In the midst of violence, you don't think or process. You see yellow flames at the end of a long, metal stick. The noise blasts you off your feet, if you are lucky enough to have feet. Maybe you wonder why a shoulder or a thigh is burning and when you spilled nail polish on your shirt or paint on your pants.
I slithered through blood, alive. Cho Seung-Hui was not after me. His targets were humans. Some would say that he and I have much in common, but they are not looking beneath the surface. Even snakes are God's creatures.
My ancestors got a bad rap in the Garden of Eden. Well, who doesn't have an evil relative or at least a quirky aunt? I am not responsible for my past. I, personally, am not a symbol of evil, nor was Cho a symbol of all mental illness.
As I slithered through the blood spilled on the floor of the classroom that day, I'll admit my first thought was of me. If they find all this blood on me, will it be used as evidence in a court of law? When I slid next to the muscle-bound arm of an engineering student, flopped across the pool of blood darkening the carpet, something shifted. He wasn't cold yet, but he wasn't warm either. As the life drained out of him, I understood "earthly remains" in a new way.
Breath is life. A heartbeat is life. A heart, mind, and soul are all life, and life is fragile, sustained by air and a pumping heart and blood that stays within its vessels. Blood is meant for the body, not for rivers across a classroom. Blood has boundaries.
I slithered into the hall and watched as shiny black shoes and tan pants raced past. Wails of sirens. Wails of people. The ratta-tat-tat of gunfire bounces through every brain, drowning out cell phones and cries. It haunts survivors. My slimy underbelly mixes with blood, and I feel the presence of dead ones. We are equally bewildered.
Going to sleep is a peaceful way out. You cannot watch yourself do it, so I watch your eyes close and your muscles relax. I watch your breathing slow until it stops. I want to reach out and wrap my body around yours, knowing you will not scream, "Repulsive thing" or flail.
I see the course of history altered as one life after another is snuffed out. Roommates will not make it home. Faculty positions will need to be filled. Children will not be born. The ripple effect is amazing.
Thirty-three dead, including the sniper.
In Baghdad two days later, 199 people were killed "in a series of roadside bombings." Over six times more people died there, a world away, but the daily death toll flowed past numb ears. It is a familiar refrain.
"How many were Americans?" someone asked.
"Who cares?" I wanted to say. Labels don't matter. Death is too frequent and familiar, wherever it occurs. Even a snake like me has to wonder what Cho's mental illness taught the terrorists about the soft underbelly of America.
B. Lynn Goodwin, a Danville resident, write reviews and author interviews for Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com, and has been published in the Danville Weekly and other local newspapers, Hip Mama, Staying Sane When You're Dieting, Small Press Review, Hearts Desire, Dramatics Magazine and numerous e-zines.