You won’t get over it

For you, next week will be six months. For me, next month will be 42 years. Here is something I learned in that time. It isn’t what you want to hear, and it might not comfort you, but it’s the truth you need.

You won’t get over it.

I didn’t know Mary Ann Henderson personally, just like you didn’t know all or possibly any of those who were murdered at your school. You don’t have to. It affects you as well. It shatters your peace of mind, fills you with a sense of “it could have been me,” and leaves you with an unsettling remorse that it wasn’t. You may think you see them as you walk through your school or sit in your favorite places. When you turn around, they aren’t there.

This feeling won’t go away.

I know this feeling not only from my experience with Mary Ann, but what I’ve seen from you. When I saw David Hogg at the March For Our Lives town hall last month, he was as polished and poised as any seasoned public figure. The people who thronged around him afterwards admired him like a rock star. A mother handed him her phone so that he could talk to her daughter. But when I gave him the button and told him about Tommy Throupe, I saw a tinge of emotion. He can command interviews on talk shows, discuss policy on Capitol Hill, and shut down right-wing trolls, but he showed me how much he still grieves for his classmates and teachers.

He won’t get over it.

It will get worse for you during the trial. You will be forced to hear his ugly name, see his ugly face, and listen to his ugly words. Not to mention the forensic evidence, ballistic reports, and crime scene photos. And the sick cheering from the most infected bowels of 4chan. You will be like Mary Ann’s father who went to her murderer’s trial every day and listened to how his precious, beautiful daughter was raped, strangled, and beaten to death. Justice must be done, but justice is not closure. It can’t be when wounds that haven’t healed are ripped open.

You won’t be able to get over it.

Time will pass, and someone will tell you, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” You won’t just hear it from those who want to forget about Stoneman Douglas (just as most forgot about Sandy Hook and Las Vegas) so they can go back to selling assault rifles. You’ll hear it from well-meaning friends and family members. They may be worried about your sudden crying outbursts, or why you still post romantic pictures of lost loves, or why you still fight for gun regulation and school safety when there are much bigger problems in the world.

It’s because you won’t get over it. And you don’t have to.

A part of you was stolen, and nothing will ever bring it back. It’s a loss you will feel decades from now, just like those of us who still mourn for Mary Ann Henderson. You have every right to grieve for as long as you need to. You don’t have to feel guilty for mourning, and you don’t have to feel guilty if you mourn less or stop mourning entirely.

Life will go on for you. You will continue your education. You will make new friends and have new experiences. You will find love. You will start families and careers. Perhaps someday, February 14 can be Valentine’s Day again. But the horror of that day and the pain of losing loved ones doesn’t go away. It hasn’t gone away for Mary Ann Henderson’s family and friends after 42 years. It won’t go away for you in 2060.

You won’t get over it. But you will find a way to build a life around it so you can move forward. Keep healing. Keep fighting for what matters. Experience joy where you find it. And remember that 6 months or 42 years on, there are those who understand and support you. You are not alone.

Portraits: Mary Ann Henderson by Barbara Erickson (1977), Aaron Feis by Gracie Lee Pekrul (2018)