The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.
In this story, as told by Journey Jamison, we are taken into a scene that few of have ever experienced, especially at the age of 15. But in a broader sense, I’ve heard many personal stories about how people reacted during an emergency, and you may have such a story to tell. The details that Journey provides bring audience members into her experience as the scene plays out.
But there’s also a larger story at play here, as Journey realizes how her training prepared her for that situation, and in turn, she was able to provide that same training to the victim’s family, thus bringing that wisdom full circle. Think about how story worthy experiences from your life contain such a circular narrative.
When I was nine years old, my best friend died. We’d spent the entire day together at an amusement park and she’d been struggling to breathe. So when we got home her dad tried to get her as much help as she could, but it just wasn’t enough, and at three o’clock that morning, she died of an asthma attack.
It was always really hard for me to deal with because I’d helped her with her asthma before, and I just felt like I could have done something. So five years later, when my mother and I found ourselves at a grassroot gunshot wound first aid training, I was immediately intrigued. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Gunshot wound first aid, what?”
But I’m from Chicago, and the lack of resources in our communities makes that training so much more important. We don’t have any trauma centers on the South Side of Chicago where I’m from. So I knew the importance of this training and I paid attention. I sunk my teeth in, I got trained two months later, and I’ve been doing workshops all over the city. Yeah, I know how to apply an occlusive dressing with a credit card, but I was still just a regular teenager.
And so, the following summer, I was coming home from my very first day. I come home, I turn on the TV, I crank up the AC, just like any other day, and then I hear it. Back to back gunshots that sounded like they were right next to me, just back to back, to back. And I just thought to myself, “Is this real? Is this serious?”
You hear all the time about gun violence in Chicago, but I’d never come face to face with it like that before. So I jump in gear. I know that I have this training that I can help people, but I know that the first step to being a first aid responder is knowing that the scene is safe and prioritizing my own safety.
So I glanced out the window, and I’m staring almost like I can see through the window, and I’m like, “What is going on?” I’m seeing people who are kind of running away from a gas station and towards my apartment complex. And I knew I had the tools to help. And I never imagined going outside and putting myself in danger to help anybody.
But it turns out that I didn’t have to, because seconds later, my back door flies open, and a young man, 19 years old, comes in holding his neck. It’s bleeding. And he’s just saying over and over again, “I’ve been shot, can you help me, can you help me?” And without hesitation I just said, “Yes.”
And from that moment, it was autopilot. I lay him down on the floor. I’m asking him questions about who he is. I asked him first, “Can I call 911 for you?” ‘Cause we emphasize that a lot in our first aid trainings. That you had to ask for consent for people because they’re their own person, bodily autonomy.
So I asked him, he says, “Yes.” I get on the phone with the operator. They’re giving me a bit of a hard time, but I put my feelings aside and prioritize the safety of the wounded. They say they’re sending a person on the way. I say thank you. I go back to Peta. I’m asking him more questions about who he is, I want him to feel safe.
He tells me where he’s from – the same apartment complex that I’m from – Oakwood Shores. He tells me he wants to go to college, that he’s 19, that he’s confused. And then I kind of realize I’m taking this all in. I’m 15 years old. I’m home alone with a man who’s been shot in the neck, and I’m giving him first aid. I should probably call my mom.
So I take out my phone, and I guess you can call it a mother’s intuition, because as soon as I am about the press call, my phone rings. It’s my mom.
She’s like, “Hi Journey.”
I’m like, “Hi mom.”
She’s like, “What’s up?”
I’m like, “Mom, you are not going to believe this. There’s a man, he’s in my house, fire, gunshot wound. He’s on the floor, I’m giving him first aid.”
She’s like, “Are you serious?”
I’m like, “No mom, why would I lie about this?”
She’s like, “Okay, okay, okay.”
And I can hear the car unlocking, and the car starting up, and I’m like, “Okay, she’s on her way, good.”
So for a second there, it’s just me and Peta, and I’m trying to examine exactly what is happening. He has two wounds. An entrance wound and an exit wound. The bullet went through his neck and up through his jaw. So I’m trying to apply pressure on both sides to get his blood to clot so the bleeding can slow down.
A few seconds later, my mom comes. And you would think that she might be like, kind of hysterical, kind of crazy, but she’s not, because she’d been through the training too. And for a few moments, it’s calm. Peta is calming down, his blood is starting to clot, the bleeding is not so drastic, and it’s calm. And then somehow, some way, people start to flood into my house. Bystanders, I guess, who had seen what was going on.
And my mom, she does a great job at keeping Peta’s privacy. Keeping questions away from him so that he’s not getting more stressed out – shout out to my mom, she’s in the audience – and so we’re just kind of juggling this thing, me and my mom, we’re doing this together, I’m taking care of Peta’s body, she’s taking care of Peta’s surroundings, and then the police come.
