When I was a little girl, I would hold onto my mom when I had a nightmare, and she would tell me that it was not real and that nothing would hurt me. Unfortunately, the little girl that was afraid of things that could only be created in a fantasy world, was unaware that nightmares did, in fact, come to life. Maybe not in the form of the monsters that had made homes under our beds, but in the shatter of a bullet reviving itself from a gun and in the moment the man holding the gun had lost control over every last morsel of his sanity.

I remember halfway through the last normal day of my life. The once quiet halls of Arapahoe High School were filled with the piercing song of a gun, and two thousand bodies were being forced into corners of various rooms. The rough floor that resembled sandpaper rubbed against my legs, and the cold air wrapped itself around me. While we were waiting for the SWAT team to help us get to a safe place, my eyes could not be removed from the door, which had been the only barrier between me and the danger that had created itself within hundreds of feet of my very being. I was physically as uneasy as an earthquake; the longer we waited in the classroom, the more violent my shaking had become. I could not seem to process any thought other than “I won’t survive,” which had quickly become background noise to my heart throwing itself rapidly against my ribs in the fight to escape its cage. It was unimaginable. Walking through the halls lined with armed members of law enforcement with my hands above my head was absolutely unreal. And once I was brought to safety, I knew that recovering would be nearly impossible.

I remember repeatedly processing the feeling of being in the midst of a shipwreck, holding onto a piece of the wreckage with white knuckles. I was drowning. More information was unveiled as time continued forward, and though it brought us one step closer to uncovering the truth, it got harder to keep myself and the people around me afloat. Unwanted weights were constantly being placed on our shoulders, and we were on the edge of going under. But, we had to learn how to swim. As children, we were taught that boys and girls break your heart and that sometimes, you will take knives to the heart and the mind; we were never taught how to keep living after everything has been shattered beyond repair, so we had to teach ourselves. I remember slowly feeling my heart tear away from its other half when I was reminded of my mom’s promise that the chances of something so horrid happening at my very school were one in a million. Part of me wanted to accept the fact that the world was a terrible place, so for the first few months of surviving the aftermath, I treated it as such. My words laced themselves with venom, and I found myself getting irritated at even the smallest of details. Eventually, I was still holding onto a piece of the shipwreck, but I was no longer surrounded by the ones that I love.

I remember when the shipwreck became more bearable. After nights of crying and screaming, my brother finally approached me. His face didn’t carry the warmth that it usually did, and his voice was cold. “What happened to you? Why did you become so heartless because of this? Don’t let him win; I want my sister back.” When his words filled my ears, I knew what I had become. I was no longer the victim of a monster; I was the monster. I was so unaware that I was so devastated and so broken to the point where I let those feelings consume me. But my brother was right. Even with the little knowledge he had of the world, he knew that in order to survive, the good has to defeat the bad, even if it takes an eternity.

I remember learning that in between waves, there is life, and that even though I might be soaking wet in the end, I would survive. In the process of fixing a shattered heart, I saw balance. More often than not, breathing and surviving became less of a chore. The darkness had made multiple efforts to grab hold of me and drag me back to the moment I thought my life had been taken from me. But as time moved along, the pain and anger appeared less frequently, and when it did, I knew how to tame it. The girl sitting on the floor of a dark room never thought she’d make it out alive; she thought she’d be ruined forever. Over two years later, the same girl is no longer broken; she is a survivor.

The little girl who once feared the monsters under her bed had grown up in a way that not many do. The girl was given every opportunity to be taken over by fear of something much greater than a creature with fangs that sometimes greeted her in her dreams. She was aware that monsters and nightmares came to life, and although the worst of realities was breathing in her face at one time, she, much like the little girl she once was, knew that she was strong enough to defeat the evil that craved to destroy her. And when it attempts to eat at her existence, she knows that she will, in fact, survive another shipwreck.