10 Years

(I wrote this on September 27, 2016, and I liked it enough to share here. =3)

Ten years ago today, I woke up and decided whether or not I would play hookie from school. Yes, it was only September…yes, I was already feeling lazy about going to school. It was my senior year, give me a break. xD But even though we were going to do a bunch of lame stuff, I did want to participate in Drama class and see my boyfriend. So, I decided to go to school after all.

The sun was blazing in the sky that morning; it was a bright blood-red. I had never seen the sun be so beautiful before. I decided in that moment that if nothing else, I’d be glad I went to school and not back to sleep just because I got to see that gorgeous sunrise.

I didn’t know that this day would change my life until sometime during my morning English class, when a haggard-looking stranger whispered something to my teacher, sent her out, and closed the door. I won’t give a lot of details, but I will say two things: it was the first time in my life that I ever heard a gunshot, and later on, it was the first time that I really thought about the possibility of death.

When you’re 17, you think you’re invincible, but it was a very sobering day. I was weirdly calm through most of the day, and acutely aware that I was resigning myself to whatever would happen in the moments to come, accepting it and coming to terms with it. I did not cry a single drop thinking of my own mortality, but what I did think was “I wonder if my parents know how much I love them? I wonder if my friends know?” I regretted not sharing my feelings more. I regretted being so moody and aloof all the time like teenagers were. I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit of a douche when I was a teenager, and I thought about myself (read: agonized about myself) constantly. I rarely ever told my parents or my close friends how appreciative I was that they were in my life; I just kind of assumed that they knew it, and that I didn’t have to try very hard to remind them of that. But when I made it out of there, something profound had changed in me.

I didn’t cry at all that day–not as we waited in the ambulance in trepidation for updates on what was happening in the building nearby, not when I finally got to call my mom and have her pick me up, hearing her start to lose it as I told her what had happened (I do tear up thinking about it now though)–not until I watched the evening news and saw that Emily didn’t make it. I was at my boyfriend’s house for a little while (it seemed like he needed me the most at the time), but after that, I lost it. It was soul-crushing; it wasn’t fair. I remember that I kept repeating, “It’s not fair.” I went home and hugged my parents, and it was the first time I’d seen my dad look scared.

Even to this day, remembering those events and the ones that followed makes it feel like it just happened. For years, I avoided talking about it, mostly because my boyfriend at the time seemed more unnerved about bringing it up than I did, and I didn’t want to cause him pain. Unfortunately, this made it take a lot longer for me to actually start talking to people about it and start to move past it. To this day, I sometimes curse the side effects of this particular event–mild PTSD and anxiety (I never had panic attacks until after this happened), and occasionally I feel guilty about it. That’s right–because as tough as that experience was, I didn’t have to lose a sibling, or a best friend, or a daughter. Millions of people in this country, and millions more across the world, experience heartache and trauma on a much larger scale, and sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve for it to still affect me, ten years later.

Last year, I met a beautiful man who I shared some of this experience with, and he told me that I should never be ashamed of struggles I’ve faced or how they affect me, because good or bad, these experiences shaped me into who I am today (and according to him, I was pretty great). Most of the time, I still try not to talk about it. I feel mad at myself sometimes and ask myself why I can’t just get over it, why I can’t just talk about it without my throat tightening and my voice shaking. I remind myself again that other people (such as the one who gave me this advice) have experienced war, watched people die firsthand…but you can’t really compare things like that. We each face our own struggles, and they affect us profoundly.

And he’s right–that experience is now part of who I am; I can’t imagine what I might be like if I had decided to stay home. And there is always a silver lining; that day, I started being more open with my feelings. I watched a community reach out to each other, and strangers gave me all sorts of things–many bibles, a scarf, an envious collection of blankets, handwritten notes of well-wishes–out of the kindness of their hearts, caring about me when I had never even met most of them. And that was dumfounding to me. I began to be more empathetic to people’s situations. I didn’t make fun of people as much (in my mind I mean–I was never a bully. xD), and instead I try to imagine what they might be facing in their own lives. I try to find a good quality in everybody, even if I can’t stand them.

