A few days after the Crossroads service, I came across a bin with some old photos from high school. Toward the bottom of the bin was a big envelope. Scribbled on the outside in my high school girl bubbly script, “D1 Letters.”
I took the envelope upstairs to my apartment and dumped it out on my bed. Inside the envelope were cards and letters . . . dozens of them. They were the notes of sentiment and encouragement that people sent me in the weeks and months after the shooting. I randomly picked up a letter, and turned it over to see the address:
Please Deliver to The Girl Whose Brother Shot People c/o Heath High School
So that’s where that came from . . .
I looked at the blank name tag on top of my dresser and thought about the Crossroads service. Seems reasonable to think this could have some significance. I pulled the letter out and started to read:
“I don’t know you, but I read about you in the paper. What your brother did was horrible. It was not your fault . . .”
The tone of the letter was warm, comforting, encouraging. And as I read it, I kind of marveled at the magnitude of it. Think about this for a second: a person reads a story about a school shooting in the newspaper. In response, the person mails a letter to the shooter’s sister. WHO DOES THAT?!
And then. Woah. The sister the stranger read about in the newspaper? That’s me. I’m her.
It’s not very often I can wrap my head around the magnitude of the shooting, or all the ways it ripples across so much time and so many lives. But in that moment, I did. And damn. Yes, that DOES explain some things. I figured I ought to be a little more patient with myself. And, while I was at it, I decided I ought to read the rest of the letters.
Now, to be clear, I read every one of these letters in 1997. Some more than once. And I kept them for years. But I was so hurt and traumatized that I don’t think I could really absorb the content of them. There was so much love in that D1 envelope, and it had been just hanging out at the bottom of a Tupperware bin, instead of being inside my heart.
I thought back a night in the fall. I sitting on the front stoop with a friend (who was probably more than a friend. But we weren’t sure). It was late. Everyone else had gone home, and I knew I should leave. But we were doing that thing where you linger just a couple more minutes . . . maybe to see if we are going to be more than friends. He complimented my eyes, and I immediately opened my mouth to compliment him. He interrupted me.
“No, Kelly. Don’t reflect it. Receive it.”
I still am not sure if we were more than friends.
And then another memory of a conversation with a colleague who offered to take me for pancakes as a thank you for help on a project. When I made light of the invitation, he threw up his hands and said,
“Kelly, you make it really damn hard for people to be nice to you.”
We never did have pancakes.
Why do people keep saying things like that to me? And why do I keep missing out? For the first time, it occurred to me that people might like me. They may even want to love me. But I’ve spent 20+ years being too ashamed to let them. Always reflecting love. Never receiving it. What a damn waste. And what am I missing out on?!
FOMO is a motivator. I looked at the pile of letters and realized that I really ought to find out what’s in there. So that’s what I did. Every night before going to sleep, I’d pick out a couple of letters, read them, think about the people who sent them, and jot down a few reflections in a journal. Most of them were from my friends and classmates. These are special people whose stories are permanently intertwined with mine. People who could have distanced themselves from me but chose to love me instead. Their words are as powerful as the people who wrote them:
I don’t know what to say
You are special
You have a bright future
I am here for you
I love you
This envelope is an amazing expression of love and courage. All these people sent letters to The Girl Whose Brother Shot People in 1997. What they didn’t know was that they were writing those words for me, more than two decades later. Every night I would read a letter with the exact words I needed that night. And instead of reflecting the words, I chose to receive them. I started to feel loved. More importantly, I started to love myself. I started to believe that I have a future, and a hope.
A few nights before Easter, I picked up a pen, the blank name tag from Crossroads, and I gave myself a new name. An identity that has nothing to do with anybody but me.
And all at once, I became unstuck.