Today my blog is dedicated to my survivor family of 22,000 #lovewins #countrystrong
This post interrupts my story but is an important part of this journey we call “Life”
I have learned how to start my life over after pain and hurt from past relationships. All of that has come at the hands of a man. Do I hate men? No. Those relationships have launched me on a new and better trajectory and even though I did not see it at that time, I knew that I had the energy and strength to grow and be better internally. I do think I am a complex person at times and I am sure my constant thoughts can interfere but it is who I am. If you pay attention to zodiac signs I am best defined by the one I was born under. I am a Pisces and we can feel the vibrations around us and even understand the person in front of us without their knowledge. We are deep thinkers. We think with both sides of our brain and can crossover easily from the intellectual side to the creative. It is here that I find my space, my outlet to share. My mother always told me to write and read and I did.
I was baptized into country music in June of 2011. I had listened to it here and there but that first concert I attended was all I needed to know that this was a good place for my soul. That evening with Amy was fun and magical. The hook for me was Blake Shelton. He opened for Brad Paisley that night. His energy on stage vapor locked me immediately. He was also about to turn the page on his career the following year. I started going to country concerts at Blossom Music Center and each one proved every time that all these people were good people. These are my people. Yes I enjoy many genres of music, but this was where I was my happiest.
Fast forward to 2014. Another friend of mine, Angel, posted on facebook that Las Vegas would be hosting its first ever Route 91 concert. I immediately replied that I would go! Plans were made, tickets were purchased, hotel booked and airline ticket in hand I boarded that plane to travel to a place I enjoyed visiting often. The line up for that 3 day concert was amazing and the headliners to close each night would be Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean. I still remember each day we spent out there. I still remember being at the venue at night and watching the sun set over the desert and then watching the stage come to life. The night sky in the desert is simply magical. The warm air gently blowing over you as you settle in for the show was relaxing. The venue that year was much different as it evolved over the next three years. There weren’t chair corrals or silent line dancing but they were handing out shots of Crown to “taste” at one of the booths. We took more tastes than were allowed. Haha. They didn’t even really have food vendors. We ate Chinese food every night we were there because options were limited . We met people. Took pictures with them every single night. We talked about the performances. Even the Nashville stage was easy to navigate because this event was new and attendance was nothing like what it would evolve to over the next few years. It was some of the best three days I have ever spent in Vegas. Our little crew ran tight that weekend. Angel, Cyndi and I laughed about all the “goals” we set that weekend. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Ironically, Jason Aldean was closing the show on Sunday night and I stupidly had booked myself on a red eye back to Ohio. This required me to leave the girls early to get to the airport. While there waiting to board a delayed flight they called me so I could hear him play. Still connected to them and wishing I was there.
The irony in all of this….
Would we miss another Route 91? No.
Fast forward to early last year. The announcement was made that year four was happening! You better believe I’m going! Guess who is closing the show on Sunday?! Yes! Jason Aldean! Finally! I get to have that show with him. All the concerts I attended in those four years and not once could I see him. Once again, plans were made, tickets purchased, hotel booked and wheels up! My beautiful Nevada sky is calling! The only difference for this weekend is we have a fourth person joining us. Danyell was about to join the shenanigans. I also learned to plan for an extra day out there so I would not miss anything. My oldest daughter was going to come in from Los Angeles that weekend to meet up and to this day I am thankful that her work needed her someone else.
I landed in Vegas and got us checked in to our room at the Luxor and I waited for my posse to arrive. We gathered. We formed a game plan and then it was on! Our first night there we made sure to get it started right. We ended up at the Redneck Riviera and next thing I know I am chasing shots with pickle juice. Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t whoop it up in Vegas? The next day was the first day of Route 91 and we all agreed on which artists we wanted to be there to see. Keep in mind, there is an all day long event for three solid days and many artists we wanted to see were playing early so it makes for a long day.
