How BTS helped me be OK with not being OK
In June 2012 I was 32, in the US Air Force Reserve and on a temporary duty assignment in Denver, CO. It was only a 30 day trip to get familiar with the work-center as I was changing duty stations soon. I clicked with my new co-workers very quickly, the supervisor was even one I had previously served under. We all liked anime and sci-fi, had similar approaches to the job, I was very happy.
On my last day four of us decided to go to the midnight premier of The Dark Night (Batman is my fav superhero). We had been to the movies together 3 times before this already. One of my new co-workers bought the tickets and we all agreed to meet an hour prior. I was very excited that evening, even though it was a Thursday and we all had to be at work Friday morning, but it was Batman. I was wearing a new shirt, my favorite jewelry and was singing in my car while driving to the theatre.
Everything went smoothly when I arrived: everyone was on time, we got snacks, we got our seats, we talked and laughed while the rest of the auditorium filled up – it was packed. You all know the drill; movie time, lights down, cheers, 50 million trailers, time for Batman. Some twenty minutes in, a smoky canaster flew from one corner of the auditorium by the screen and landed a row or so behind me. I looked over my shoulder, my friend sitting to my right said, “WTH?” and then the canister exploded.
The gunfire began immediately and we all hit the floor. I felt something hit my hand and it hurt pretty bad but I remember thinking, “I can worry about that later.” It actually took half a minute for the audience to start screaming, reading all the testimonials later it was because most were in shock, confused as to whether it was real or a prank. The gunfire kept going and the movie kept playing, the smoke from the canister explosion finally hit my lungs and I felt like I was suffocating. Then the gunfire stopped, I swiveled my head to look in the direction of my friends, it was still so dark. One of them whispered to me, “See if you can get out.” But the moment I slid my body to turn the other way, the gunfire started again and I just pressed myself to the floor, it was so loud.
When the gunfire stopped again I thought, “I’m dead. This person is going to walk around and shoot anyone they still find alive.” A large part of me was actually expecting to be shot in the back any moment. Suddenly the movie stopped, the lights came on and voices were shouting, “The shooter is gone! The cops are here!” I picked my head up and I was completely wet. I had noticed it before and figured it was spilled soda all over the floor; some of it was but most of it turned out to be blood. There were bodies in the row to my left, the direction I was aiming to go the first time the gunfire stopped. To my right was the friend that bought the tickets, he was face down and not moving. Another friend tried to shake him and called his name, there was no response, he was very still.
While doing this I saw that the cops were actually there and were demanding everyone who was able to leave. All their guns were drawn, perhaps they hadn’t caught the shooter yet? I didn’t know. My memory is so fuzzy at this part; I see my one friend on the floor, my second shaking him, my third looking around, a man in the row in front – head leaning back over his seat. He has been shot in the face, he isn’t moving but he’s breathing, I can hear it. But I can also hear the police, they want us to go, so I step over my friend on the floor and follow the other two out of the back door, the one near the screen. There’s a different chaos outside, lots of people laid out on the side walk, one with their calf blown open to the bone. Now I notice my hand again, the one that was struck when the gunfire started, it’s throbbing like crazy. I look at it and it seems full of holes, it’s bloody and swollen – what happened to it?
I’m just standing there, not really looking at anything when a young woman, she was probably a teenager, took hold of my arm and had me sit down on the curb. Once seated I got dizzy, so very dizzy, I tried to lay down but the woman stopped me. She asked if there was anyone she could call for me, I immediately thought of my mom but, NO. She’ll freak out! That’s what I said to the young woman too, “My mom but I can’t, she’ll freak out!” She told me that’s what moms are for and asked if I had a phone. “A phone?” I thought. I looked down at my lap and I had my purse. How on earth did I come out of there with my purse? The woman took my phone and found my mom’s number, she spoke to her first and told her calmly what happened. She told my mom I was dizzy but responsive. “Who is this awesome young person?” I was thinking. When she handed the phone to me I was not so calm, I went on and one about how many children were in that auditorium, that one of my friends was still in there and I have no idea what else. The woman didn’t let me talk too long, she told my mother that the injured are quickly being taken to the hospital and that I would call again soon (bless that woman, wherever she is now).
