I did a lot of stupid things in college. A lot. And, if we’re being honest, I did a lot of stupid things before I ever even arrived — and long after I left. It’s human nature. We make mistakes. We do things we shouldn’t do. We live on the edge. We get too drunk and we pass out on the floor of the bathroom, or maybe we stay out too late talking to boys we don’t even know. Perhaps we dance on tables and go home with the wrong guy. We take too many shots, we call our high school boyfriend, we walk home alone. We do dumb shit. And you know what? Most of us end up alright. Those stupid things we did, they become the conversations of our dinner parties, the toasts at our weddings, the “your mother was just like you at your age” talks our parents will have with our very own children one day. For the majority of us, the condomless sex won’t result in a disease. Forgetting to take your pill won’t result in a baby. Buying pot from a kid on the street won’t result in you getting arrested. And walking home alone from a party won’t result in your disappearance.
Like I said, we all do dumb shit and most of us end up alright. But some of us don’t.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that each and every one of us has at some point or another done exactly what Hannah Graham did the night of September 12th. She went to dinner with friends, she drank at a few parties, and then she walked home alone. At least, that’s what she planned to do. But Hannah never made it home. And now our country waits with baited breath for her safe return. We stare at the news and wait for answers, something, anything. We hold candlelight vigils and wait for her to appear. “Sorry for worrying you!” She’ll say. “It’s all good. Everyone go home now. I’m safe.” Except that with every passing hour, with every passing day, with every passing Sunday paper whose headline does not read “UVA Student Found Alive,” we know that the odds of her coming home safely get just a little bit worse. And we’re frozen. We’re numb. We’re breathless and lifeless and anxious all at the same time. We want to jump out and search for her and yet we can’t seem to move from our safe beds in the locked apartments of our gated complexes. We’re crippled with fear. We’re useless and scared and fearing the worst. And it’s because we know deep, deep down, in a place that we have tried so hard to shut up, a place we try so desperately to not hear, to not see, we know that it could’ve been us.
My sophomore year of college, I went out with a group of my sorority sisters and our pledges to a bar in a part of town that I was not well acquainted with. Around 1:30am, I decided that I’d had enough, and being a drunken 19-year-old, decided to pull the classic “Irish Exit” (where you leave without telling anyone). I stumbled out of the bar and immediately remembered that I didn’t know where I was, and, in a state of panic, attempted to get back into the bar. But I was too drunk. The bouncer wouldn’t let me enter.
I took off my heels (on the sidewalks of D.C.) and began walking down the street in an effort to find a cab. But I couldn’t hail one. It was like a bad movie, a really bad movie — the kind of movie that young girls refuse to watch because they don’t want to see the ending — and I was just sober enough to realize this. Just sober enough to know that this was not good. Just sober enough to remember that I was in one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. — and in a part of it that I didn’t even recognize, no less. Just sober enough to realize that with my shoes in one hand and my dead Blackberry in the other, I was in bad shape. So, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I kept walking.
Eventually, I found myself in Lafayette Square — directly across from the White House — and sat down in the middle of a park of homeless people, tired, confused, and inconsolable. I just wanted to go home. Luckily for me, it was at this point that I was approached by a Secret Service Agent who sat down with me and waited until the cab he called came to pick me up.
As I was placed inside of the cab, the agent said two things I will never forget. First, he looked at the cabbie and said “I know both your name and and her name. She will get home safely, do you understand?” Then, he looked at me and with a stern disposition that he had not previously shown, said “You’re incredibly lucky that I found you.” And that was it. He closed the door and I proceeded home on my seven block journey. But you know what? He was right. I was lucky. I made it home that night. And who knows what would’ve happened if he hadn’t had helped me. It’s something I don’t like to think about. Just like I’m sure those reading this with similar stories (read: all of you) don’t like to think about yours. It’s easy to push it into a dark place in your mind. Easy to text your friends the next day and say “omg. got taken home by a cop last night. new low. hahahaha.” Easy to act as though it wasn’t that big of a deal, that you were never in that much danger, that you never could’ve ended up like that girl on the news.
But the truth is, as we’ve been reminded with Hannah Graham, you could’ve ended up like that girl on the news. Or that boy on the news. Or that man or that woman or whoever it was. You could’ve ended up like them. No one is exempt. But it’s stories — no, tragedies — like this that remind us to be better. To be smarter, to be more careful, to charge our phones, to stay in groups, to not let that drunk girl leave alone, to not be afraid to ask for help. We’re reminded that bad people are out there and the only way to keep them from winning is for the rest of us to be good, to look out for one another, and to bring Hannah home.
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