I wasn’t even a week into freshman year when I heard the saying “You’ll never know if those are gunshots or fireworks.” Savannah College of Art and Design boasted an extravagant campus in a charming city. Robberies weren’t mentioned in our orientation packet, and neither were the four years of sirens we’d hear on a constant repeat. It was a pretty big culture shock for the girl who grew up in Maine, leaving her car running in a gas station parking lot.

Over the next four years, it became something of a tradition. Our dorms were situated close to a dangerous part of the city, and with a barbed wire fence surrounding us, it was hard not to joke at popping noises, asking “Gunshots or fireworks?” I felt relatively safe in the city, but I had also learned that I was no longer in my small hometown where nothing bad ever happened.

Toward the end of my senior year, I was driving to pick up my graduation announcements from the printing company downtown. Flying down MLK Boulevard, as I had for four years, I noticed a rock in the middle of the road. Even though it was late at night, there was still plenty of traffic, and if I tried to avoid the rock, I’d cause an accident. I hit the rock. Hard. My dashboard lit up with the “low tire pressure” light, and I got an urgent alert to fill my tire with air.

After pulling off into an empty parking lot, I began to panic. My phone battery had 10 percent charge and I did not have a car charger. It was dark, I was alone and I was in the most dangerous part of the city. My best friend was at her fashion critique and my roommate was at work.

I called my dad, completely freaking out. There wasn’t much he could do from Maine, except tell me to call AAA. The dispatcher told me it could be up to an hour. I called my good friend Lindsay, who told me she was just finishing something up and would come wait with me. As I waited for her to arrive, the popping sounds started. One, two, and then a few more. Followed by screams. I was terrified. I thought of “gunshots or fireworks,” and I was convinced it was gunshots. I was running through every horrible scenario I could think of.

Then I saw it. Not a gun or someone running from the scene of a crime, but bright colors high in the sky through my moonroof. I began to laugh. Fireworks. All this time I’d spent on edge, and the people across the street were celebrating.

I watched the fireworks from my car and took a moment to slow my heart rate and just breathe. Later that night, over wine and macaroons, Lindsay and I determined that Savannah isn’t so bad, and we have to try our best not to assume the worst. It’s not always gunshots – in fact, it usually is fireworks.

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