Don’t ask me how long it took but I was eventually put into the front seat of a police car and taken to a children’s hospital because the others were filling up fast. There I overheard nurses speaking about a little six year old girl that didn’t make it. I wondered if it was the young girl that was in the row right behind me, the one asking her mom question after question until the movie started. My daughter was six too but she was in Kansas with my mom during my trip. I did a lot of laying there while people came in and out to speak to me, some medical workers, some law enforcement, some mental care. In the end I had 4 buckshot pellets in my left hand and one in my scalp that were removed some days after. My one friend also didn’t make it, I would find out later that he was shot in the center of his chest, he died before the police even showed up.
A handful of group therapy sessions, a long murder trial, a change of jobs and states, a switch to vegetarian, and a bit of military appointed sleep therapy later; it is now 2017 and I’m 36. I’ve been back to the movies 3 times in those 5 years – only for matinees – and I just don’t like it. The sleep therapy did help but I was still having nightmares whenever another mass shooting was in the news. I never finished watching The Dark Night, superhero movies in general slowly lost their appeal, fireworks still make me uneasy, and every closet door in the house must be closed before I go to bed.
During one monotonous day while I’m bingeing anime and scrolling through nonsense on my phone – because I don’t do much else anymore – I see an article that reads, “First K-Pop Band to Perform at the AMAs,” and I thought, “Cool. I really like 2NE1. I think I’ll watch.” So I watched and said, “Nice! Good for them!” and that’s where I was going to leave it. I was 36, soon to be 37 and I was never a boyband stan even in my teens. I was just happy to see some non-English pop singers getting their flowers on a foreign stage. So, fully intending to go back to my life of quasi-fear and loathing, news of BTS just kept entering my feeds over the next few months. Of course it was all the negative things I expected to see. I called my sister up one day to complain on BTS’ behalf (even though I had only heard that one song, DNA, lol). I told her that if these haters think a non-English speaking group that made it far enough to be on a mainstream award show in the US is just a fad, then they’re idiots. Even though I wasn’t personally touched by my first encounter with BTS, I heard that crowd at the AMAs and knew these guys had the fans, and a fanbase like that can take you anywhere.
My sister told me that her two daughters, around 12 and 13 then, were already huge fans of BTS. The next weekend I spent at her house I let my two nieces play me any and every BTS M/V they wanted. I came home a bit obsessed with Not Today; the song, choreo, M/V, I loved it all. I watched it multiple times a day along with a few others. At the time I wasn’t too worried about knowing their names but I found the dancing of one particular member very enticing; it was J-Hope. I didn’t know his name at the time so he was “cute guy in the hat” for a while. I remained with Not Today and a few other title tracks for some months. My natural habit with music is that I just want the music, I rarely look into the artists or their recording companies, their social media, none of that; and that held true for BTS in the beginning too. One day I was simply in a mood and I felt like looking up an album (I don’t always look up and listen to full albums either). A google search said that LOVE YOURSELF: TEAR was the latest one and I did recall the M/V for Fake Love being one my nieces showed me.
I let it play and my jaw just kept dropping, I did not expect the music to be so rich. I will admit, even though I was happy for their success I still judged them based on the boyband music that I grew up with, I never really liked it much. I was a fan of all the R&B groups but they weren’t categorized as “boybands” then, so my perception of “boyband” was very narrow and pretty unfair to even the boybands I didn’t like. Still, on LY:Tear, Paradise and 134340 stood out to me the most, Paradise so much that I looked up the lyrics immediately after the first listen (looking up lyrics immediately is also something I didn’t do regularly). I was surprised all over again, the sentiment and words used to express it were just so beautiful. The idea that it’s ok to just live, that a “purpose” or “dream” can be whatever you want, it can be small, it doesn’t have to meaningful to the world, just you. I was in tears but I they were happy tears, I wanted to share this excitement so bad. I told my mom first, how endearing and simply amazing it was that these young people wrote such a song. Even though my little negative voice was saying, “It’s not like a new concept or anything. You’ve heard that before,” I ignored it. The voice was correct but I just felt so warm inside I didn’t want to analyze why – at least not yet.
