Today, happy couples are celebrating their wedding day. Others are celebrating anniversaries or looking down at the chubby cheeks and tiny fingers and toes of new babies into their lives. Life is moving forward, futures are being realized and some dreams are coming true.
Today should have been the happiest day for Amanda Strous and Cory McCleaf's. It should have been their wedding day. They should have been giddy and nervous with excitement and anticipation of sharing vows and celebrating with friends and families. They should have had a future together.
Instead, a CrossFit gym in Pineville where Strous' fiance works as a coach is hosting a benefit in her memory. She was killed in her apartment on June 18 by a man who police say lived in the same apartment complex as her. The man who killed her has been charged with murder and arson as Strous' apartment was set on fire to cover up the homicide.
She could have been me. I nearly was her.
As I've worked with my colleagues on stories like Strous' the pit in my stomach expands and I feel a tightness in my chest. That woman could have been me. We see it all the time, and it is easy to be desensitized to the violence, the death. It is all to common to become flippant in our discussions of the carnage. People become numbers on a page, statistics that relay how violent the year has been.
Once you live through trauma, though, something inside you changes.
In June 2014 another local woman was in the headlines. I was working at a different news station, but the crime committed against her was so egregious and shocking it sent waves through the town she lived in and also the greater Charlotte community. Maggie Daniels was a high school counselor. She was young, full of promise and beloved by the students she served. She was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Her body was found by her boyfriend's mother the next day.
It was less than 90 days after Daniels' murder that I found myself lying on my back with a knife at my neck. Staring into the eyes of a man I'd never seen, it was her face that flashed through my mind.
"I will not be another Maggie Daniels," I thought. "My family will not find my body."
When I new that I was going to be raped, I remembered Daniels. I did not want my colleagues or family to find me in my apartment dead after I'd failed to touch base or come in to work. That was a very real possibility.. As that knife threatened me before and during my rape, I knew that my death was a very real possibility.
Today, the family of Amanda Strous is mourning their beloved daughter, fiance and friend. On a day that should have been full of laughter, happy tears, vows, music and dancing I imagine her family has a deep sadness as they remember her life and what SHOULD have been. The family of Maggie Daniels, too, has not received justice. They continue to wait for trial and today I think of them.
This morning I tossed and turned in the sheets as my alarm rang out to wake me for work. As the sun warmed the dew on the grass to create a thick, humid air - I breathed it in. On this Saturday morning, I prepared to head to a job I couldn't possibly love more than I do. I look forward to evenings spent with friends and events with colleagues this weekend.
But that pit in my stomach. That one that is there every time I cover a rape or an assault or a murder is still there. That tightness in my chest I feel when I recall the fear and sadness I felt when I believed I wouldn't live to hug my family, or high five my friends or tell another story as a journalist is still there. It's real, and it hurts.
That pit and that tightness remind me of one truth. I am alive. I don't have the answers as to why they died and I lived, or why we were victimized at all. The only answer I do have, is that there is a purpose behind what happened to me that I've yet to realize. It motivates me to see the positive and embrace the moments of joy and bliss that I experience simply because I have that opportunity.
And as I continue to work in news and cover tragedies and horrific crimes, I'm reminded time and time again to honor those whose lives have been cut short. Those whose shoes I was nearly in. Those who weren't as lucky as I to have survived.
I'm reminded of what could have been.