Friday night was AMAZING! We went to Church on Friday night. That’s Eric Church to you. I had just seen him in February back in Cleveland and he played continuously for four hours that night. I knew we were in for a show because he was the headliner. Here’s the amazing part and pay attention here because our location becomes critical to this story. My friend Angel needed to attend in a wheelchair due to a new life long battle. No problem. We did this the year before too and they had established an ADA platform near the stage, to the left so those that needed help to attend had the opportunity to enjoy the show too. We were allowed to escort her on to the platform and for some odd reason that night a lot of the crowd left when Eric took the stage. I thought. “Wow, you are going to miss something special.” None the less, they allowed all of us on the platform to sit with her and as we waited for the show to start we noticed a man approaching us. He was wearing some logo wear and had an earpiece and I thought we were in trouble for something. He walked right up to Angel, bent down and handed her one of Eric Church’s guitar picks…signed!!!! What?!!!!! We were all in shock. We asked why and he replied “Eric wanted you to have this because he can’t throw the pick that far.” Yeah..take a moment. Speechless. He proceeded to hand out a few others to some of the people around us and just like that, the show started. As Eric got started, we told Angel we needed to get to the stage. She could not join us but it was okay. We dove into the crowd. Pushed our way up to the stage as close as we could get. We were right there. We took off our boots for “These boots” hoping he would grab one of ours and sign it. I have the pictures of how close we got that night. Tragically, this would be the location of where some would lose their lives two nights later. It is one of the thoughts that haunt me a year later. In fact, we all lost our lives on that asphalt in many different ways.
Saturday was not disappointing. More shenanigans. More music. More new friends and some of the original people we met during year one. Country music brings us all together. No judgement. No arguing. We moved around a lot that day. We settled in again for that night sky and warm breeze and an evening with Sam Hunt. I won’t lie. I was excited to get to Sunday because I had a date with Jason Aldean.
Finally it’s Sunday! My phone is full of pictures from that weekend and I look at one in particular because it was the defining moment in my life when I made the decision to not go to the stage right before Jason started. Jake Owen had just finished his set so we all took that time in between the stage set up to run to the vendors, use the bathrooms, etc. We were standing in line waiting for beer and food when two men behind us started a conversation with us. Their names were Brian and Adrian. They were from Alaska. We talked and talked and of course took pictures. Adrian bought us our last drinks for the night. I remember asking him what he did for a living in Alaska. He also told us about his hobby for cars. I asked him why and this is what I will never, ever forget about him. He put up his hand and made the money signal. I laughed out loud! His smile was sweet. His disposition was even sweeter. The show was getting ready to start and he asked us one more time to join them up near the stage. We explained that we were going to go back to the ADA platform to watch with Angel. That was it. The moment your location identifies your fate in the worst and darkest moment of your life. Adrian would be one of the first to die that night under the spray of bullets and that picture that sits in my phone would make the news. You never want to be part of history like that. It is crazy how such a brief moment in time and meeting a person can impact your life. I see Brian on facebook and I have heard the story of Adrian’s final moments and it’s horrifying. My friend Cyndi, did head into that area and I know what she saw as well.
Jason took the stage and the platform was packed that night so we stood behind the platform to give space to those that needed it. Angels wheelchair was against the railing so we could enjoy the show together. The energy was high and we were ready. He started his set. I snapped a few pictures of us during the first song. We would never be the same people in a few short minutes because at 10:05pm, one crazy man threw the bolts on his door in his hotel room in Mandalay Bay and made the conscious decision to attempt to kill 22,000 of us. I read the full report by the LVMPD. The first shots were at 10:07pm on Oct 1, 2017. Those first shots were aimed at the fuel tanks behind the venue. I saw the bullet marks on the tanks in the report. The trajectory was not going to work for a mass explosion so the next best thing was to open fire on all of us. When those first few shots were fired, Jason was singing and I said “Who is the asshole that brought fireworks in?” Then there was that pause and I thought “Maybe the speakers are blowing”. Then that question was answered and all hell broke loose. It did not register until I physically saw Jason and his band drop everything and haul ass off the stage. I think everyone realized it at that moment.
OH MY GOD….we are being shot at!!!!!!
