February 14: Valentine's Day. A holiday that your opinion of is, most likely, tied to your current relationship status.
This past Valentines day had a different meaning to me. It's the day my old high school was the target of a school shooter. It's the day I lost my sister.
My sister, Carmen Schentrup, was one of the students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that day.
As someone who luckily still has all my grandparents, I know that in the back of my mind that one day they're going to die and I guess I always kept that in the back of my mind so I wouldn't be shocked if I got the call that one of them had passed on. Never in my entire life did the thought of getting that call about my sister cross my mind.
Just like many people remember where they were on 9/11, I will remember where I was when I got the call that there had been a shooting at Stoneman Douglas.
I was watching Chris Rock's Netflix special, in which he coincidentally talks about mass shootings and about halfway through, I get a call from one of my fraternity brothers telling me that there has been a shooting at my old high school.
I quickly ran over to our fraternity house and watched the live stream with my fellow brother who also went to Stoneman Douglas. I called my parents frantically trying to make sure my two sisters were OK. At the beginning, my mom only knew where my youngest sister was, but nothing from Carmen.
My initial thoughts were that she was hiding or lost, anything but the unthinkable.
We hadn't even heard if anyone had been killed. Time wore on and my parents still had no idea about Carmen's whereabouts. More info was coming out. I learned that people had been killed and it was shaping up to be, at least, Columbine-level in terms of how many people were killed. I saw videos from inside, showing death and destruction. As the hours wore on I still held hope.
Carmen was a smart girl. She was ranked in the top 20 of her class. She was probably waiting out the shooter in one of the air vents or hiding somewhere else. But as two hours turned to four, the doubt started to creep in.
I was tremoring.
The thought of “maybe she was killed" started to sink in deeper and grab ahold of me.
At this time, I was with my big brother in the fraternity and his girlfriend. It was the night of Valentine's Day. They had suspended their dinner and changed their plans just to be with me. Their kindness that night is something I will never forget and is the only way I was able to keep it together.
The doubt and “what if" began eating away at my insides. The thought she might be dead became harder and harder to shake as time went on. By six hours after, my parents had called every hospital and they couldn't find her so we had about two options.
Either, Carmen was in surgery, unconscious, or she was one of those students that were killed. The news kept coming in from friends that they had heard through the grapevine that she had been shot but it wasn't known where she had been shot so I didn't know what to make of it. Was it a wound that required surgery or a fatal one?
As it came close to hour seven, the news started reporting: 12 dead, five unidentified and 15 injured.
Always analyzing, my brain took this data and churned out one of the scariest statistics I've ever heard: there was a one-in-four chance that my sister was among the dead. The flip side is that there was a three-in-four chance she was alive. Shortly after hearing this my dad called to say that the police were taking the families aside one by one to tell them the fate of their child.
For over an hour I waited, trying to keep myself distracted from the gravity and reality of the situation but constantly checking my phone.
Finally, the suspense was too much to bear.
I called my mom and she was choking up, they didn't know yet but it wasn't looking good. My dad informed me that there was a very real chance of Carmen being dead. Just seven or eight hours ago, what was the least likely outcome, is now looking like a very real reality.
I talked to my mom briefly before she had to hang up because the police were waving her over. That phone call is the last time I talked to my parents before their entire life, world, and sense of security was uprooted and crushed under the heavy weight of this new reality that was being thrust upon them — a reality in which their daughter, and my sister, Carmen, was no longer with us.
About 20 minutes after my mom ended the call with me, I got a call from my dad and when I picked up the phone my heart sank. I could hear my dad's controlled sobs. I knew what this meant.
After what seemed like a minute, but was probably 10 seconds, my dad said six words that had more impact on my life than anything said up until that moment.
“Bobby, your sister has been killed."
I broke down. That small wall of defense I had built up since my dad telling me that she was probably dead was overwhelmed like a sand dune in a tsunami by the torrents of emotion and strong rip tides of anguish tearing at my heart, trying to drag it into the depths of despair.
That moment and setting will forever be seared into my mind like how most people remember that exact situation and context they remember 9/11. I have a full encapsulation of that entire moment in time forever branded into my memory. I rode the wave of emotion, an intensity of which I have never felt before.
