April is such a beautiful month. Flowers bloom. More importantly, tulips bloom (my favorite!). Pollen makes us sneeze. The weather is warm, but tolerably cool thanks to April afternoon showers. Easter is in April and Easter is happy. Praise His Light. April for college students is just that much closer to May, when classes finally end. In the working world, April is the start of vacations. People take their kids to Disney World in April. April is Momma Sassy’s birthday. April has just always been a good month.
Then some psycho a-hole (sorry Ma) decided to go ape-shit crazy (Sorry again Ma, but “go nuts” just doesn’t do it justice) on our beautiful campus and took our innocence and our happy April away from us. But my Aprils are happy again because I have great friends. I formed some pretty awesome friendships at Virginia Tech, and on that day in April 4 years ago, our awesome friendships went from deep and meaningful to something that was and is beyond description. Simply put, they are even deeper and more meaningful. I made new friends and deepened connections with others who I will always love, and I can go weeks and even months without talking to them and still know that when I call, no time will have weakened our bond. We all handled that tragedy differently, but mostly we clung to each other. Nothing was for sure except that we loved each other.
Now that I am out of school and have been making friends in the regular world, I see such a stark difference between people I meet now and people I met back then. I think I said this last year, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but having that kind of tragedy in common with people bonds you like you wouldn’t believe. It is hard to explain to others. When I was living in California and people found out I went to VT, they always had two questions: What did I think of Michael Vick, and was I there when that guy, you know. I’ll briefly interject myself and say that I support Michael Vick and think he is an excellent football player. I believe he paid and is still paying (literally) his dues. And I like watching him make awesome plays on Sunday and Monday nights. Sue me.
Anyway, the next question they’d ask was always a little trickier. I think people are curious and they do really want to know, “were you there?!” But they don’t actually want to deal with the answer if the answer is yes. They want me to say no, and then we can have a polite and sincere conversation about how terrible it must have been for all those students and everyone, and perhaps make some generic comments about campus security and then grab lunch. But I don’t like to lie, and I wear this bracelet with one of those 32 angel’s name on it, so I say yes. The reactions are all the same. “Oh wow!” “That must have been awful!” Followed by, “Did you know anyone?!” said with wide eyes. Then of course when I say yes again, it’s almost worse. Eyes get wider. Because they just don’t know what to do with themselves. How does one politely excuse themselves from a conversation about a tragic death and personal sadness to go back to one’s cubicle? Shootings aren’t really common cubicle gossip fodder, and undoubtedly many of them were trying at this point to figure out how to get the conversation back to Michael Vick. Heaven forbid I start crying all of a sudden and then they might have to comfort me or something. “Nice to meet you, do you need a hug?” is a little awkward, admittedly. Much easier to criticize a celebrity athlete for his poor treatment of animals and too-light punishment than talk about something heavy like a dear friend and 31 other loved Hokies being shot to death by a psycho. No one wants to get lunch after that conversation.
So it’s hard to explain. But you just had to be there to really get it. No one that wasn’t there really gets it. No one who isn’t a Hokie gets it. And since that’s a confusing statement with multiple negatives, I’ll rephrase: Only Hokies get it. You can’t comfort me unless you are a Hokie. You just can’t know what to say and how to hug (Hokies have special hugs in case you didn’t know). And you can’t learn it either. I could talk your ear off all day about what I was thinking, how my closest friends reacted, how my entire hall and building yearned all day to hear something about our angel, and then when we finally did hear, we wanted to un-hear. I could tell you about my friend’s sprained ankle when he jumped out of a second story window as death pushed open the classroom door. Or about a childhood friend who I learned later was shot twice and lived to graduate with honors. These are things we Hokies keep with us and I think it makes us better. Not necessarily better than you (though our school can beat your school in football which does make us better than you, natch), just better people. It makes us better citizens. It gives new meaning to our motto, Ut Prosim, That I May Serve. And we live it even more on purpose ever day because those 32 can’t.
At some point last week, the date occurred to me and I realized how close it was to April 16th, a date that will never look the same to me again. One part of me wants to have a wedding planned on that day, or have a baby that I know born, or something else happy and magical so that I can relate something other than this to the date. But another part of me wants to keep it sacred almost. I want it to be special forever because it is special. It was a totally crappy day when all was said and done, but so much goodness came of it, and I can’t say I wish it never happened. Of course I wish no one had been taken from us. But these things all happen for a reason and we can’t doubt that there was a higher meaning.
When I realized that “the date” was nearing, I marveled that so much time can pass so quickly, and then I immediately think about what I will be doing that day. It must be good because otherwise I will cry all day. There is an awesome concert in Raleigh and some other seemingly-fun festivalish events happening that would quite satisfyingly fill a sunny Saturday in April. But this isn’t just any Saturday. It’s April 16th. I need to be with my Hokie family and I need it bad. Last year I journeyed to the beach to be with my regular family and ended up crying alone with my teddy-bear of a German Shepherd Kyra for a good part of the day. She’s a good cuddler but her kisses are a little slobbery and she leaves pounds of hair on my clothes after we hug. And I LOVE my parents, alot a lot, and admittedly they are both Hokies. But this year I need some legit Hokie family by my side. I will attempt to run 3.2 miles for 32 lives lost (physical activity = yikes), and I will see some friends I haven’t seen in a year or more but it will be like I saw them yesterday. We will enjoy each other’s company. We’ll talk about the angels we knew, or we’ll talk about our boring jobs. Either way when I need that special kind of hug, I can get one. And I can give one, too. Ut prosim hugs, ya’ll.
Nothing like going home to Blacksburg to be with Hokie family to celebrate our lives, and the abbreviated lives of those who were sent to heaven a bit early.