And I feel like it’s not a secret that black and brown people are not trusting of law enforcement, quite frankly, it just makes us anxious. And my mom, she didn’t want that kind of energy in our house, she was trying to persuade them like, “There’s no crime scene here. Can you wait outside? It’s very crammed in our apartment.”
But eventually she gave up her battle when they threatened to arrest her. And so eight police officers crowd into our tiny apartment, just watching me apply pressure to this young man. And after the police come which, after the police come, after my mom gets there, the fire department finally gets there. Not the ambulance, but the fire department. So that just gives you a glimpse of what healthcare is like in Chicago. The ambulances don’t really come to our communities that fast.
So the fireman gets there and he’s coming in to check Peta’s vitals and I have my hands over his neck, and he says, “You need to take your hand away.” And I was so overwhelmed and I just had all these feelings of doubt and I just reluctantly pulled my hand away, and just as I thought would, he starts bleeding again.
And I’m just looking at the guy like And then another fire man comes in and he says, “Actually she needs to put her hand back there, you’re doing a good job. And I looked at him and I said, “Okay, I knew it.”
So I am continuing to apply pressure and keep my hand on his wound while they’re taking his vitals and preparing him to get in the ambulance. So then, a few, maybe five or six minutes later, the ambulance does come. They take him on a gurney. They take him away. And luckily my mom was able to get some information from his mentor who was there, so we could follow up with him later.
So my mom, she rushes all these people out of our house, and I go outside, and it’s so chaotic. The ambulance is there, the police is there, my neighborhood is there, the news station is there, and they’re kind of looking to me like this “Shero,” and I’m kind of very overwhelmed, and so instead of fielding questions, I took my story with me, and my experience with me, and I come back inside. I closed the door, I wash my hands, I grab my cell phone and my keys, and me and my mom get in the car. I zone out and I’m just replaying in my mind what just happened.
Then I snap out of my trance, and the car stops, and we’re at the beach. And I’m just like, “Oh my God, what is going on?” And she looks at me and she’s like, “Come on,” and I’m like, “Okay,” and we proceed to join a group of women on the sand doing yoga. And my mom just looks at me in her tree position, and she goes, “Self care.” And I was like, “Okay,” and I was just so grateful, that I had a mom who emphasized that a lot when I was growing up, and that I had the opportunity to really process what just happened in my life.
So, that happened, and then I resumed my life as a normal teenager. I go to camp. Conflict resolution camp, by the way. But I go to camp. I go to camp in Maine. And then I come back, and I’m in the car with my mom and she’s like, “Hey, I got in touch with Peta’s family, and, you know, he thinks you saved his life.”
And I never thought about it like that. For me, I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right information, and I did the right thing. But to him, I saved his life. So that’s what it was.
So few days later, I see him. I visited him and I said, “Hey, look I know it was really cool that I was able to help you, but I was trained to do that, and I was equipped with the right tools, so how cool would it be if you were equipped with the same tools, and you can help your mom, or your brother.
And he’s like, “That sounds pretty interesting.”
And I’m like, “So do you want me to like, I can set up a training. I can set up a workshop. I’ll come to you.”
He’s like, “Aight, bet.”
So about two or three months later, we were able to train his whole entire family of about like 25 people ranging from three years old to 60 years old. And we trained his whole family in his apartment, and it was the most empowering thing for me.
And maybe some of you are saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, this young girl had to go through that.” But it’s not something I feel embarrassed about or sad about. It was the most changing thing that I’ve ever been through. And it’s shown me the circle of change. You know, you go to school, and you learn about stories, and you learn about how there’s a plot, and that plot is like a hill, it starts the beginning, and then the rising action, and the climax, the falling action, and then the resolution.
But change, instead of it being a hill, it’s like a circle. And me training his family was this entire experience coming full circle, because I started at a training just like that one. And so maybe he could do something like I did, or I could do more things, but it was so empowering for me as a 15 year old girl to have that kind of experience.
So it changed my life for the better, and it showed me that I can change the world if I wanted to. And I guess it just kind of made me feel like I didn’t have to be afraid anymore of where I’m from and my community. I didn’t have to fear walking outside because I was empowered with the tools that I had. Sorry guys. And I thought about it, and I hear all the time, “Children are the future.”
And I’ll tell you guys, I’m a child, I’m a teenager, and it’s super intimidating. You know it’s like 400 years of slavery, an eternity of sexism, it’s intense, and you guys are like, and you guys are like, “It’s you, it’s you,” and I’m like, “Oh my God,” but this experience showed me that I don’t have to be the future, because I can be right now.
[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]
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