Growing Up In The Shadow Of Columbine

Erin Bilir

Erin Bilir is a 16-year-old high school student who lives in Littleton, Colo. She will be attending a Columbine 10th anniversary memorial service Monday afternoon. Rebecca Martin/Youth Radio hide caption

itoggle caption Rebecca Martin/Youth Radio

At 12:08 on the day of the Columbine shooting, I was sitting in a playground sandbox playing with my Barbie dolls, not at all aware that five minutes away, shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were committing suicide.

I was only 6 years old, and like most childhood recollections, my memories of that day come in snapshots. I remember my mom picking me up from school early and hugging me so hard I lost my breath. I remember seeing my neighbor racing across her lawn to her car, tears running down her face, shoes clutched tightly in one hand. I remember not understanding. Being afraid, but not quite sure of what.

Now I know that I was lucky — that I am lucky. I'm a student at a private school where the term "falling through the cracks" is applied to those who don't consistently make honor roll and join a sports team. What happened that infamous day in April at Columbine was both worlds away and within walking distance. I was never close to any of the victims. But Columbine had a significant effect on us all.

After Columbine, it was the little things that changed. Suddenly, I couldn't stay out with my neighborhood friends after 4 o'clock, even in the summer. Parents would huddle in front of the door of our kindergarten class, shaking their heads, squeezing each others' hands. My mom, a gastroenterologist, began to see more and more parents from the surrounding area coming in with ulcers. I never wanted to go to the mall down the road because the teenagers in long dark trench coats and heavy makeup who gathered around the fountains now left me petrified. Columbine was a reason to start looking at the kid in the back of the bus with low slung jeans, large headphones and black nail polish with suspicion and anxiety. The air was thick with paranoia. Some parents we knew made their only son throw out his entire CD collection because it consisted of too much Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot.

It was a communal tremor of fear, a backlash against youthful rebellion of any kind.

But some changes were for the better. Parents started reading books with titles like Communicating with Your Estranged Teen. Game nights were revived. Columbine flowers were planted. More people were seen embracing each other in the streets. Columbine allowed for strangers from different corners of Colorado to grieve for the frailty of innocence. Columbine created an informal support group numbering in the thousands.

Ten years after Columbine, my community is still reverberating with the sounds of those gunshots. And for me, April 20, 1999, will always be the day when I stopped sitting down with my parents to watch the 6 o'clock news. Here where I live, we are all still Columbine.

Youth Radio's Erin Bilir is a high school student in Littleton, Colorado.

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