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Back In School | REBECCAJONESHOWE.COM
I remember Columbine. I was 12. My dad had a subscription to TIME magazine and I used to flip through the issues whenever he wasn’t reading them. I read all about the major news stories in TIME. I kept the issues about Princess Diana’s death and about Mark McGuire’s and Sammy Sosa’s home run records. Hype was easy to grasp with TIME, but Columbine was something different. I was captivated by every article, every photo of teenagers crying outside of their school. Pictures of the victims were always arranged in yearbook format. I read and reread all the small details about who they were and how they died. All I ever wanted as a kid was to grow up and go to high school. I wanted to emulate all the characters in the shows on ABC’s Friday night “TGIF”. I wanted to be cool and popular. I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted to use the word “like” over and over and over. There was something cool about shrugging with indifference. Columbine unearthed a lot of emotion in me. Part of me was intrigued with the macabre. I pictured myself hiding under a desk in the library, pictured myself running from the school with my hands in the air. Over the years I’ve forgotten many of the details that I once absorbed, but one question has always stuck with me. It was the question one of the shooters had supposedly asked of student Cassie Bernall before she was murdered: “Do you believe in God?” At the time I considered myself a devout Christian. I grew up in the church. I followed the doctrine, but at 12, I was starting to find myself swayed by secular society. By books and music. By television. By then I’d finally learnt all of the profanities. Sometimes I even used them because the boys always laughed when I’d say things like “Stupid bitch” or “Fucking shit!” Sunday would follow. I would go to church and be good again. Then I’d go back to school on Monday and I’d think, “Do you believe in God?” Cassie said Yes. Cassie was a good Christian girl, and then she got shot. In 1999, the media blamed the Columbine shooting on bullying, on violent video games, on Marylin Manson. Many theories and stories that arose from the early days post-shooting were later found to be false or misreported. We now know that the “Do you believe in God” question was a myth perpetuated by hearsay, but in 1999, Cassie Bernall said Yes and was made a martyr. I remember putting myself in Cassie’s shoes, wondering which response would keep me alive. Would I say Yes and face the bullet, or would fear take over and I would say No, assuming that I’d be spared? Natural selection could be cruel. Perhaps I was weak for even questioning my own faith. Or would the trigger have been pulled regardless? Did nothing matter? Post-Columbine, I’d spend a lot of my time knowing that I needed to swear less and pray more. I straddled my balance between the secular and the Christian, always looking ahead, looking down a barrel whenever I thought about God. Was it better to believe in God or not? By the time I got to high school, I realized just how much of a goody-goody I was. A girl even called me a goody-goody to my face and it was the most humiliated I’d ever felt. I met many Christians in high school, but they weren’t Christian like I was. They were Christians who swore and drank and had sex. I spent a lot of my early years in high school struggling to find friends with the same values. Morals seemed to be a thing that only I possessed. By then Columbine had slipped from my mind, but the answer to that question never did. Do you believe in God? I was sick with a cold on September 11th, 2001. I stayed home from school and watched the footage over and over and over, captivated just like I had been with Columbine. The aftermath of 9/11 was different, however. The issue was no longer about bullies or music or video games. The early 2000’s George Bush era of American politics became a spotlight for hatred. Perhaps I never paid attention before, but dogmatic issues like gay rights and abortion and morals and decency seemed to plague me at every corner. I remember the gay rights debate. When I was 16, I used to think that homosexuals allowed to marry would eventually want to marry animals or objects, that the “sanctity of marriage” would be desecrated. I never voiced my opinion out loud. The other kids would judge me. I remember thinking that abortion was murder, that unintended pregnancies were karma for women being sluts. I’d spend a lot of time hoping that the girls I knew were having sex would get pregnant. I still strayed from the discussion whenever abortion was brought up. I’d sound like just another Christian. I read the Left Behind series. In one of the books, there’s a scene where the survivors of the rapture must profess their servitude to the Anti-Christ by having a barcode chip embedded in their forehead. Christians in the book are magically marked with a cross on their forehead that only other Christians can see. In one scene, a lost Christian follower ends up with both a barcode and a cross, and I always pictured myself in that halfway camp. Do you believe in God? I invited a lot of my friends to youth group. We often played cool games and had a lot of fun. At the end of the night, we’d always have a devotional, or sometimes a lecture. Once we heard about how having premarital sex was pretty much equivalent to taking a piece of tape and sticking it to a bunch of different surfaces. How if you stuck the tape to too many things that it wouldn’t stick to …