I have come face to face with my mortality, and I realized that life is extremely short, and it should be lived to the fullest, without fear of the future or messing up. Just go for it, do what you think is right, and always allow kindness to be in your heart.

If you made it through this whole thing, thank you for reading! I love you guys.

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Maybe Some Things Just Aren’t Meant to Be

A few years ago, I had written an entry in my journal, when I was feeling particularly sad, that I wondered what it would be like to be the kind of person that someone throws a surprise birthday party for. I always thought it seemed wonderful to have so many people truly care about you and your happiness that they would all come together, going completely out of their way to plan something for the sole purpose of making you happy and to show you that you are loved. I also wondered what kind of person you’d have to be to have something like that in your life—and without a doubt, I knew that I wasn’t the kind of person for who things like that happened.

That isn’t to say that I am not loved—I have family and friends who value and cherish me, and they show it. Sometimes I even wonder if those relationships are deeper and more valuable than the ones between people who throw surprise parties for each other, because I feel so lucky to have the people in my life that I do. But I’m different. Most of the people in my life, the ones who matter at least, are different too. And amongst us different people, things are perceived differently. We are the outliers.

I was just struck with a similar thought, which is why I decided to start writing, for the first time in weeks. I was struck with the notion, definitely not for the first time, that I might be one of those people who no one ever truly falls in love with, someone who isn’t meant to find love. And I wondered if the kind of person I’d have to be to find love is also the kind of person that I’d have to be for someone to throw me a surprise party—and if so, my fate is already sealed.

I’ve been in love a handful of times. I know myself, and I know that when I fall in love with someone, I fall completely. Their happiness becomes one of the most important things to me. I’ve loved so much that I let someone go because they would never feel the same way about me, despite how much we cared about each other. Twice. I know full well that I am capable of love in all its forms, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world—even the parts that hurt. Knowing that you care about someone enough that it causes you pain reminds you that you are alive, that you feel, that you’re part of this world and everything it has to offer.

Unfortunately, nearly all of my forays into the world of romantic love have ended, with some obvious differences, in the same way.

I seem to be irresistible (I guess) at first—people fall for me quickly and easily, for whatever reason. Being attracted as I am to people with certain energies, I fall pretty quickly right back if I see that they’re falling for me. Things go on contentedly for a little while—a couple months, usually—before things start to change. Suddenly, these people start getting to know me, and upon that, they find things about me that they want to change. Suddenly, I’m not as irresistible as they thought I was; surprisingly, I’m just a flawed human, like they are and like everyone else. And once this magic wears off, various things will happen, but they all involve some sort of effort to control or change me.

In my first long-term relationship, my ex tried to control me by belittling me for the things he didn’t like about me and praising me when I did something to his standards. One time, he argued with me for an hour about why I shouldn’t get my nose pierced, telling me that I would end up getting more piercings and look “trashy” or like “someone who’s been to jail.” He was also jealous and possessive; male friends that I’d had since before I met him were treated with criticism and mistrust in an effort to isolate me from them. We were engaged after 2 ½ years because, as young as I was, I just figured that’s what you DO when you’ve been with someone for so long. By that time, I had started to feel like someone else, and I didn’t like who that someone else was. I felt dissociated from life a lot of the time; I had completely stopped writing for over a year!

My next long-term relationship came about as a result of meeting someone who I felt more like myself around and, realizing that I didn’t feel that way with my fiance, I promptly ended the relationship and dove in again with this new person. In this case, the form of control was actually that he gave me me most of the control, which is something I did not want or ask for. By giving me control, he felt justified in criticizing me and also in punishing me by withdrawing affection or kindness.