The hurt, the anguish, the sadness, the pain felt deep within the soul from losing a loved one coursed through my veins, throbbing with each heartbeat.
The emotion was so visceral I felt like it was creating an aura around me, that my feelings were so great they had broken through my skin and were now permeating the air around me.
After the initial emotional response, the shock had still very much not settled but I looked at the time and realized it had been almost 12 hours since the shooting and I just found out the fate of my sister.
Twelve hours of some of the worst anxiety and fear I've ever experienced, the sense of hopelessness almost debilitating, the situation highlighting how little control we really have. I wouldn't wish this upon even my worst enemy, for people are ill-equipped for how to deal with a situation such as this.
A child's death is something that as a sibling and as a parent you don't think of or prepare for.
It's unthinkable. We all grew up with the expectation of dying of old age. Never once did it cross my mind that a different fate may fall upon someone I'm so close with.
With her death, she was robbed of a future she spent her present working so hard to achieve. Carmen sacrificed her own current pleasure for the idea of a future in which her hard work would be rewarded with magnitudes more pleasurable than what she was currently sacrificing.
How would she know or expect that the fruit of her labor would never grow or be harvested?
The idea that she never got to fully experience the joys of life to the fullest, except for small instances is a thought that haunts me every day.
She spent so much time and effort on preparing and creating the best future but neglected to enjoy the now, the only thing she was guaranteed to experience. She never struck the balance that, recently, I've been trying to find. Of how to live in the now but not sacrifice the chance of a better future.
Her death taught me that the future isn't guaranteed and that the only thing that is, is what is happening right now, so you might as well enjoy it.
Another hard part has been the fact that you never know what might be the last words you say to someone. How would I ever know that my last words to her would be congratulating her on getting into UF, a school I didn't get into myself, but that she had always wanted to go to? I remember being so happy when she texted me the good news and as awful as it is, I'm glad that the last words we shared with each other were positive. I will never get to say goodbye, though.
Closure before death is something that I always expected but now realize is a privilege I took for granted. Never will she really know how I viewed her and what role she played in my life. I was never completely vulnerable with her and laid out for her who I truly was.
She died knowing only the parts of me that I allowed her to see.
So many experiences I was waiting to share with her come college, so many things that we had yet to do together. I waited to do these things and because of that, I will never get to do them.
We never formed a really close relationship. Oftentimes, I hear about how siblings get a lot closer as they get older and become best friends, but I will never know now. All I know is the cordial, friendly relationship we had for the past couple years. We were quite different in terms of personality, and kind of grew our personalities separate from each other.
Even though we were independent personality-wise, we had shared interests. Our love of music and classic “nerdom," such as comics and cult movies, are really what bonded us together. We both love "Star Wars" and would watch Marvel and DC TV shows and movies together. That was our quality time. Watching "Gotham," "Daredevil" or even "Agents of Shield" together and live-captioning our thoughts about it to each other.
She always has an interesting and unique take on things, even if it was a little highbrow sometimes. I recently watched Marvel's "Black Panther," the first superhero movie I can't talk about and criticize with her. It's not the same. I no longer enjoy the violence so prevalent in such movies, all it does is make me think back to my loss of Carmen and how the death of someone can have such a large impact.
No longer can I disassociate and detach from the death, even though I know it's fake.
Whenever I see someone's head snap from a bullet, all I see is her in their place, except she's sitting at her desk, diligently working to wrap up an assignment before the bell rings and then in a split second, the supersonic bullet speeds through the glass of the door window and onward into her skull and out the other side spraying out grey material that once formed the brain of one of the smartest people I knew.
I can't get this image out of my mind.
The visceral nature of it and the pure shock element helps bring to surface emotions I have a hard time feeling after a week of being overwhelmed by them.
Some people try to comfort me with the idea that she “didn't feel any pain," but the issue is she never knew she was going to die. She didn't know those were her last minutes, but then again if she knew, would that be better? I wouldn't her want her last thoughts to be those of panic or fear, feeling the worst of human emotions. I would want her to at least leave with peace, something I highly doubt happened.
