It was last Saturday when it hit me that my entire life has been framed by violence.
I don’t remember being born on Jan. 28, 2000, and I don’t remember being a year and a half old when 9/11 happened. I don’t remember the panic of my mother as she stepped outside our house in Washington and smelled the smoke of the burning Pentagon. I don’t remember her knowing I would grow up in a changed world.
But I remember other things. I remember being 7 years old and seeing adults who were sad, angry, shocked after something terrible happened at Virginia Tech. I remember not knowing why. I remember the lockdown drills at my elementary school, the helpful signs in every classroom telling us where to hide in case of a “Code Blue,” which meant active shooter. (I remember we were told that having all the kids in one corner, a misguided protocol no longer followed, was the best means of protection.)
I remember being in seventh grade, and I remember my teacher looking up from her computer, pale, and running out of the room without a word during a quiz. I remember her walking back in, tears streaking her face, as she told us there had been a shooting in Newtown, Conn., where her grandchildren lived. I remember her telling us they were all right, and I remember thinking of my little brother in his second-grade classroom and feeling my stomach churn.
I remember walking into my high school the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting and seeing one of my gay friends sitting limply in a chair, eyes hollow. I remember sobbing. Often, I remember sobbing. I remember friends’ tears a year later, after the shooting in Las Vegas, and I remember feeling angry that I wasn’t crying. I remember Parkland the most clearly. I remember the silence. No one talked about it the morning after. No teachers mentioned it. I remember bringing it up at lunch but receiving only passing responses. I remember talking to my friend Max about how odd it was that no one said anything. I remember him gathering our friends to organize a walkout. I remember walking out, and I remember the silence of the crowd of students standing outside in the March cold. I remember the crackle of the megaphone we used as we read one name of one victim every minute. I remember those 17 minutes. I remember marching, once, then twice, and again and again.
I remember going with two friends last Friday to a Shabbat service in the spare room of a local Methodist church, sponsored by my college’s Jewish organization Hillel. I remember my friend Lucy leading the prayers, with her singing and playing guitar, and I remember my valiant attempts to sing along using the transliterations below the Hebrew in the books they’d handed out. I remember getting kosher dinner with them afterward as they explained to me how and why kosher food was a thing. I remember them describing the different kinds of Judaism they all came from.
I remember waking up on Saturday morning and seeing the news on my phone. I remember the sadness, shock, anger. I remember the haunting thought that the shooter might have gone to our service instead, or could go to the next one. I remember a stream of dripping wax burning my finger at the vigil I attended. I remember the look in my Jewish friends’ eyes.
And it was then that I remembered everything at once. I remembered all the violence looming around me, and my friends, and my entire generation. I remembered that for anyone born near the year 2000, this is all we’ve ever known.
I remember filling out my absentee ballot a few weeks ago. I remember voting, hoping that weeks, years, decades from now I’d be able to remember that we changed.