because writing helps

It’s 12:43. I’m at the coffee bar. I sneak behind my coworker-friends and gently kick the back of someone’s shoe — a callback to an earlier joke where he claimed no one could kick off his shoes. He spins around, glares at me, and we all have a laugh.

I order my mocha — “The usual?” “Yes please!” — pick up our drinks, and head downstairs.

It’s 12:48. At the crosswalks, I split with the group, which is headed to the main building. I need to drop by security in another building to pick up a lost item. As I start across, we notice a stream of people rushing down the steep hill in front of the main building. The faint sound of alarms. Suddenly, police cars speed down the street, skid to a stop, and officers rush towards the basement entrance with guns drawn. I turn around and exchange looks with my coworkers. What’s going on? Guns, drawn? … Is there a shooter?

“Go back inside! Go back inside!” someone begins to yell. I’m already across the street, so I head to 1000. Another coworker rushes across the street to go with me. We sit in the lobby as people mill about, confused, asking each other, “Do you know what’s going on?” “I heard there’s a shooter!” “Someone said they saw blood!” “What’s going on?” “WHAT’S GOING ON”

It’s 12:52. I get a call. My heart warms just a bit at the caller ID. It’s Ethan, the safe-harbor kind of friend. He checks in with me, makes sure I’m okay. We wait a little longer. I glance at the Security door. They probably have bigger things to worry about than my lost fleece. I start to worry that the lobby is not the safest place — if a shooter was rampaging through the buildings, this would be where they enter. I suggest that we go upstairs.

It’s 12:55. From the second floor, I have a view. A half dozen people at a time are coming out of the basement entrance, hands in the air, waved forward by a heavily armed police presence. Another fleeting thought — is the window the safest place to be during a shooting? — but I don’t feel threatened yet. It’s a bit abstract. Like watching a movie.

We’re not there long before a security officer with a thundering voice tells us that we need to evacuate, now. His voice is a little panic-inducing, actually. I grab a bottle of water and we head towards the exit. As we stream out, I see a lady on her laptop, headphones in her ears. She clearly can’t hear what’s going on. We make brief eye contact — the strange kind of eye contact that seems to make time stand still — before I break it by gesturing forcefully towards the exit. She starts, and begins to pack up her stuff. I leave.

We’re in the parking lot now. We’re there for a while. Everybody in the parking lot is fielding a torrent of texts from concerned family, friends, and the curious. For many of us, the gravity of the situation still hasn’t sunk in. No one’s told us anything, after all.

An hour passes. Two. We get updates from the news. We chat, crack jokes to distract the one coworker who keeps repeating, “Levity. I need some levity right now.”

It’s 3:30 and we’re finally clear to go. My keys are stuck in the building, so we order pizza and I crash at a coworker’s place until my roommates get home. The next day, the building is still closed but we’re escorted inside to pick up our things. We share experiences, hugs, and go about assuring each other that we’re okay.

It doesn’t really hit you until the next, normal work day, as you take the same route through the same places you been through a hundred times.

Your coworkers are hurting.

Someone brought a gun to your company and shot indiscriminately.

I was just grabbing coffee.

Your workplace was violated, and all it takes is one person.

Holy shit.

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