It seems almost cliche and obvious to say that one moment changed my life entirely, but at the same time it is also the reality.
As my mind registered the sights and sounds surrounding me, as I looked for shelter from the bullets under desks in my French class, I recognized that my life would never be quite the same.
But as with all things it seems, there is no black and white, my life did not go from good to bad, easy to hard, or simple to complex. It simply changed.
A few months ago, one of my friends sent me a YouTube link to a Carbon Leaf performance that took place in Blacksburg last April after the shootings. I had never heard the song in the video before -- "What About Everything?" -- but the words rang true and took me back to that day in April. A portion of the lyrics read:
In search of some rest, in search of a break
From a life of tests where something's always at stake
Where something's always so far
What about my broken car?
What about my life so far?
What about my dream?
What about ...What about everything?
Somehow those words captured the essence of how I felt in those moments but also how my life has been since that day all in one.
Sometimes I feel as though my life will always be defined by what happened to me, that it will define my college career, the year 2007, and when I was 19 years old. But the farther and farther away I am from that day the less it does define me. It certainly acted as a catalyst for many of the things that have taken place in the past year, but my life is about far more than that.
I have days that I call "April 16 days." On those days I get this sense that I've obviously been moving forward since that day but that no matter how far, it's still so easy for a small thing to take me back. It's almost like running on a treadmill, you're always moving but sometimes it still feels like you're not getting anywhere new. Those days mostly happen when it's cold outside or raining, or the days when I get random calls or e-mails from various media outlets wanting to hear my story.
At the end of these days I feel emotionally drained and tired and wish that every day I didn't have to face the normal pressures of being a college student with tests, papers, and relationships -- which is enough in itself, without this additional burden of having survived what became a national tragedy.
It's like the line in the song "what about my broken car?" because at the end of the day there is always the chance that I will not only have to face something as mundane as fixing my car, but also the ripple effects of the tragedy.
Those days, however, are not too frequent and are aren't too overwhelming anymore. Most days I can just be Heidi Miller, a sophomore at Virginia Tech. I get nervous about getting good grades on tests and assignments, yet still decide to blow off that extra hour of studying to go hang out with friends. I still manage to waste an embarrassingly large amount of time on Facebook and AIM. And I still manage to be as late as possible to class without actually being late.
When it's actually April 17, 2008, when I actually take final exams, pack my own room and move back home by my own devices, maybe then it will hit me how far I've come. Those are things I was never able to do last year.
It's almost like I never quite finished my freshman year. So this spring semester, what seems and should be routine to me, a sophomore, will all be new.
My second year of college won't end with me sleeping in my family's den because I can't walk up the stairs.
So much will be normal in the literal sense. But normal is foreign to me now, or at least the old version of normal. When I think about what I want my life to be now and in the future, the word normal comes to mind, but I've carved out a new reality of normalcy.