I was pretty much in a BTS mood from then on. I took my time absorbing their albums and lyrics. I found myself opening Twitter and Insta accounts so I could follow them, buying physical albums and whatnot (hadn’t bought a physical album in more than 10 years). The negative voice kept do it’s thing, “You’re too old, what are you doing? Are you lonely? Are you just compensating for being single?” In the meantime I was still consuming BTS; I had moved on to their other content like Bon Voyage and RUN BTS. Negative voice again, “You’re just obsessing. It’s a phase. You did this with anime fanfic before, remember?” Still ignoring because I’m just so damn happy, I feel good everyday when I hear BTS’ voices. When it came time for LOVE YOURSELF: ANSWER to drop I pre-ordered the album. Pre-ordered. Without hearing a single sample I pre-ordered it. That’s when I finally took a breath and started to analyze what that negative voice was saying because, the other thing I realized at the same time was that I hadn’t had any nightmares for some time. Violence and shootings hadn’t really eased up but I couldn’t recall feeling tired in the middle of the day or waking up randomly at night. The negative voice isn’t right about BTS being a phase but SOMETHING was going on.
My consumption of BTS didn’t ease up but I did begin to give my actions more thought. I went back to Paradise, to the lyrics that seemed to be the spark. The idea of us not having to live to achieve “great things” was not new to me so why was I so touched by BTS’ version of it? Had I not fully internalized that idea like I thought I had? Was I trying to live some great purpose? No, that wasn’t quite it. It was guilt, not so much the survivor’s guilt I received counseling for, but of not being as “strong” as I thought I was, as I was so sure I was. During the trial for the shooting all the 911 calls that people made from inside the auditorium where played. All those people had enough sense to call for help, but I didn’t. That young woman that helped me on the curb knew exactly what to say to my mom, I didn’t. For the first handful of weeks after the shooting I kept thinking about my new shirt, how it was ruined with blood, how the OSI people took it away as evidence and I never saw it again. I also lost my favorite ring, it was a stone face with jewels as a headdress. My friend died right next to me and I didn’t notice, he died alone but I apparently remembered to grab my purse before stepping over his body. I’m scared to sleep with closet doors open, I’m scared to go to the movies, I’m scared of fireworks, I’m scared of crowded places. That gunman revealed my pettiness, my weakness, and I had been upset about it all those years. Then BTS told me that I don’t have to be strong, that I can be a bit messed up and I was suddenly breathing. They also told me all the ways they weren’t strong, all the ways they are messed up, and it made me feel warm. They weren’t telling to get over it or to cheer up, they said, “I know, I’m not that great either. Wanna work on it together?”
I’m not “cured” or anything but I feel very safe with BTS. I go to the movies with ease for their films. I can have fun in the crowds at the 4 BTS concerts I’ve been privileged to attend, even with the fireworks. I can sleep without nightmares. I can watch the news and stay informed, I don’t have to hide from it. The closets still have to be closed though, LOL. I started a scrapbook to catalog my journey with them, I picked up another hobby of making jewelry and I’m working on my Korean (don’t ask me about my progress. I’m 42, learning a second language at this age is torture, LOL). BTS have become my muse for the crafting and writing I hadn’t done in years. My home is filled with them and their music, I really just cannot go a day without hearing those songs that have become as familiar to me as the ones from childhood.
BTS are part of my life, they’re fam. I love them and will be here for them always.
P.S. I eventually fell in love with DNA as well. 보라해
- United States