I freaked out the day my parents tried to leave me for the first time at college. it was a warm, late summer day when they drove me about 67 miles from New Galilee, Pennsylvania, to Kent, Ohio, where I was enrolled to study journalism at Kent State University. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll mention it again: it was not a good day for me. I had never learned about the Vietnam War or the invasion of Cambodia in school, so it came as a shock to me when I first heard there had been an “incident” on the campus there. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this news became news to me only weeks before classes would begin. in other words: it was too late to back out now. it likely was just one reason I could vocalize about my fear of change and of growing up and moving out. but still. it haunted me. so, that day my parents tried to drive away, probably sometime in August 1991, I was white-knuckling the back bumper of their car, somewhat joking but really pleading with them not to leave me because, “they shoot students here.” they smiled and waved as they drove off. I sulked back to my tiny dorm room knowing full well I was safe as could be here, just not too thrilled to be left alone with total strangers and with no clue what I was supposed to do next. (note: it was only a short time later that a lone shooter WAS on the loose on the KSU campus. he managed to kill, from my recollection, two people before being hunted down in the snow and shot to death. maybe I remember this in some sort of exaggerated way, but I seem to remember feeling this “I told you so” moment when I called my mom to tell her, “they’re shooting kids again at Kent.” but this time, it was different. this time I wanted to be in the newsroom to cover the story.) I don’t pretend to have any sort of link to the shootings at Kent State on May 4, 1970. but I will tell you the story affects me. still, to this day, when May 4 comes around and others are posting silly Star Wars memes (May the 4th be with you), I always take a few minutes to remember what happened on the campus and all around the building where I spent so many countless hours. I was a student there during the 25th commemoration and I took photos (which are in a bag somewhere in a closet as I type this) of Mary Ann Vecchio as she revisited the campus. she’s the woman who famously knelt, screaming, over the body of a dead student. at the time of the shooting, she was a 14-year-old runaway, as the story goes. the day I saw her in 1995, she was working as a waitress in Vegas. she also had been arrested several times for prostitution over the years. or so the story goes. the past few weeks, PBS has pushed its documentary, “The Day the ’60s Died,” and I sat down tonight to watch it. it only took a few moments and I was sobbing. it’s so hard to read or watch anything about the shootings. I lose it every single time. the story that always has hit especially hard is professor Glenn Frank begging the students,
“Sit down. Sit down, please. Just sit down … I don’t care whether you’ve never listened to anyone before in your lives. I am begging you right now. If you don’t disperse right now, they’re going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter. Would you please listen to me! Jesus Christ, I don’t want to be a part of this!”
you can hear his voice trembling. you can imagine the tears. he’s distraught. he really is begging … and the kids listened. this has always stuck with me. when I went to Kent State, I took part in the memorial marches. I took photos of the Victory Bell and the Commons and the Pagoda. I’ve taken friends and my own kids back there to show them all of these spots. once you see it, stand there, walk up the hill where it happened, it can be overwhelming. at least for me it was. so here I am, crying at my computer, rambling about the “incident” that killed four students and wounded another nine. and it starts to feel so personal, even though it isn’t. as a mom, it tears me up that those innocent kids died. as a journalism student from KSU, it hits home because it happened right outside Taylor Hall, then the journalism building, and the spot where I spent the best years of my young life. I drove past Kent State yesterday, May 4, the 45th anniversary of the shootings, on my way home from visiting family in Pennsylvania. I thought about stopping, but the day was getting short and the drive was long. with my husband nodding off in the front seat beside me, I drove by and thought about all of it. about what I’ve written here. about the students and how they must’ve felt in that moment. about the parents, and the call they must’ve never expected to get. about the National Guardsmen, who were just scared kids themselves. as I drove yesterday, in my car were several boxes of stuff my mom sent me home with … “junk” from my old bedroom that now made the journey to Indiana. most of it is likely to be thrown out, but it seems fitting and serendipitous that the first (and only) box I looked into tonight after watching the PBS special prompted me to sit down and write this. in it, aging newspapers from my years on The Daily Kent Stater staff. and one in particular … the special edition we created for the 25th commemoration of the Kent State shootings. it was the best of times, those days at Kent State. next time I drive past, maybe I’ll stop and take another look around and remember it all again.