I made most of the money; he complained about how he never got to buy things he wanted to buy because I “took” his money for part of the bills. When we moved out together into our first apartment, I paid everything, while my ex sat at home in a growing pile of filth because his mom had done everything for him for most of his life, jumping at his rescue when he needed food, money, laundry done, etc. I became his new mom. When it was time to move, I picked the place, otherwise we would not have found a place to live. I arranged for the moving truck, I picked the furniture—I continued to pay most of the bills. If I had left things up to him, the bills would never have gotten paid. I was in over my head–and for all my efforts, I was told that I needed to loosen up, that maybe if I did, he’d be more loving, more appreciative, etc. “If you act the way I want you to, I’ll give you what you want me to give you.”

In my latest relationship, things felt exactly on track for the first few months. In this relationship, I had tried something new; I was single for 6 months, I had tried online dating just for fun, and I didn’t have the expectation of falling in love—it just kind of happened. Then, as soon as I felt that way, and I could tell he did too—he got scared and put on the brakes. I understood; he was less than a year out of a divorce, I was less than a year out of a 5 year relationship. We dated for almost a year, but in this time, he never told me he loved me, introduced me to friends or family, or even called me his girlfriend. He wouldn’t even add me on Facebook, and we don’t have a single picture of ourselves together to document the time that we were together. The memories I have with this man are some of the best I’ve ever experienced, and I am thankful for every one of them. But unfortunately, even with this genuinely good person, the ending came the same way.

His method of control was to use his priority for independence to avoid intimacy with me after he took his initial step back; blaming it on his admittedly hectic schedule, he had trouble making plans with me and committing to those plans in the few instances they were made, often showing up late, having to reschedule, and ending each meeting with the promise that we’d see each other again “soon.” Never knowing when I might be able to see him next, I left a lot of my schedule open “just in case,” which made me feel…lame, honestly. His favorite phrase was “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” This, coupled with his inability to help me understand my role in his life, made me frequently insecure because I didn’t know where I stood with him. This led to me becoming the pursuer when it had begun the other way around. By keeping me on my toes, he took complete control of the dynamic of our relationship.

Everyone who is romantically interested in me adores me until they get to know me better, but there’s something else, too. Every single person I’ve fallen for still wants me in their life. Every long-term relationship has ended with an apology to me. The ones who have gotten to know me end up accepting my flawed humanity and suddenly find value in my presence in their life. “Regret” is a word I’ve heard a handful of times from the mouths of people who didn’t value me when they had me. What does that say about me? That the people I’m attracted to are not capable of loving me in the way that I hope someone will? That love exists—but within people that I don’t have anything in common with, who I will never be attracted to, where I then become the one who doesn’t value what they have until it’s gone? Those both sound like the recipe for disaster that makes me wonder whether or not there exists a person in my life path who can fill the role that I thought I’d filled over and over again.

In my mind, I envision two families sitting at a Thanksgiving table and actually enjoying each other’s company. Champagne glasses are raised, turkey is carved, people are laughing…and I’m sitting among them, laughing and smiling as if I completely belong there. The atmosphere is fuzzy and warm; I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me back, and the handsome gentleman next to me grins and looks at me in a way that makes me feel like I’m the only other person on the entire planet, with the deep appreciation and wonder that accompanies being in love with someone. Really being in love with someone–with who they are, not who you wish they were.

But that life isn’t meant for me any more than I’m meant for surprise parties. Most of the time, I’m completely okay with that, because, let’s be real–my life is pretty awesome. I may not fit in, in a traditional sense, but I do fit in someplace, and that someplace is the home I’ve built within the walls of my tattoo shop, and in the creative community where people are just as weird as I am. But sometimes I still wonder what kind of person it takes to find those other kinds of things, and I wonder if it’s possible for me to still be me and maybe someday find them. Would I still even want them if I did?

A Little Bit of Reflection

So, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on my last relationship. It’s been just over a year since it ended, and each passing day has opened up my eyes just a little bit wider to the reality of the situation, now that I’m outside of it (and with the help of many supportive people who listen to all my stupidity and are willing to occasionally guide me away from it…xD) I can see things pretty clearly–recent situations have also helped me to “get” it.

