When I woke up at 11:41 on July 4th, my back was hurting. It was the kind of ache you feel the day after you work out too hard or go on a really long walk, or, in my case, just exist in a body that likes to hurt for no reason. I sat up, tried to stretch it out, and as expected felt no difference. “Yeah, this sucks,” I thought to myself. “But whatever, it’s happened before and I’m fine.” You could say I was used to it.
I unplugged my phone from its charger and started scrolling through Instagram, expecting to see pictures of people at the beach and backyard bbq’s. Instead, I learned that at 10:15 while I lay sleeping, there had been a mass shooting 10 minutes from my house. The shooter hadn’t been found yet. Six (now 7) people were dead. I should stay inside and off the roads. Yet as I sat there on the edge of my bed, I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t feel anything. Of course I was heartbroken, and angry, and confused. But this news? I was used to it.
Hours later, I watched on tv as the white male suspect was peacefully taken into police custody after feeling a traffic stop- the same type of stop that had put 60 bullets into Jayland Walker the week before in Ohio. One was a murderer known to be armed and dangerous, the other a black man driving a car. This injustice? I was used to it.
If it isn’t obvious already, I like to write. It’s what I do when I feel like I can’t do anything but have to do everything, and last Monday I was feeling especially this way. So I dug out my old journal, but before I flipped to a new page, I read some of the old stuff. I was reading an entry from January 2019 when I saw something that’s been stuck in my head ever since. I had written “When you don’t feel good, it’s harder to be anything. But I feel like I should be used to it by now.”
Now, there’s a lot you don’t know when you’re 16. There’s a lot that I don’t know now. But reading these words that I had written 4 years ago, words from a version of me who was confused and in pain and convinced I was making it all up in my head, was hard. All I want is to go back in time and tell her no, I shouldn’t be “used to it” by now. Pain isn’t something you should have to get used to.
When people ask me how long I’ve had Crohn’s, I tell them that it’s been 11 years and I honestly don’t remember most of my life before then. Like how I don’t remember school without active shooter drills, or what it’s like to go to a concert without hoping it’s not the target for America’s next massacre.
It’s been 11 years, and I’m still not used to waking up feeling like crap. I don’t think I ever will be, because every time, it sucks. Every time, it takes something out of me. Every time, I wish it wasn’t real.
The point I’m trying to make here is not that Crohn’s and gun violence are the same; they most definitely are not. The point is that pain, and hardship, and violence are everywhere. They affect us all, whether it be a sprained ankle or a national tragedy. And no matter what kind of hurt we are feeling, we cannot cope by simply getting used to it.
When things happen over and over again, we can become numb to them. But that numbness doesn’t make them easier to deal with. If you punch yourself in the arm enough times, it might start to feel numb, but the last punch still hurts just as much as the first. Just because something painful happens all the time doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Waking up in pain is something I’ll never get used to. It’s something I shouldn’t have to get used to. Because pain isn’t normal. Violence isn’t normal. Normalizing tragedy is the same thing as telling yourself that if your stomach’s been hurting for a over month now, it must be fine and you should carry on as if nothing is wrong. Which is obviously ridiculous, and you should go see a doctor, like right now.
There are still a lot of thoughts I have about July 4th 2022, and right now I’m not sure what time or place they belong in. But I am sure about one thing: that the pain we all feel, whether it be as a community or by ourselves, is not something we should ever get used to. It’s not something that will ever get easier. It’s just something I hope will go away. And I wish I could do that for all of us.