This is a work in progress, and it's been a challenging story to write. I welcome feedback and reaction.
Thirteen seconds. That's how long it took for National Guardsmen to kill four students and wound nine at Kent State University. In the midst of the panic, with students running in all directions, screams and cries bouncing off the building walls in an echoing roar, Stella Kellar stood as if paralyzed. She had heard the crackling of shots, ringing from what seemed like all directions. Bodies, the bodies of the dead and wounded, lay around her like so much trash on the lawn.
Living bodies jostled her as she turned around and around, seeing yet not seeing. Where was Bruce? They'd been separated in the crowd. For all she knew, he lay bleeding somewhere. She didn’t want to leave him if he was nearby, hurt, dying, maybe already dead. He certainly wouldn’t leave her there alone, would he?
"Move it!" Someone cried, shoving her, but she didn't know what to do or where to go. They hadn't planned for this. Someone started to push her along. Dazed, she let herself be carried among the crowd of students, her limbs heavy and unable to move on their own.
At some point her body started working on its own volition again, and she started to run, pushing through the crowd, looking for him Bruce everywhere. "Get out of here!" someone yelled at her. "You want them to kill you, too?" In the tumult, she knew she had to leave, no matter how much she wanted to stay and find him. She would go to her dorm, and he would come to her. If they'd ever talked about what to do, if they’d ever expected to be shot at, she was sure that's what they would have decided. It made sense. God knows, nothing else did.
She returned to the quiet or of her dorm and crawled into the bed, shivering with fear, her breath coming in gasps, and a pillow pulled over her head. Even in the quiet of her room, her ears roared with the sounds of the protests gone horribly wrong. When could she go outside again? Would she ever feel safe at all? What would Bruce want her to do?
Time passed, thick and slow. She thought of the Dali painting, "The Persistence of Memory," with its dripping, melting clocks, and she waited for Bruce, sitting up all night, unable to sleep. She heard other students crying but did not offer to give comfort. It never occurred to her to go into the hallway and seek solace for herself, either. The messages of childhood were too steeped in her veins: Don't ask for help. Bear your burdens in silence, with dignity. Stand on your own two feet, because to do anything else shows weakness. Kellars weren't allowed to be weak. So instead of embracing her fellow students, all of them confused and frightened, she stayed in her room, on her bed, alone.
When she met Bruce the year before, his passion for politics had swept her along much as the Kent State crowd had. He stood for something and believed in it with his whole being. She wished she could feel that kind of passion. All her young life she had drifted. The only real decision she had ever made in her life was to leave Illinois to go to college, and everything else seemed to happen by default, Bruce included.
She didn’t understand what he saw in her. She had served coffee to him and his friends one day, hovering in the background as she heard their heated discussions. Stella was already tired that day, having gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to study before her shift, and she had an evening class ahead of her. In her senior year, she had struggled to make ends meet but had managed with work and small loans. It was the fall of her senior year, and she was tired and ready to graduate. The enthusiasm that had kept her going through the first three years had drained from her, and these days her feet and back complained when she worked, while her brain complained equally when she sat down to study. Soon it would be over. She would walk across the stage, collect her diploma, and then move on to…she didn't know exactly, but she'd figure that out later.