As of now, I’ve remained on good terms with every single person that I was either romantically involved or interested in. Some of them took time as we each grew into better people, but I’ve always been of the idea that if someone was important to you once, and they had such an impact on you that you fell in love with them, that there must be something good enough about them that you can at least exchange friendly conversation over coffee if you were to ever run into them on the street. Some of the people I’ve been romantically interested in also have turned out to be awesome friends, whereas it would have never worked out in the long-term as a relationship. Keep in mind, this is true for me, but I realize it’s kind of weird and not for everyone–especially if the people in YOUR past are like the one I’m about to describe.

For the first time in my life, I’m looking at my last relationship and thinking that maybe it isn’t possible to be amicable with this person. I don’t believe that anyone I’ve ever met is 100% bad, but I do think that this one is bad enough in his core values, in who he really is, that he isn’t someone I would consider a good or decent person.

But he was important to you once, and had such an impact on you that you fell in love with him, right? That is true, but it turns out that all the things I loved about him were not true. Had I known this, I probably would not have fallen in love with him. But, I didn’t know that–I mean who would lie to a stranger about things? To impress them? To feel better about themselves? To entangle someone into your web of lies so that you could benefit somehow from it?

Oh man. I’m going to share a couple crazy stories to illustrate my point. They’re so ridiculous that they’re laughable (now), so by all means, laugh away…I won’t feel bad. xD

Before my ex and I started dating, we were friends at work. It was here that he learned all about me–that I was engaged (even though I was a little unsure about the whole thing), that I’d just moved from the mountains with my parents, where we’d left behind the house I grew up in and almost everything I’d known except for my job down in the city. I was fresh out of a tattoo apprenticeship, uncertain of my skills and my future, and excited for a fresh start. I now realize I was a perfect target for someone to swoop in and save the day. Not sure about your tattoo skills? Practice on me (I actually even PAID to tattoo him once…the shop wouldn’t let me do it for free, so I put $50 of my own money into the safe to cover the shop minimum)! You feel trapped in your relationship? Let’s do something crazy like a motorcycle ride! You feel like your fiance never listens to you? I will hang on your every word. One time, he even told me that he talked to the manager of the tattoo shop (who worked at a different store, this particular shop had 3 locations) to tell them how awesome he thought I was and that I should be allowed to work more days tattooing instead of doing receptionist work at the main location. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. I was so amazed at how supportive he was of my career, in stark contrast to my fiance’s skepticism, always asking me when I’d actually be making money tattooing, that it nearly brought me to tears.

———————–

Crazy story time: I told my ex that I was interested in learning to play the guitar. I knew a little, but wasn’t too bad–I also like to play the drums, but I couldn’t since we moved because we now lived in an apartment complex. So one day, he calls me up and tells me that he and his friends are messing around in his mom’s shed–he’s playing the guitar and singing, another friend is on the drums. Would I like to hear?

I’m enthralled. He rides a motorcycle, he loves my tattoo work, AND he happens to play guitar and sing? Heck yes I want to hear! My ex says that he’ll put his phone on speaker and place it in his pocket so I can hear. I start hearing With a Little Help from My Friends, the Joe Cocker version. I hear what sounds like him singing through a muffled-sounding microphone, as if from a pocket, with the occasional interruptions of “Hold on a second, let me readjust. Okay, start from the chorus.”

I also heard background singers, just like in the real song, which was a little suspicious. “That’s my friend’s girlfriend (the one playing drums) and his girlfriend. It sounds pretty good though, right?”

Of course it did…BECAUSE HE WAS PLAYING A FUCKING RECORDING OF THE SONG. ._. Over the next couple months once we actually dated, I would repeatedly ask my ex to play me a song on the guitar in person, and there was always an excuse. “It’s not tuned.” “Mine is. Here.” “I don’t have a pick.” “Here’s a pick.” Eventually he told me that he had injured his hand when he was younger (true), and that the injury made his hands hurt if he played too long. “That’s fine…you don’t have to play a whole song or anything, I just want to hear you play.”

