Monday, July 23, 2012

The Lasting Effects of Tragedy

This recent tragedy in Colorado and the year marking of the violence in Norway last year had me thinking about how people are affected by violence, even if they aren't directly related.

Several years ago, I began writing a book about abuse. It wasn't the typical type of book that one might expect, like a tell-all or exploration into the minds of an abuser or victim. It was a look at how a single act by one person on one person can affect so many other people, even years later. I likened it to shattered glass. You drop a glass in the kitchen and it shatters. You clean it up as well as you can and you think you got it all. But, one day, you move the fridge and you step on a sliver that you missed. Or you find one in the corner one day while you're washing the floor. Slivers of glass can be found far away from the actual accident and can still cause pain weeks, months later.

The summer just as I finished grade 7, which would have been the last week of June, a classmate who lived around the corner from me was raped and murdered. Her body was left in a field not all that far from where we lived. At the time, it was only the second such crime in our sleepy suburb of Montreal. A year earlier, another girl about the same age had been raped and killed - as it turns out by the same person. He was only 17 years old, we found out later.

The day Debbie, my classmate, went missing I remember the crowd around her house and I heard a low-flying helicopter. It took over a day for Debbie's body to be found so there were a lot of helicopter passes as they searched. To this day, 37 years later, whenever I hear a low-flying helicopter, I'm transported back to the time. I automatically think a child may be missing.

I don't think of Debbie often and I don't know why I thought of her yesterday. We weren't friends, we were just people who passed each other in the hall at school, took the same school bus - that sort of thing. But every so often, her 14-year-old face flashes into my mind, as I imagine the faces of those who died on Thursday in the theatre massacre will flash in others' as time passes.

It's often said that people will forget and move on with life. And we do move on, but I don't think we do forget, even if we're only touched peripherally. Those splinters of glass can still be found, when we least expect it.