I'm Starting All Over Again

By Stephanie Derry
Sunday, April 22, 2007

For the past 21 years, I have been Stephanie Derry, and for the past three years, I have been a Hokie. But today, after last week's horror at Virginia Tech, I feel 6 days old. I burned my hand reaching into the toaster oven for my sandwich; I had forgotten that hot things should not be touched. I invented a word last night because I couldn't comprehend language at that moment. I wake up from sleep every few hours and cry when my senses fail to properly interpret the world around me.

I knew Seung Hui Cho. I was one of the many students and faculty at Virginia Tech who read his writings and noticed their morbid bent. I've been assured that the faculty made attempts to seek help for him; I don't doubt it. Virginia Tech is a very large university, but most of us -- especially in the smaller departments like English -- feel at home here. We're encouraged to stop by and discuss work and life with our professors. Perhaps I should have expressed my concerns about Cho, but since others had already tried to help him, I doubt that anything I said would have changed what happened.

Of course, I am and will be wary of fiction that involves disturbing violence. I believe I'll vomit if I ever read of someone using a hammer as a weapon; the image of Cho holding one that was released from the package he sent to NBC brought me to tears and sickness the other night. But I will never allow myself to just assume that actions in a fictional piece will materialize in the real world. Have you ever read Stephen King or seen any of the "Saw" movies? Do we worry about Mary Higgins Clark because she writes about sociopaths, stalkers and serial killers? We don't finish books and think, "I'm going to call the cops on that author before his writings materialize into actions!"

As a Hokie, I am filled with emotions: guilt, sadness, horror, hope and pride. After repeatedly reciting my side of the story to the media, I feel sort of numb now. The story was real but . . .

You see? Language fails; my mind has hit a wall. One day, I will be able to find the words. I'll just keep pushing that wall back until I can finally break it.

Today I am 6 days old. But I am growing and learning with every moment. One day, I will mature into the person I was last Sunday.

Stephanie Derry, a Virginia Tech senior from Columbia, shared a playwriting class with

Seung Hui Cho.

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