A crowd is like a monster, a being with its own pulse, its own limbs, limbs that are crushing me, pressing me into the ground.
And all I can think is: Get me out of here.
Teenagers aren't supposed to die.
It's 2002. The Vans Warped Tour at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. Yellowcard is onstage. Sweaty teens press against each other, water bottles in hand. The music is loud and the sun is bright. People shake their heads as the band plays.
Who knows where it starts. Someone pushes someone else, and pockets of the crowd begin to sway.
You push me, the monster says, and I'll push back.
I'm knocked to the ground. My friend falls on top, then a half a dozen more.
My chest can't rise. I can't breathe.
I need to live. Get up. Get up. Gotta live.
But that's what everyone is thinking. People push down on me so they can stand. The crowd presses closer.
Get up. Get up. Gotta live.
I'm up. But the crowd is still pushing. I start to fall again.
Panic feels like a stab to the gut. Like my brain doesn't work. Like nothing else matters except for me.
Maybe that's why the monster doesn't care, why no hands reach down for me. The singular mind of each limb: I've gotta live. I. Me.
But the crowd doesn't think logically. It doesn't think at all. That's the thing about groups. A person is nice. People are dangerous. A crowd is a cold, unfeeling organism, more powerful than any of its parts.
No one wanted to hurt me, but they are. They're crushing me.
Then I see it: a woman riding the crowd like a beachgoer floating across choppy waves. That's my escape, I think. Crowd-surfing.
A dozen people are riding on outstretched arms to the front, where massive security guards stand at a fence surrounding the stage. The guards take the crowd-surfers and set them on the ground, away from the pushing and shoving.
I've lost my camera. My friend leaves shoes behind. But we climb on top of the crowd.
And then the beast, the monster that threatened to swallow me whole, carries me to safety, one hand after the other.
My heart pounds as I feel the strong hands of the guard who gruffly tells me to walk around the side. I'm in a secure area, he says.
I know. And security never felt better.
Jessica Vander Velde covers cops in Tampa and can be seen at local concerts, always standing near the edges. She can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.