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Young Writers Project: 'I Remember'

Milton essayist, Amelia Canney, is still one year shy of the right to vote, but reaches out to her readers to ask that they never forget the victims of domestic and global injustices.
YWP Media Library, photo by Carter Devenney, Essex
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Milton essayist, Amelia Canney, is still one year shy of the right to vote, but reaches out to her readers to ask that they never forget the victims of domestic and global injustices.

I remember a time when I thought the world was a beautiful place.
     I remember thinking about villains in stories and movies, and laughing because everyone nowadays is so nice. How could anybody be that cruel? It didn’t make sense.
     I remember history lessons, and the way we learned about war, discrimination, hatred. It all seemed so far away, as if we were being told fairy tales to scare us. The deaths, the victims, were just numbers to us. It felt like an annoyance to have to fit so many zeroes onto that one line we’d set aside for statistics.
     I remember watching the news with my father, half-heartedly. I didn’t understand what the person on the screen was talking about, and I didn’t really want to. I just wanted the person to stop talking about whatever he was going on about so we could switch back to Disney Channel.
     I remember eighth grade and the introduction of current events to our weekly assignments. Even then, though, we used a special website for students, where everything was filtered. The only stories we saw were about dogs being rescued and the invention of new kinds of robotics that would help humanity. The fog over my eyes grew stronger, enforcing my faith in a wonderful world full of kind and amazing people.
     I remember getting my first phone and exploring every app, and finding a small red one marked as “News.” I was so excited to use it, to scroll through all those boring reports to find the articles about cute dogs and social media fails. I didn’t even bother to look at the titles for everything else.
     And I remember when I started to pay attention.
     I remember finishing my homework and having nothing else to do, so I sat down in front of the TV, and, to prevent myself from being bored out of my mind, I watched the news anchor as he talked about whatever he was saying…

Wait a second. Bombs? People injured, dead? What?
     I remember watching our president and the decisions he was making, and being so confused – because how could the person in charge of our whole country be so cruel? Why was he denying people the right to enter our country based on who they worshipped and where they came from? Did people actually believe in this guy?
     I remember realizing that the next time an election rolled around, I would be 18. I would be able to vote, to make a difference – however tiny that might be. I would have a chance, a say in who had control of this country. I went back to my news app and put notifications on for the news stations that were the most popular, figuring they would cover what I would need to know.
     I remember the horror I felt when those notifications started rolling in: shootings, attacks, deaths, bombings, racism, hate crimes, climate change, Twitter alerts. They piled up piece by piece, brick by brick, until the wall reached so high I couldn’t see the sunlight behind it anymore.
     I remember how the numbers weren’t just numbers anymore. They were people, people I had not known and who I would never have gotten the chance to know, but they were people. They were people with families, with homes, with friends who loved them and were devastated.
     I remember the first time I walked into class after this revelation, or whatever you want to call it, and we covered an absolute tragedy in history. For the first time, I sat in class and this horror story I was being told wasn’t just a series of numbers to copy down – it was thousands of people who’d been killed, slaughtered, were dead before their time. I cried that night, and I will never be ashamed to admit it.
     I remember when I started to automatically flinch when the name of our president came on-screen. I was already steeling myself for deaths, for decisions that would hurt us, for another announcement about how our country is going downhill (even if the anchor didn’t use as many words). Looking through the news at the bills our president was passing, at the way he was acting, I wondered what made him fit to represent our country – and if he was, what that said about us.
     I remember the first time I saw the words “school shooting” together. Parkland, I believe. I read all of the obituaries for the students who had died. They sounded like wonderful people, with their adult lives waiting just around the corner but now never to be reached – because someone had decided the lives of others were worth nothing. Someone had decided they’d rather have some sick satisfaction gained from murder, over consideration of their classmates who deserved to live. And that’s a decision no person should have power over.
     I remember the first time I saw a report on a mass shooting and didn’t feel my heart lurch out of my chest. It was part of my everyday life at that point. Yes, it was sad, yes, it was terrible… but at that point, I was numb. I cared, and it hurt, but I wasn’t getting overly emotional anymore. And how screwed up is this world when reports of mass murder are met with numbness, are met with, “Oh, that’s horrible. Those poor people. On with my day,” even though there are people who are no longer here to continue their own day. There are people robbed from us with the twitch of a finger on a trigger.
     I remember the bomb threat at my own school. For the first time, these weren’t events threatening people I didn’t know in a place I’d never been. I was right in the middle of the action, and I was terrified. They combed the school while we stayed tucked up in our classrooms, breaths held and hands clenched. When it was over, I don’t think I stopped shaking for hours.
     I remember sitting in our gym at the beginning of this year, a police officer instructing us on the proper way to act if a shooter broke into the building. He told us the FBI-approved procedure, gave us the option to run, to hide, or to fight. I sat still as a statue, exchanging looks with my friends, with dead eyes. When it was over, I ran, I hid, and I fought off tears. Because nothing, nowhere was safe anymore. My little translucent bubble of safety had been broken, and I wasn’t just watching the world fall apart – I was in the middle of the action.
     I remember taking a day not so long ago, one of the few not swallowed up by school and practice and family, to hide with my phone opened to that dreaded news app. I took a deep breath to steel myself before I delved into it. I tossed aside the silly postings about those cute animals I used to love, and went through every serious article I could find: the ones about people starving to death within a few miles of families throwing out the leftovers of every meal; the ones about people dying in wars they had nothing to do with; the ones about politicians making promises to harm others, and being supported in it; the ones about sexual assault accusations against major people in power; the ones about people being killed for their race, their sexuality, their gender, things they had no control over; the ones about the disregard for human life some have, which we’ve accepted as just another part of our day; the ones that destroyed every hope I so childishly clung to of a truly beautiful world.
     I don’t wish the caring away, because if I stop hurting whenever the word “death” shows up in the news, I will have ceased to be human – because what human person can read or hear about others dying or suffering, and shrug it off like it doesn’t matter? I could, once, for I was young and naive, and worst of all I didn’t care. And now I fear I care too much, because some days it seems like I’m one of the only people walking around with their eyes open. But no matter what I see, I’ll never shut my eyes again. That would be shutting out my heart too. And, let’s admit it, that’s very difficult to do when a heart is already in pieces.

The Young Writers Project provides VPR's audience another avenue to hear and read selections from Vermont's young writers. The thoughts and ideas expressed here are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Vermont Public Radio.

The collaboration is organized by Susan Reid of Young Writers Project and Vermont Public Radio.

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