Four scenes from Virginia Tech.
Scene one. I’m standing on the Drillfield. Small groups of students are filtering by me, all headed directly for the coliseum, where the convocation is scheduled to start in couple of hours. Nearly everybody is wearing orange and maroon, the school colors, the t-shirts left over from a big game last fall. Almost everybody is silent. My camera is mounted on a tripod, my telephoto lens allowing me to photograph people from an enormous distance, so as not to bother them. I’m frustrated at the photos that I’m getting. These people don’t look particularly sad. They’re not crying. Some are smiling. They’re just people walking. If these people won’t look sad, I think, then they’re not useful to me.
Scene two. Two boys, barely older than toddlers, play with a small blue ball as their mothers look on. They’re the only people under the age of 18 that I’ve seen in a while. The sun is shining, it’s nearly 60°. They are happy.
Scene three. I’m sitting in the Squires Student Center. About twenty of us have commandeered a television to watch the convocation, and we’re sitting around a series of tables adjacent to the dining hall. To my left are a pair of South Korean reporters and their American translator. In front of me are two parents with their pre-teen daughter. The rest of the people are students, clad in requisite orange and maroon. Five freshman girls are smiling, talking, doing something with their hands. Two people at the table next to them are doing the same thing. And then the man and his daughter join in. Something involving ribbon and scissors. They’re making black ribbons, snipping off short lengths, twisting them, and fastening them at their intersection. As each ribbon is completed it is tossed into a cardboard box, awaiting distribution.
Scene four. I’m in a favorite lunch spot, the rush crowd gone, just a few customers, the owner, and a pair of employees still there. The television is set to CNN, the only way for us to find out what’s going on two blocks away. Reporters ask the same question of student after student: Will you be sad for our cameras? They talk to the mail carrier for the parents of the suspect. A map of Centreville, Alabama is shown. The reporters speak familiarly of Virginia Tech, repetitively describing the 26,000 person campus as a “close-knit,” as if repeating that will make it true. Those in the restaurant jeer at the reporters, the grief vultures who will stick around only until the scraps are gone. Two vaguely familiar CNN reporters, a man and a woman, talk about those who have died in personal terms. The man makes a parallel to his own college-aged son. He begins to cry.