Where do I begin to define this tragedy?

The memory of a bullet and the wounds it engraved on young flesh? A teenage boy driven by rage and sorrow derived from a beaten mind and broken home? Or the fact that it takes a tragedy for society to swallow the calamities we so quickly spit out?

I was sitting in my first-hour class when the news erupted.

I cannot recall who informed me first. All I remember is the illumination of my phone from inside my backpack. When I read the words “school shooting” on my screen, it felt like the closest thing to a gunshot. My chest caved in and my skin melted to the bone. This was really happening.

Between classes, I heard the collective of hearsay inject itself into the hallways. Numbers. Numbers are all I could distinguish from the voices; statistics of the injured and how many pairs of lungs ceased to produce a breath. There was no order in the chaos; only confusion, anger, and sadness.

When I arrived at my next class, the room dissipated into silence. After all, how could we talk about the victims when it easily could’ve been us? My teacher labeled us as just kids, but we outgrew that skin years ago. Now we are soldiers fighting in a war we did not ask for. Is this what childhood has come to being taught to watch our own backs because humanity doesn’t have ours? We all harbor a fear of others and of ourselves. It has been said that the shooter has demons of his own.

I’ve heard reports of bullying and a detrimental home setting. I am not saying that validates the shooter's actions; he should not have done the things he did.

I am saying that I know why he pulled the trigger.

I cannot comprehend the amount of anger and sorrow it took to physically harm another being, but I do understand carrying emotional pain. He lived in a house with abuse, and now those kids will never get to kiss their loved ones again.

Their parents will set dishes on the table for children that will never make it home for dinner, and we will still be feeding the issues that society fails to starve. We are the ones who remain hungry. People do not know how much their words can shape a person; they can either craft a human being or make a monster.

Honestly, I am starting to believe they are both the same.

I do not hate him for the damage he had caused. If I do, it will only lengthen the cycle. I will not allow my grief and anger to corrupt myself like it did him. I will not turn into a murderer.

Perhaps this is the result of suppressing the problems we all hear about daily: shootings, sexual assault, racism, and abuse. You would think you could be safe in your own home, but parents can raise fists too while finding themselves at the bottom of a bottle or controlled by the power of a needle. Nowhere is safe; not even our own skull. We have surrendered ourselves to our issues with a gun to our temple.

I have yet to cry. I hate that I can write about this so easily.

No, it is not easy to talk about; I just hate that I possess the inspiration to write about it. I am never surprised by the reports. I am 17 years old and people my age are dying by suicide or the trauma of another person. We are used to it; maybe that is why we do not try to do anything about it.

How are we expected to raise children with targets on their head? How are we supposed to live knowing that they will either be the shooter or that their body will be pressed by the barrel of a gun?

We will forever mourn the catastrophic event at Marshall County High School and the tragedies that preceded it, but maybe instead of ignoring the problems, we can fix them so we will never again have to endure the loss of another Bailey Holt and Preston Cope.

They will forever be 15, but we will not let their journey end in vain. We will raise our youth, not to be soldiers but to be peacemakers. Daydreams tuck themselves in the palm of our hands and reality breaks our fingers. It is time to wake up and smell the blood on our skin.

All day, I thought about if it had been my best friend’s life that was taken. I couldn’t help but replace “if” with “when." That’s just the world we live in. Loss is definite.

I went to work that night in hopes of getting my mind off everything, but instead, a customer had the audacity to tell a school shooter joke. It is not a joke; it is today’s headline. Is that how people cope with pain? Jokes? Suicide... self-harm... firing a gun?

For the past few days, it has felt wrong to be happy. How could I when everything is falling apart? How can I smile when the victims can no longer do so? I feel guilty.

I want you to take a good look at yourself and promise to always try to do good.

Love yourself and love everyone else. Turn to the nearest person next to you and tell them how much they mean to you. Show them you care. Tell your parents how much you admire them. Convince your friends that they are the best things to ever walk the earth. Say what you need to say before it’s too late. Life is too short to waste another second. Live and love fully.

RIP Bailey Holt and Preston Cope