Numb to Pain

Annabelle Friedman, WIS '18

Annabelle Friedman describes her frightening experience during the 2013 Navy Yard shooting and the effects of continuous gun violence on her mentality towards life. She maintains that seeing humanity in everyone and preventing fear from permeating out lives is of paramount importance. (Published: 2018)

Art by Ana Mundaca, Sidwell '18

For ten years, I went to school in a red brick building across from a playground on Capitol Hill. From one classroom, there was a view of the Library of Congress. From another, the US Navy Barracks were just visible over Route 695. It was during science in this classroom one day in the September of my eighth grade year that I saw sirens racing by on the highway. Sirens were nothing new — it was Capitol Hill, after all — but the stream of police cars and ambulances seemed endless.

When the time came for class to be dismissed, our teacher told us that instead of moving on to our next class, we were going to stay put for a short while. She put on a Bill Nye video. Thirty minutes passed. I had my fingers crossed that we would get to watch the movie for another fifteen minutes so that I would not have to go to French. I was not focused on the lingering sirens playing in the background, but when it was time for lunch and I pulled out my laptop, I saw the notifications. The New York Times website carried this bolded headline: “An active shooter was reported inside the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters building (Bldg. 197) on the Washington Navy Yard at 8:20 a.m. (Eastern Time).”

I did not know anyone in the buildings where the shooting occurred, nor did any close friends or family, so I did not feel like I was personally affected by what happened. As people were being shot at in the Navy Barracks food court, less than a mile from where I sat, I was worried about whether or not I would have to sit through forty-five terrible minutes of French class. It is often like this. As gunfire rained down on Las Vegas in October, I was fast asleep. As worshippers in Texas hid behind pews, I was walking my dog down Connecticut Avenue. But every time my phone buzzes with the news of a new shooting, my heart starts to beat a little faster, my palms begin to sweat, I have to find myself a glass of water and maybe give my younger siblings hugs.


Recently, I have started to notice that even with news notifications silenced, I get a little apprehensive. In October, I was waiting amongst a packed crowd to get into Nationals Park for the first game of the playoffs. Standing only a block away from the Navy Yard Barracks, with the stadium looming above me, all I could see was red – red hats, red towels, red t-shirts. I was getting a little claustrophobic, so I looked up, to the roof of the parking lot. And all I could think was that we were so exposed, that something awful was going to happen. The security line seemed to be taking forever. Ironically, I wished that they would just hurry up with the metal detectors and bag checks so that I could find a place that was not so risky. Everything, of course, ended up being fine (although, in classic DC fashion, the Nationals were lackluster). This was a few days after the Las Vegas shooting, and for the third time in my not-so-long life, the deadliest shooting in US history had just unfolded. There were articles about the motives, about the guns, about the victims, as there always are. When people are killed on the street, in movie theaters, and in line for coffee at the office, it is hard not to be conscious of every single loud noise, every large duffel on the metro.

But it is incredibly important — essential, even — to still believe in people. Had I been too scared to go back to Nationals Park the next day, I would have missed the three-run Bryce Harper home run that landed three rows away from where I was sitting. I would not have seen the look on my brother’s face as he watched his favorite team finally get the lead. That does not mean I did not check for the exits the moment we found our seats, but it is okay to be cautious. Once I found the exit, I tucked it away in the back of my mind and watched my team crush the Cubs. When the game was over, the players gathered on the field to wave to the fans. Four years earlier, the field was the meeting point for families after the Navy Yard shooting. But that night, it was just the site of an exciting, exhilarating, and beautiful game.

**Author’s note: When I first drafted this article in early December, this is where the story was supposed to end, on a message of hope. One of my school’s favorite traditions is that the senior class delivers Valentine’s Day grams to the high school, screaming out serenades and pelting Hershey Kisses at unsuspecting students. Teachers sometimes stand in front of the door, good-naturedly shooing lipstick-clad seniors away. As my friends and I were running through my school’s hallways, a similar scene was unfolding in Parkland, Florida. Except that it was not chocolate candies and Nat King Cole. Enough is enough. After each mass shooting, thoughts and prayers are passed around, shared across the internet. But it has to end. Every single gun-related death is a disservice and a disrespect to the memories of those who we have thought of and prayed for. Our government must take action.