Eventually he agreed, and he held the guitar face-up on his lap and started plinking at the strings.

“How are you going to play it like that? You can’t hold down any strings like that.”

“This is just the way I play. It helps my hand.”

At this point, I’m starting to get really suspicious and pushy. I asked him to play a G chord; he said he didn’t know the names of chords, just where to place his fingers. So I instructed him on where to place his fingers and told him that was the G chord; from there, why don’t you just play whatever chords you want? After a few irregular strums of this chord, he switched to some hand position that isn’t a thing, strummed once, then dramatically pulled his hand away. “Ouch, it’s starting to hurt!”

Weird that he could play an entire song in his mom’s shed that one time, but could never, ever play guitar again for even half a minute after, right? No, not really, not once you learn that someone is full of shit about being able to do something! But he told me he could play guitar because he knew I was interested in it, without understanding that my dad had been playing guitar for almost 30 years and that I had indeed picked up enough knowledge from trying to learn on my own to call his bluff.

This story is only one of literally thousands; once my ex told me that he wanted to be in the Army, but that since he had a GED and not a diploma, he normally was not eligible. There was a short amount of time that they were accepting GED applicants, and he had only a month to apply. After two weeks of contemplating, I had finally approached him, willing to talk about this enormous decision that would certainly impact our relationship, and he told me that the deadline had passed. “I lied about how long I had to think about it because I knew you’d say no. It’s too late now, and it doesn’t matter.” For years, he used this as an excuse to resent me and accuse me of holding him back from his dreams–come to find out much later (my guy now, who was a Marine, just loves this one…xD) that there is no deadline for fuck all from the Army! They routinely accept GED applicants…all the time. He could have signed up whenever he wanted; hell, he could do it right now if he wanted!

Or how about that time when he crashed his motorcycle going up a windy mountain road at night just a little too fast, and he later confessed to me that part of him had wanted to crash that night. Why on earth would you want to do that? Because I was still with my fiance at the time, and he wanted to see if I would come running to his rescue (which I did); if I would come help him at midnight because he was in trouble, I’d probably do anything for him.

You get the point. xD


TL;DR? I don’t think it’s possible for me to be friends with this particular ex of mine because all the things I thought I fell in love with were not real, he lied and manipulated me through our entire relationship in order to keep me around, wondering all the while why things had changed so much, and all of it was for his own benefit. He is not a good person of moral character.

Sometimes I feel like an idiot when I realize how clear the signs seem to be now, but I’m also grateful because I’ve learned a valuable lesson that I will never, ever forget, one that has strengthened me as a person and led me to the point in my life that I’m currently at. And that point is pretty awesome right now. =) But that doesn’t mean I need to have my ex in my life; no one in this world is owed anything, least of all someone who doesn’t even really care about how that life of yours turns out if they aren’t in it.

Embracing the Future

So a couple days ago, I found out that the I Love U Guys Foundation will no longer be doing Emily’s Parade. For my -very- few followers or anyone reading who might be interested, the parade was a very significant event for me, and the realization that it was coming to an end made me think about a few things, things which I’d like to get out here for…you know, thinking and shit. xD

To review: Last September was the 10th anniversary of the parade, and was on the 9th anniversary of the shooting at my high school. It couldn’t have been a better day for it; it was 85 degrees (there were MANY applications of sunscreen), and I got to go with my best friend. I’d never gone with her on any of the rides–and actually, I had been thinking of not going this year. I didn’t know of anyone who wanted to go with me, it was on a Sunday, which meant I had to take time off work, and also half the fun was being able to ride up there on a motorcycle. Since my ex and I had broken up, I didn’t know anyone who had a working motorcycle that might want to accompany me. However, as I was telling all this to said best friend, she said, “I’ll go with you!”

“Really?”

“Sure, it’ll be fun! I don’t think I’ve gone since the first one, and I bet the kids would enjoy going too.”

