I vividly remember the first time I ever saw the Virginia Tech campus. It was April of 1982, I was about to graduate high school, and my family and I were making the college rounds. Two days later a storm would dump a foot of snow on Boston as we visited MIT (interesting how the weather comes around), but that day was clear and warm -- a perfect Spring day in the Appalachians. I remember walking out onto the little dais that overlooks the drill field in front of Burrus Hall, the main administration building, and being awed by the spectacular panaoramic beauty of the place. The nearest municipality that even pretended to be a city back in those days was Roanoke, and that was an hour away. The nearest "real" city was Richmod, another four or five hours away. It was a quiet place, far from the pressure and madness of the world. The biggest problem we had was negotiating the muddy unpaved footpaths carved across the drill field when it rained.
I could have gone to MIT or Stanford, but I chose Virginia Tech because it made me feel at peace. And so the irony of today's events strikes me in the deepest parts of my soul. When life in Los Angeles gets too crazy I have always been able to comfort myself with the thought that there are places like Blacksburg where I could retreat if things get too nutty to bear. And even though I don't think I'd ever actually move back there, just knowing that I could has made LA easier to put up with.
That comfort is gone forever.
I know a little bit of what the people who actually lived through it feel like. In 1991, having lived in LA for three years, I came home to my little house in Glendale to find that the bulb had burned out in the light that we kept on a timer. As I entered the house I could just make out some motion in the darkness out of the corner of my eye. I shouted, as much in fear as in anger, and I saw the muzzle flash as the burglar took a pot-shot at me with his '38 on the way out the window. My first though was, "That can't have been a real gun. It looked and sounded too much like the movies." It wasn't until the police came and dug the bullet out of the wall that I realized that I was lucky to be alive, let alone uninjured. It was many years before I got my next good night's sleep. I still get the odd stranger-in-the-house nightmare.
In other news, 129 civilians died today in Iraq. No one noticed.