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The lights begin to dim, enveloping us in semi-darkness. The smell of faux butter and plastic fill the air, the only sound that can be heard is that of popcorn kernels being crushed by teeth, and the occasional sucking sound of a straw on an empty cardboard bottom. The darker the lights get, the faster my heart beats. I become hyper-aware of my surroundings.

That man stood up. There was no reason for him to stand up now, the movie is starting! The teenager in front of me is looking down. No reason for that, the screen is in front of us. Why are you looking down?? Hey! HEY! The movie is in front of us lift your head, if you don’t lift it I will personally lift it for you HEYHEYHEY…

No. I don’t have a problem with people not looking at movie screens. It is not a pet peeve. No. I don’t care when people go to the bathroom or to get food refills during a movie. I am not some vigilant movie lover who demands every person in the theater have their eyes trained on the screen at all times.

Being in enclosed places with a lot of people gives me severe anxiety. It’s not claustrophobia, no, this is different. This is hands sweating, heart racing, mind screaming “you need to get out of here right now!!!”

But why?

Lemme tell you a story. A story that begins with waking up on May 24th, in a hotel bed at the beach, and checking my cellphone before I even got out of bed. A story that begins with having seven text messages from my old college that I had just transferred out of. The texts started out calm and got more urgent.

Shooting in Isla Vista. Residents are encouraged to remain indoors.

Residents are still encouraged to stay inside.

College is on lock down.

Seven fatalities.

My heart dropped lower with every text message I read. After a quick trip to the bathroom to throw up the bile and fear that had arose in my chest, I urgently texted all of my friends, not knowing if they were alive. I glued my eyes to the morning news. Waited for names to be released. Waited for my phone to ring. It never did.

Went downstairs to go run on a treadmill because I couldn’t stop shaking. Cried in the lobby. Heard back from my best friend: she was okay. Heard back from another friend: she was okay. Heard back from another: he was personally okay, physically. But people he had known were not, people he loved were gone, and he was not okay. I felt so helpless. People I loved were 1500 miles away from me, in pain. The college I loved with my whole heart was experiencing this tragic event, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t even be there to console.

A horrible, evil person took lives that day, and injured even more. I’m very glad that he is dead, but even though he isn’t alive, he still haunts that campus. I wish him all the pain and suffering in the world.

I wasn’t even there, and yet I now have severe anxiety when I’m in an enclosed place. I am very convinced that senseless, malicious people are there to hurt me and others. When someone does something out of the ordinary, like gets up during a movie, I notice.

That’s why I don’t go to movies. My new friends don’t understand, and I don’t try to explain, but that’s why.

That’s why I don’t like going to college football games.

That’s why I don’t want to go to concerts and on airplanes. Because I don’t want one of my best friends to be the one behind the cell phone, frantically trying to reach me. I don’t want someone else’s radical ideals to put an end to my life.

So for now, I’ll stick to open parks, thank you.