Heavenly Father knew what was going to happen and for those victims that lost their lives, their time on Earth was over. My intellectual, thinking brain knows these things, but I still felt a degree of what would probably be best described as survivor guilt. I don’t know if it was legitimate survivor guilt because I wasn't there, but Cinema 16 was my theater. It was the one I always went to when I wanted to see a movie. It could have been me there, but it wasn't.
I had a hard time shaking this feeling of being generally down on myself, so I decided I needed to pay a visit to the temporary memorial setup across from the theater. I went Wednesday evening the next week. I bought some flowers, put on some big sunglasses, went out there, and just let out all of my grief. I couldn't understand how so many people could have such blank expressions while it took all my self control to not break down on the spot. I pretty much never cry or even get watery-eyed, but I've shed quite a few tears over this whole incident. I am really surprised by that. I used to think that perhaps there was something wrong with me because I seem to be exceptionally unemotional. I always felt more emotionally dead than anything, but this showed me that I definitely can be moved by feelings.