So we made a day of it and went back to our old stompin’ grounds: Platte Canyon High School. I’ll admit, it was pretty cool, as we stood on the bridge overlooking the highway, to remember crossing it over to the football field for the Homecoming game to watch her perform as a cheerleader, or to watch a couple of my other friends in the band do their routine.For half a second, I saw us as we were ten years ago, and then in the blink of an eye, it was gone, and in that same moment I looked at my friend’s kids and realize dhow far we’ve come and how awesome it is that we’re still best friends.

On the other hand…

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the shooting…it seems weird to think about that because 10 years is such a long time! One of my good friends is having his 10 year high school reunion in a couple months! WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING. And yet, on that day in that month, and even just around early fall every year, it feels like it just happened. I wonder, is it going to feel like that for the rest of my life? Every year, the memory becomes more of just a solidified moment of my life, kind of like “Well, that did in fact happen.” It gets a little easier to talk about it to most people (though sometimes I still act super weird about it, which is a question in itself), but around that time of year, it’s still a nagging little feeling that tugs on me just a little, just to make sure that I know it’s there, and I’m sure that will last for quite some time. Maybe not forever, but maybe–who knows?

But the thing is…sometimes, I like remembering. I like to honor the event with my thoughts and my acknowledgement, and I also like the parade because of the solidarity that it brings to the community. I love seeing the people of my home town band together like one big family to honor an event that deeply touched everyone; it’s a really cool feeling. But now I won’t get to experience that anymore. In fact, I now have no reason to ever see or step foot into my high school again, and it’s unlikely that I ever will, honestly.

It feels like, knowing this, I’m leaving behind a part of my past and continuing forward. We’ve all got to let go sometime, right, to make way for what’s to come? I’m excited to do so, but I’m also afraid to. I’m afraid because moving forward means to accept that what once was will never be again.

I am not a teenage girl, with my seemingly very significant teenage girl problems. I’m not the girl who let people walk all over her because she was afraid of what they thought of her. I’m not living in my awesome, small town, in my awesome house that I grew up in, looking outside my bedroom window and watching the sun set behind the trees and the mountains as I talk for hours to my friends on the phone, waiting for my parents to call me into the living room for dinner. I’m not the teenage girl who writes depressing poetry directly related to her low self-esteem, who constantly second guesses herself and who doodles away during every class with no idea as to where the future will take her.

I am, in fact, so much better than that now. I’ve leveled up! I’ve achieved a state of confidence and happiness that exists because of my own perseverance, choices, and the people I have chosen to participate in my life. I am not that girl. Even so, that teenage girl, and the preteen girl, and the little girl I was before that, are still responsible for me being the person that I am today, and I don’t want to forget any of that or what brought me to this place.  I don’t want to forget what my house looks like on the inside, or how my school looked, or the experiences I had there, both good and bad. I like the direction that my life is going–in fact, most days I’m just ecstatic and I wonder how I ended up so lucky! But that doesn’t make it any less scary for me; I don’t want to lose myself as I continue along this path.

And yes. I realize that is dumb, because it’s been 26 years and I’m still me. xD I’ve gone through a shit ton of things, and they have only shaped me into a stronger person and not into a douchebag or a weenie, thankfully. And this is comforting, but I think that the fear of this will always exist for me, simply because change is the only thing we can consistently count on in this world, and who the fuck knows what life is going to throw our way? The fear does, however, motivate me to keep my values and morals regardless of circumstance, because I’m too stubborn to let the world take me by surprise.

The whole realization feels weird, to feel the moment where you understand that your life is moving forward and to actually be able to see evidence of it…to see the moment where you know that it’s time to embrace the future and to understand the scope of everything that brought you to this point in time to be the person that you now, and to know that you can only keep going from there. Is this what adulting is?

