Thousand Oaks: Reflection from Abroad

By MIRANDA SEIXAS

Seixas sitting in the farm fields outside of her dorm, in Mainz, Germany. 

How do you grieve when you’re in a different country, a world away from chaos? How do you mourn when you’re immersed in a foreign culture? 

I had wanted to write an article for The Campus as a foreign correspondent speaking about my experiences studying abroad in Mainz, Germany, the difficulties of adjusting to a new way of life, the realities of learning in a different academic system and language, and the appreciation being away has given me for Middlebury as an academic institution and community. But after the events of Thursday, I cannot write that article.

I will never be able to forget November 8, 2018. I woke in the morning to a news alert about another mass shooting. I feel sick writing these words. It was just another amidst so many similar stories we’ve seen in the past few years. But it wasn’t the same. Not this time. This time it was in Thousand Oaks. The town where I was born. The town that for nearly 22 years I have called home. My community was attacked and I was 5,782 miles away and I could do nothing. And so I became fixated on the news, needing information, but terrified of what that information might be. I watched as twelve people plus the shooter were confirmed dead, and before that reality could even sink in, I had to register for spring classes at Middlebury. Worlds and dreams and nightmares were colliding. A young man from my high school was declared a hero, another was declared dead, and yet another was declared a mass murderer.

Had a handful of people decided not to stay in that night I could have known one of the victims. Had this been a few summers ago, one of my best friends would have been there. Had I gone to my local college instead of moving across the country to Middlebury, odds are I would have been there. The degrees of removal were suddenly gone and I was exposed and it was terrifying. And yet I was safe. My family was safe. My friends were safe. But they could have been hurt way too easily.

My mom has been saying that this shooting has changed the fabric of our community—because now we know we can produce something like this. A boy can grow up in Thousand Oaks and do the unthinkable. We can produce a tragedy enabled by a culture that devalues mental health care and does not prioritize lives over personal desires to own guns. We will never be the same. And as our tragedy is broadcast on news channels and written about in newspapers and posted about on social media, my home is losing its anonymity. No longer will I have to say I grew up 45 minutes northwest of Los Angeles. People have now heard of Thousand Oaks, and it breaks my heart, because of all the wonderful things they could know about my beautiful, quiet, and loving hometown, they will only know this horrific piece of it. Thousand Oaks will never be the same.

The night of the shooting was college night at Borderline Bar & Grill, so my generation has been affected the most. The days since the shooting have been like a high school reunion out of a horror story. I have talked to people I hadn’t spoken to in months, even years. At the lowest point in our town’s history, people are coming together. Our sense of home and community has never been stronger. And yet I am still in Germany and I can physically do nothing. I cannot wait in line to donate blood for the injured, I cannot attend the vigils, I cannot hold my loved ones close, weak with relief that they’re safe, and I cannot protest for gun reform because Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and hasn’t seen a mass shooting in 3 years. I feel helpless. Any abroad experience can be isolating, but it’s especially so when dealing with something so devastating and so personal.

I’m discovering that grief takes many forms. It is disbelief and immobilizing shock. It is speechlessness, it is tears, it is anger, it is laughter and it is remembrance. I’m not religious, but I went to the cathedral in the Mainz Altstadt on Saturday for an organ concert and there I found a place to silently mourn. My path back to the bus station takes me through an open-air market and I stopped to buy flowers. They stand on my desk in memory of the victims. I am separated from my shattered community, but I am finding ways to heal on my own.

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Thousand Oaks: Reflection from Abroad