The night I found out, I didn't sleep. I stayed awake, letting the emotion hit me as it came, feeling everything.
I knew that repressing my feelings would only make things worse. The next morning, I rode back with one of my fraternity brothers. Everything really hit me when I got home and saw her car wasn't in the driveway. The true reality seeped in and sank deep.
That Thursday, February 15, was one of the hardest and most emotional days of my life. I watched my parents, the people I've looked to for strength and guidance for 18 years, break down completely and sob uncontrollably. Watching them cry is the hardest thing because you want to help them but know you can't do anything except let them cry it out.
They lost a daughter.
Flesh and blood of their own creation that they raised and devoted a large part of their life too for the 16 years she blessed this earth. They had hopes and dreams for her, and like all parents, lived vicariously through her. All this, gone.
They saw her every day, but now her room is empty.
They are a physical representation and a constant reminder of the emptiness we all feel from her loss. A room that was once filled with her and her presence has now been replaced with pounds of ash in an urn.
For me, I feel like I lost part of my personality, but from my parents, an actual little piece of them died and so did the hopes and dreams for her future. If I didn't have my youngest sister through all of this, I don't know how I would have made it this far.
At least with her, I have the chance to be the brother I never got to be with Carmen and the brother I now know I want to be. The things I regret not sharing with Carmen and not doing with Carmen, I now have a chance to do with her.
Just as I couldn't be without my youngest sister throughout all of this, I couldn't be without my friends either. While I've had to be there and be strong for my parents, they have been here and strong for me. The night everything happened, my friends were right by my side since the beginning. My friends called me right when we all found out and together we waited for hours as more and more updates came in.
Everyone I was friends with in high school reached out to see how I was doing and if my sisters were OK. Even my friends who were still at Douglas texted me wanting to know if my sisters were safe. After the news came and I went back home, so did my close friends from UCF. Every day they would check in on me and if I wanted to see them, they would drop everything and be at my house whenever I needed.
They showed me what true friendship really is and how important that is to have in life.
Hell, I had friends fly in from other states just to comfort me and help out in any way they could. Their ability to bond together around and form a true support system is what kept me from falling apart during what were probably the worst moments of my life.
Together, they went with me to the memorials when my parents weren't able to yet, so I could see Carmen's. To see how the community had come together to make something beautiful for not only Carmen but all of the victims. Visually seeing all the support my family and I have from the community and how they came together to support all of us was heartwarming.
The week after the Parkland shooting and Carmen's death was probably one of the hardest of my life. With each passing day, the shock of her death wore away, and the true emotion was able to come through. The hurt, the pain, the anguish. All of these emotions more intense than anything I had ever felt before and now I understand how they can consume people. Accompanying all of this I had to adjust to a new reality. One where I couldn't physically see Carmen anymore.
Sleep was just as hard as being awake. In my dreams were, and still are, the only times I can see her anymore. During that week, those couple seconds after I woke up, the moments before I found my bearings and figured out where I was, were the happiest parts of my day because it's the time in which Carmen's death wasn't acutely aware.
Dealing with everyone reaching out on social media was a demanding task. It seems like everyone I ever knew reached out to me. Their overwhelming support and thoughts helped immensely to see.
School allows me to stay busy and keeps me from thinking about everything too much. I've learned grief is something that needs to be felt but isn't something that you can dwell in. It is important to feel the emotion that is there, but you can't dwell on it and let that take over your personality. While that is much easier said than done, I know that Carmen would not have wanted us to change who we are and our personalities because of her death. She would want us to honor her memory by continuing to be ourselves.
I have also learned that running the “what if" scenarios in my head just make me angry and stressed out. It doesn't change the past. What happened, happened and there isn't any changing that. But that being said, I want to see something come out this. I don't want her death to become another statistic, or her murder to be in vain.
While she didn't choose to die, I want meaning to come from it.
The meaning that I want is for no one else to ever have to go through the pain of losing a loved one in this way ever again, and for 2/14/18 to go down in the history books as the last mass shooting to ever occur on American soil.