People were running and screaming and I saw chairs flying off the platform as those with scooters or wheelchairs or crutches are trying to get out of the line of fire. Where the fuck is this shooter? Who is shooting? Holy shit! Angel was blocked in from all the chairs on the platform and she needed to get out of there. I’m not sure where the strength came from but Danyell and I reached through those railings, tipped her out of that chair and grabbed and pulled her to get the ground behind the platform. Bullets ricocheted off that metal and we were plastered to the ground not sure how to get out. I remember Angel yelling to me “I love you!” I yelled back because in that moment of not knowing, you better say it out loud because there may not be another chance. While we were on the ground, a young lady came across that platform and landed next to us. She had been shot in the arm. Those bullet wounds are horrifying. She needed a tourniquet. Danyell took off her tank so she could wrap it. I remember Angel on this girls phone telling her mom she will be okay! Honestly, we didn’t know that but this girl needed to hear her mom’s voice. We never found this girl. We don’t know how she is doing. These are the pieces we don’t have closure to. I remember a man laying on the ground by us and Danyell saying “I think he’s dead”. Our situation was not looking good so I took a moment in between rounds of gunfire, lifted my head up to peek over the platform because I was sure there was a full on ground assault and death would find us soon. I quickly scanned the grounds and saw the apocalypse in front of me. It was at that moment that I prayed for my salvation. I had an open conversation with God. I said “If this is where you want to bring me home, I am ready for your salvation. I do not know what is happening and I don’t know how to get out of here so put your arms around me and take care of my children.” Then I put my head back on the ground and waited for it. I turned it all over to God and then the angels arrived. All I saw were feet by my head and I thought “This is it. I’m going to be shot now.” A man bent down and yelled “Does anyone need help here?!” We screamed YES, this girl has been shot and I believe that is how she got out. Then he yelled at me to get up and RUN! I was yelling back “My girlfriend cannot run! Her chair is on the platform. I cannot leave her!” Again, he YELLED, GET UP….RUN! I will get them out. It was at that point something lifted me off the ground and I would like to think it was my parents because I ran through an opening that had been made behind the VIP suites. We were still being shot at and I was paralyzed with fear as I stood their without my girlfriends and I screamed “MAKE IT STOP” I saw people throwing injured into cars, trucks, wounded everywhere, blood everywhere. I was on Giles Street at this point and the police were yelling to run. You don’t know what you are doing at that point. You cannot think. They were pointing at me to run and follow the others. I ran in my cowboy boots like they were million dollar sneakers. You know what? I never need to run again in my life. I ran in to the back door of the Tropicana. I saw a woman shot in both legs. It was very bad. There was another woman with her fingers trying to plug up the bleeding. I asked how I could help. She told me there were men coming to get her out.
I was inside but without any knowledge of my safety and it was pandemonium in there. I looked at my phone and I had a little battery left. I immediately sent a text to all three of my children. Two of them were back in Ohio and it was the middle of the night there but my daughter in Los Angeles saw it immediately.
“Gunman opened fire on us. Multiple injuries. People died. Gunman is still loose but we are now in the Tropicana.”
I needed to know what was happening because it was surreal. So I called the one person I knew would answer. I called Lawrence. I am not sure what he heard on my end because I know I had a meltdown but he was my lifeline at that moment and that was the most important call I’ve ever made. At one point there was a stampede while I was talking to him and I hung up. I called a few times for updates and for that, I thank you for answering. Then right before my phone died, I found my girlfriends and we began the next 5 1/2 hours in lock down inside the Tropicana.
How does life move forward after this?
I did not have the luxury of staying home to recover and I think that is what saved me. There are 22,000 of us that carry this memory with us daily. We all process it differently but I was not going to let one lunatic ruin my life. I hope that man is in the 7 Levels of Hell just like in Dante’s Inferno. I just needed to figure out how to deal with my PTSD. Noise is my trigger. I find that I can deal with the crowds but it is loud noise. Do not creep up on me and say “Boo” because I may punch you. It’s not funny. I twitched for about three months and sleep does not come easy because I listen for noises. For a long time, I found I would get in my car and drive and end up somewhere not even close to where I needed to be. Focus was difficult but I am lucky to have so many people that reached out. Most importantly, I have fellow survivors to lean on. Not every day is bad. In fact, most days are good now, but good grief, we can all spiral quickly and it is those moments when you say “I need you guys.” and they are there.
If you look at my year in pictures you can see how I took my life back because I made sure I did not wallow. I have to live my best life! My children surrounded me and know I am going to have this with me forever. The best part was when I told them I wanted this beautiful Survivor tattoo, they paid for it. Literally, in minutes they sent me money for it. I live for them and they root me on.
It is amazing what you can accomplish in a year of your life if something forces you to reset your calendar. Sometimes you struggle to push through and it is okay to acknowledge how it may be difficult. Do not let that stop you. Own it. Take charge of your life. Don’t be a victim. Be a survivor. Travel. Stay home and snuggle. Go out and have fun. Find the balance.
As I started this post I explained that my biggest hurt has come at that hands of men.
I want you to know that the most love I have ever felt has come from something bigger. For me it was my faith in God. His plan is perfect. He brought me through. I get to celebrate my new life knowing that.
To my survivor family and especially Angel, Cyndi and Danyell…we made it through our darkest hour. I pray for all of us. The 58.
And I really need to finish that Jason Aldean concert.
#lovewins #countrystrong #route91
“Gunman opened fire on us! ” A different blog post on this day, my 1st birthday..