Trauma is like an Ogre, in the way an Ogre is like an onion, yes they stink and make you cry, but I’m talking about the layers. There are layers of issues you have to work through when you’ve experienced a traumatic event. Some of the issues you can see and are able to start working through on your own and with the help of others. Some issues only become evident when exposed through various experiences. I’ve had a couple of these experiences and they tend to not be very enjoyable.One such experience occurred a couple years after the shooting, prompted by an interview with a member of the RCMP.
It all started when I was asked to drop by the RCMP station for an interview. I was baffled, wondering what could be wanted at this point. I had already been through court and the shooter had been sentenced. I couldn’t even guess what was going on and I had only been told that they wanted to ask me a few questions. Going in under these circumstances made me a little apprehensive. When I got there I was asked to give an account of what I had seen. I explained what I had witnessed and remained wondering what the purpose of the interview was. The interviewer asked a couple more questions and then asked the kicker, “Would you consider any of the actions you witnessed to be brave?” I immediately felt my guard go up. I said some snarly thing about being in the situation we were all thrust into took bravery just to survive and experience. He then defined bravery for me and I indignantly told him I didn’t think I could answer his question. He asked me if I had seen a specific person disarm the suspect. I told him I hadn’t seen those events play out. He asked why that was. I looked at him with frustration and said, “because I ran away”. He then explained that they were considering awarding a particular person a medal of bravery and they were looking for information to confirm this person had responded in a brave manner. I told him I wouldn’t be able to help and left.
I was mad and upset. I didn’t understand why they would want to make me come back and relive the incident when I thought it would have been fairly clear, in any records about the incident, that I hadn’t seen what had happened to disarm the shooter. If someone acted bravely couldn’t they just give them the award and call it good? Shouldn’t you just be able to read through the police reports and figure it out without the interviews? I’m sure there is a reason, however insignificant it may be, that they were required to do this but it all seemed a little ridiculous at the time. I continued to feel tense and on edge for some time after the interview. I felt sad and angry. Somewhere in the muddle of the emotions and thoughts I came to the realization that I was riddled with guilt. The words, “I ran away”, were haunting me. I came to realize that one of the reasons I felt so apprehensive and upset and angry about the whole thing was that I knew I hadn’t acted bravely, I had ran, I had reacted like a coward, or at least that’s how I felt.
When the shooting occurred I initially just froze and tried to figure out if it was all real. I don’t know how long I stood there staring, I’m sure it wasn’t long, but time is a hard thing to measure in such situations, I stood there far longer than was safe. Once I realized that the scene that had just played out before my eyes was in fact real, I hid around a corner. I stood against the wall wondering what to do, where to go. One of the boys who had been shot at ran past, I thought this was a bad sign and assumed the shooter would be close behind. At that point I turned and ran down a hall that connected to the Jr high. I hid in the closest doorway, shaking and crying. I didn’t want to go in the room and scare the kids and potentially lead the shooter into the room. I thought maybe he would have followed me down the hall and that he might shoot me at any second. The teacher in the classroom had noticed me. She came out to see what was wrong. I told her that there had been a shooting and that I needed to go back to help the boys who had been shot but didn’t know if it was safe. In a state of disbelief she assured me that it had probably just been a skit that some kids were doing and then she told me she would take me to the Jr high school’s office, they would then phone over to the high school to see if it was safe for me to return. As we started to walk down the hall I looked back. The two boys who had been hit by bullets had moved and I could see them at the end of the hallway. I told the teacher that I could see them and that she needed to let me go back and help them. The teacher continued to take me to the office which was the responsible thing to do since we didn’t know if it was safe for me to return to the High school.
Going to the interview with the RCMP had made me face the fact that I wasn’t proud of the way I had responded. I looked back on the events and ridiculed myself for the way I reacted. I thought there were a lot of things that I should have done different. Why didn’t I think to go to the nearest phone and call 911? Why did I run instead of staying to help? Why did I just stand there? Guilt and regret are two of the worst feelings to have. I knew there was nothing I could do to change how I responded to the shooting but in my head I started to play out different situations. I wondered if there would have been anything I could have done to prevent it. I couldn’t see the future, I couldn’t run faster than a speeding bullet and I could accept that and could accept the fact that there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it.
I played out what would have happened if I would have gone around telling people to get out of the school or had called 911. I played out different situations and realized that the other responses would have made little to no difference in the outcome. 911 had been called fairly promptly, that’s what the boy who had been shot at was going to do when he ran past me as I hid around the corner. Telling people to get out of the school would have just caused a lot of fear and chaos. The shooter didn’t continue shooting, he stopped and had been disarmed shortly after I left, so no one else was in danger. As I sorted through the different things I could have done I came to the conclusion that the only thing I really could have done, that would have made any positive difference, was stay to comfort the boys who had been shot. I had to accept the fact that in the situation I was in, there wasn’t really anything I had done wrong. I imagined if another person had have been in my shoes and responded the same way. Would I have thought they had reacted in a cowardly manner? Certainly not! So why should I judge myself so harshly? Why did I expect myself to have super human abilities? I wasn’t being fair to myself. By playing out the different ways I could have responded, I came to believe that I hadn’t responded cowardly and I gradually was able to forgive myself and come to terms with the fact that I was not able to provide the peace I would have liked to impart to the boys who had been shot. It didn’t happen immediately, it took time, but little by little I got there and I now accept the fact that I’m not a superhero and have realized it isn’t fair to expect myself to have responded any different than I did.