It’s like it never happened. My phone stopped ringing with concerned calls and text messages. I see people in the store laughing and talking as if nothing has interrupted their lives. My friends are posting about their next vacation on social media. The mourning lasted a day, and then everyone forgot about what happened in Las Vegas.
I haven’t forgotten. I can’t forget the horrifying sound of rapid-fire bullets chasing me. I can’t forget the moment I accepted that I was going to die. The 11 minutes of gunfire felt like an eternity. As soon as we thought it was over, it started again. It felt like a nightmare on a loop.
Three hundred and sixty-three people have been killed and 1,346 injured in mass shootings in the United States this year. I’m one of the untold number of people who survived an American mass shooting this year and are now left outraged and scared, thankful to be alive but confused. I feel connected to the survivors of past shootings: Pulse nightclub, the Aurora movie theater, Columbine High School. I wonder what thoughts ran through their heads when they saw the news about Las Vegas, and I dread what I will feel when I hear about the next mass shooting.
Any rapid sound makes me jump now. The sound of the suitcase wheels in the airport when I landed back in Albuquerque had me ducking for cover. The off-balance fan in my bedroom now makes my heart race and my palms sweat.
The Fourth of July used to be one of my favorite holidays, but now I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to enjoy fireworks again. I tested my nerves at the International Balloon Fiesta just a few weeks ago. The crowd brought me to a point of dread, and the sound of the fireworks turned my anxiety into actual tears and then a full-blown panic attack.
The worst part is that we — me, my friend and the thousands of people who escaped death that night — are all still wondering: Why? Why did this man hurt so many? No one seems to care to figure it out. Everyone was so interested in conspiracy theories and heartbreaking stories, until they weren’t.
In a way, I don’t blame the people around me for moving on so quickly. Part of me wants to forget, too, and go back to the happy and naive self I was before. But I want to keep talking. I still wear my wristband from the concert, hidden under my sleeve. I can’t place why. Maybe it’s a physical reminder of what I’ll never forget. At times, I catch myself acting normal, as I did before the event, and then I hear something that sets me off and brings me back to that moment that I accepted my death.
After the Pulse shooting in 2016, I begged my dad to get rid of his AR-15. I believe in the right to protect yourself by owning a firearm for self-defense, but these weapons are used for offensive strikes. Now, my new fear is that my dad will get rid of the weapon, but it will end up in the wrong hands — and someone else will be going through what I am.
That’s the most disheartening thing: Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before another mass shooting occurs. How many times must we grieve and forget before action is taken? How many people will be killed in the next mass shooting? Why do we allow people to own weapons of war and mass destruction and act as though there’s nothing we can do about it? These are the questions I ask myself every day. I understand that Americans need to keep living their lives, but I hate seeing how little we’ve learned, how Las Vegas will make no difference.