The morning of February 14, 2008, my daughter Nicole and I were getting ready to go down for breakfast when the Italian CNN station interrupted with a scroll we loosely translated as Shooting at a college in Chicago. We quickly changed the station to the BBC where we learned that it wasn’t a college in Chicago, but our very own Northern Illinois University in our very own hometown of DeKalb.
I remember we were both standing, getting dressed, getting ready to go. When we heard the news we both sunk to the bed. Nicole missed and slid to the floor. We sat there listening, in shock, in tears, frantically punching numbers into the phone.
Nicole was missing a week of classes at NIU to tour Italy with me. We were in Rome, with plans to travel to Verona for the day. Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet, on Valentine’s Day, what could be more special?
Certainly not this news. After several phone calls back home to check on our friends, family and neighbors, we continued on to breakfast. Two other people in our tour group were NIU alumni with friends and family currently enrolled and we shared hugs and updates. It was a roller coaster day of emotions as we tried to focus on where we were while our minds and hearts ached for those back home.
It can happen anywhere. It did. And we heard about it half a globe away.
They misplaced Nicole’s luggage upon our return home. She was upset because she had school work packed. The fact that there were no classes for the following week just seemed like a cruel reminder of what had happened, of what we had missed. Stay with me here while I say that, although I was glad we were not here when the tragedy occurred, the bonding that grew from the shared experience is something we will never understand. Outsiders trying to empathize, we can only ever sympathize because we don’t know. Everyone was talking about “where were you when…?”
Oh, you were in Italy? Heard about it after the fact? Came home a few days later? Good for you.
Yes, good for us! I wish you all had been there, too. Italy is a lovely place to avoid devastation.
We came home to quiet snow covered streets, the city in shock, the university closed. Wooden crosses and police tape graced the covers of the newspaper. Comparisons and questions were on everyone’s lips.
Our parents all know where they were when Kennedy was shot. We remember when the Challenger exploded. And there is no unifying American historical marker quite like 9/11. To that list I add the NIU shooting.
I’ll always remember where I was when…