Collision (Poem)

(I wrote this back in December and decided I would post it!)
Astral bodies align in space…
Their pull is getting stronger,
And the space is growing smaller,
And the magnitude is frightening,
But even I have to admit
That it feels so right, and
My pushes are more persistent.
All I can do is sit and listen
To the vibrations and the feelings
As I lay here staring at my ceiling…
I think of lessons learned,
Who I am versus who I was,
And how I came to be,
And if things had turned out different,
Then how different would I be?
I never would have seen you,
Never would have seen the aspirations
Glowing inside gun-sharp and bulletproof eyes.
I never would have seen the smile in them,
Or the way they look at me…
The universe might not have even looked twice,
Taken an interest in this girl so strange,
But instead it did, and it told her she could change
To be anything she wanted, to be the sky and stars,
Or the wolf’s cries at night.
And so I sat and listened,
And then I made my own decisions,
Then I was met with this collision…
It seemed someone else was also listening,
And then I heard you.
I think about how the tables have turned.
Nobody else would have worked out, could have stayed…
I was too different, too strange.
But I like who I turned out to be,
And I don’t think I would change.
I think about love and if fate exists,
And I think about long walks at night,
Long talks and your face in the morning light…
You aren’t like them either, and I wonder,
Why is it that I’ve met you here?

September 27: Random Acts of Kindness

Well, I kind of disappeared for a bit while I tried to find some creative motivation. xD You know how it goes, especially if you work in a creative profession like I do…creating “brilliant works of art” on the fly, while simultaneously pretending to be a mindreader so you can get your finished product to be exactly what someone ELSE wants, can be very taxing on the creative juices.

Anywho, today I wanted to write about random acts of kindness. Two posts ago, I wrote about how I’ve lost a lot of faith in humanity…but every now and then, a few people restore my belief that people can in fact be kind, moral creatures. The phrase “random acts of kindness” is very significant for me, however, in more than just the simple way which I’ve just described.

Yesterday marks the seventh anniversary of the shooting at my high school, Platte Canyon High School, where seven girls were taken hostage in their English classroom by a random gunman, and one of those girls, Emily Keyes, was killed. Her parents, Ellen and John-Michael, are wonderfully strong and inspiring people: instead of allowing the horrible event surrounding the death of their child to cause them to live in fear or despair, they retaliated with kindness and love. Not long after, they created the “I Love U Guys Foundation”. The name was inspired by a text that they received from their daughter earlier that day, and was the last thing she had said to them. Their goal was to combat the random acts of violence that occur every single day by creating random acts of kindness.

The day and its subsequent message were very profound for me, in more ways than I will say here…but it changed my life. I had just turned 17 when it happened and was a senior in high school. I was like most teenagers: entitled, annoying, and whiny. My life had the WORST problems, and no one else understood. You know. September 27, 2006 was the first day since my grandpa had died when I was 11 that I saw my mom cry, and the first time EVER that I had seen my dad afraid. Ever. My boyfriend at the time was bawling with relief that I was okay, my friends were so thankful and supportive…and I realized that I had a lot of people who really cared about me. And I was thankful. I was guilty. I felt horrible that I had not shown these people in my life that I cared about them as well. I mean, it’s REALLY tough for me to say “I love you,” especially to my parents…I’m not sure why. I’ve just never been that kind of person. But what if it were me that day? I wanted to make sure that my support group knew I loved them too.

That day, my perspective changed from “Ugh, I hate my life” to “It could always be worse, and I should be happy that I have so much, a lot more than many other people have.” I wanted to commit random acts of kindness too, and even just thinking about it made me a better person!

The event was traumatizing, scary, sad, and never should have happened. But it did, and I was blessed to have people around me that could take this tragedy and turn it into something beautiful that united the entire community. I’m thankful that Emily’s spirit can live on through the strength of those that knew her, and in turn, through the rest of us as the strength and love spreads.

So next time you want to make a snide comment about someone’s weight, what they’re wearing, their attitude, or their lifestyle…remember instead to create kindness, not violence or isolation. Even if it’s just for one day, give it a try! You might make a person’s day, or save a life. Your words could be the thing to pull someone off the path to suicide, or you could inspire someone to take that leap in their life that they weren’t sure about. Bring back some of my faith in humanity!

I Love U Guys Foundation: www.iloveuguys.org