What’s it like to be filled with terror?
Let me tell you…
Today I watched a great football game (Hawks won over the Vikings in a real beating), then I went to a meeting at a library. A normal Sunday.
I was glad to find a parking spot close to the building and managed to arrive a few minutes early. This was being a good day and the sun was kind of shining. I was standing inside the library, about to approach my favorite weather personality, who was walking in the front door on his way to set up the meeting I was about to attend, when I noticed a lot of flashing lights and started to peek outside to see what was going on.
The sounds of what were later described as serious heavy caliber gunfire sent me in the other direction a lot faster than I have recently expected my body to be able to maneuver. I’m sixty-six; I don’t move fast for much of anything unless it involves a serious senior discount and a popping cork.
Along with dozens of patrons of the library, I ran like hell.
People were shouting The bathrooms, The bathrooms.
I suddenly found myself surrounded by kids, mainly four boys ranging in age from about 15 down to 5. In our group, there was also a man, who I thought accompanied the boys but later realized was on his own; and a younger Asian lady and her elementary-age daughter. The oldest boy in our group was obvious autistic and I wondered where his chaperon/parent was, but it didn’t really matter. He was terrified and he wasn’t the only one.
The youngest two boys, Joshua and his five year old brother, were sort of aware that something was going on. The other boy was around 9 or 10 and he knew it was gunfire and wasn’t shy about saying so. Repeatedly.
Many years ago, when my two granddaughters were around two years old, I made up a story to keep them from freaking out whenever fire engines passed us, about kittens being rescued by firemen and how they had to get to this kitty quickly... so they put their sirens on and drive fast. Today I found myself relying on those kittens, and added dogs and other animals to the narrative. Anything to distract from the fuselage outside on the streets that stopped and then, mercilessly, moments later started again.
While I was using kitten stories and other nonsense to calm myself and hence, the children around me, I also found my mind wondering what would happen next. For what seemed like a long time, we sat in this modern day foxhole, which we found out was, appropriately, the office of the children’s librarian and we had no idea what was happening outside. Not a clue.
The mention of a Jewish Temple located across the street passed in one of my ears and didn’t stick at all, cruising out the other side. Though today was the first day of Hanukkah…that just didn’t make sense. No one is at war with Jews, at least not in Seattle or any other part of the US. Not today anyway. Is religion the first thing that comes to mind? Yes. How sad is that in this time of joy and peace and love and light? Terror is on everyone's mind.
In an instant at the beginning I hoped if this was some kind of attack I wanted to die quickly and not be horribly maimed. I wondered what it would be like to be hit by a bullet. If it would hurt and if I died, would see my mom and dad. The image of dully painted cinder blocks above my head will linger for some time. If the walls would cave in; if we would be blown up without noticing the destruction. If it would hurt. Please spare the children, I thought. And in the next fleeting fraction of a second... how would they recover from something like this anyway? Above all, I wondered how my grandchildren would deal with something happening to me?
Those of us gathered, squatting and huddled, had no idea what the gunfire was about but I know that I, among others, didn’t have any supposition either, how safe we were. The autistic boy stood with his hands clasped over his head, a stance that was unnerving and I yearned to engage him in the coloring we were doing on the floor. I tried to color with the kids but gave that up. There was no way my shaky hand would stay inside the lines.
When it was all over and we found out it was ONE guy and a LOT of cops, I felt foolish, in a way. And I had a meeting to go to. I also knew what I had felt was terror. I'd not known what was going on (twenty minutes sequestered and uninformed is a long time) other than a couple people coming into the doorway to tell us we had to stay where we were. Gunfire. Is. Terrifying. You are helpless. (And, no, it wouldn't have helped to have my own gun. Who the hell was I going to shoot at?)
I suspect I have a little bit of PTSD. What the hell do people do when they REALLY get shot? Or their friend/co-worker next to them gets shot? Or everyone around them gets shot? Or they hide in a cupboard or a closet or a bathroom until someone comes and pulls them back to reality. Not back to safety, because that’s gone. Safety is gone when you go through terror, regardless of the level, the magnitude. This shit is real, people.
For now my safety is gone.
Thanks for reading.