Ten days ago, my flight to Vegas landed and I was on my way to learn ways to grow my business. I found myself among tons of other wedding vendors wanting to do the same, ready to face three full days of educational seminars and networking events, right and left. I was beyond excited. Having never been to a wedding convention before, this was a completely new experience and I was amped up and ready to learn. Some of us got there Sunday morning, the day before it began. October 1st. And what better way to go into a multi-day convention other than laying and relaxing by the pool the entire day before?? And how it went from mindlessly soaking up the sun to huddling together with strangers on the carpeted floor of one of the windowless ballrooms in the MGM? I don't know.
What I do know is that the Las Vegas massacre that occurred that night has affected so many, and I can't help but keep replaying those memories in my mind. No, I was not in the crowd of the concert. And no, I was not physically hurt, but I was in that room with people who were. And since that day, I can't shake all of those snapshots in my head of people sprinting by, of people crying shamelessly, of the confusion visibly showing on everyone's faces around me.
When we first heard about it, it was 45 minutes after the actual shooting had started. We were casually wrapping up a late-night dinner in the MGM, had just paid the bill and were on our way out. Next thing I know, the restaurant staff is telling us to move away from the windows, and all I see are blurry bodies running by and hearing a ton of commotion. I honestly thought there was something exciting going on out there, and the windows and doors of the main entrance just happened to be closed off because we were in the restaurant too late and they were already locking up. Nope. The servers turned our direction to the two TV screens at the bar, and that's when we saw the headline, "Active Shooter On The Strip," running across the bottom of the TV newscast. At that moment? I thought maybe one person had just gotten shot at due to a fight or something. But that wasn't the case, and it was such a weird feeling when reality began settling in. All of a sudden it dawned on me what was happening.
It is so weird now to look back and reflect how I handled myself during that high-stress situation. I simply saw I had a missed phone call from my brother and called him back to have a completely normal conversation with him about the cross-country team he coaches, and it was a perfect distraction from what was happening in the present moment. Towards the end of the phone call, however, I looked down and saw that my legs and hands were uncontrollably shaking, and so was the woman I was with. It was in that moment where I realized how terrified I was about the situation. Next thing I know, all of the restaurant guests are being ushered out of there, being told how to get to a specific room where we would be locked in for safety, but when we got there, the doors were locked and hundreds of us found ourselves stuck in an open space with large windows all around us and no place to hide besides underneath communal phone stations - that was it. Eventually, someone came around and opened up the ballroom, where immediately everyone rushed into to sit with backs against the walls, surrounding the perimeter of the room. We were in there for 3 hours...No one coming in to give us updates of what was happening outside, or what had happened that started this all. It was a sad reality that for those 3 hours locked in that room, the only way we were figuring out that night's events was through outside phone calls from loved ones and social media.
I just can't get over that that's how the situation was handled. Not only were we in the dark about what was going on, or what to expect, or what to do, but everyone in that room with us had no other choice but to sit there for hours in a huge foggy state of confusion, tiredness, and fear. However, throughout all of that, I think the memory that will stay with me forever from all of this were the minutes that elapsed after we were released from that room. I can't forget the eerie stillness of the halls right outside of that ballroom, and how after minutes of standing there in the emptiness trying to figure out which direction to go, people slowly coming out of nowhere and filling the halls, all heading in a single direction. But the most haunting part was emerging from those halls into the casino portion of the hotel. It was 2:00am, 3 hours after being stuck in a room on lockdown from the most awful public shooting our country has experienced, and there were people sitting at the slots already gambling again. That right there, just completely messed with me. I was in such shock that these individuals had already begun to return to everyday life with the demeanor of nothing tragic ever happening, although just minutes before we were still on lockdown, unsure of what was coming next. I just can't wrap my head around who can possibly be okay with beginning to gamble and drink and be lively after that had JUST happened. It felt like we were in one of those movies where the main characters finds themselves in an alternate world where everything is too calm and perfect to be true. And I don't know, maybe that was those people's way to cope with what just occurred, but it just was way too surreal for me. And that feeling kept happening during the days following that Sunday night. The next morning, Las Vegas went back to being typical Vegas. If you didn't know of the shooting, nothing would look off to you. And I know that life has to go on, but I just can't believe that it began that process of moving on so quickly.
That Monday morning, I woke up at 7:00am to begin making phone calls to friends and family, letting them know I was okay. From then until 11:00am, all I did was make those calls from the comfort of the hotel bed while simultaneously watching news stories covering the horror of the night before. I had absolutely no desire to attend the convention that I had spent months being excited for. It was almost too easy to be okay with letting myself stay in bed resting up and recovering from the trauma that had just unfolded only hours ago. But, I got up and I went. And it felt so wrong putting makeup and nice clothes on to go sit in a convention center for 5 hours talking about happy weddings and ways to better my business when there were bigger things going on, but I went. And that whole day, I was just not into it. Yes, I was physically there, but not myself whatsoever. Typically, I'm one to strike up conversations with those sitting around me at networking events, but that whole day I had absolutely no motivation to do so. For those 5 hours, I kept to myself and solely focused on what the speakers were sharing with us all, then the convention ended for the day and we went straight back to the hotel. I couldn't believe I had just acted that way, and thought the whole next two days of the convention were going to be a reflection of that first day, but each morning I woke up feeling a bit better, and a bit more at peace. And although 10 days have passed since that Sunday night and I appear to have recovered fully and gotten back into the swing of things, I'm still readjusting. I don't know how long it will take until it's no longer the first thought that pops into my head when asked how I am doing, but I'm just so thankful that during those days of intense emotion following the event, I was surrounded by the two amazing women who were with me during the peak of it all. I can't even imagine having to be in the midst of all of that chaos alone, or to not have had others to talk it out with. I went into that trip having only met both of those ladies a handful of times, but all three of us came out of there with a relationship that I can't even begin to explain. I can't thank them enough for the strength and composure they showed to me during the moments where I completely lost it, and for the genuine kindness they showed to others in the ballroom that night. I'm sad to admit that what happened last Sunday night pushed us to unite with each other in such an unfortunate way, but also so glad we have that bond between each other now and have one another to talk about it with with a true understanding of what we feel and why.
And although all I wanted to do was get out of that hotel ballroom, ditch the convention, and get a flight home to Seattle first thing in the morning, I am so thankful to have been in the middle the city fully experiencing the aftermath throughout the days following the event. It was amazing witnessing the Las Vegas community, as well as the visiting members of the wedding industry, come together to openly show endless amounts of love and support to so many strangers who were affected by that tragic event. I felt so much relief when hearing the entire Las Vegas strip had closed down Monday night as a way to express the community's condolences, and I felt so much respect for humanity when seeing on the news that hundreds of people were lining the streets in front of blood banks to donate for the survivors. It moves me that one man's poor actions has resulted in so many people expressing their selflessness and respect to help others. Thank you to all of you out there who have done some kind of action, big or small, to lessen the pain that survivors of this tragedy have experienced. Sending love out to all of those who were affected by the shooting in Las Vegas last week. Know that you are in my thoughts.