June 4, 2017 by Katia

Once when I was eight or nine years old a hand grenade was thrown on the bus that I was on with my grandma, bus number 63, taking us home. For some strange reason I am not scarred by this event, or at least not in ways that I know of. When I think about brushing shoulders with terror this example hardly ever comes to mind. Far more paralyzing are the memories of events that I wasn’t even directly involved in and far more grave is the psychological imprint they had left on me. More than I remember the incident itself (which did not cost any lives or left anyone injured, as far as I recall) I remember some details around it. Like my mom and grandma brushing minuscule shards of glass out of my hair days after the event while preparing me for school (normal life and its attributes always continue to exist alongside and sometimes intertwined with the unlikeliest of events). The incident happened in the evening hours when the bus pulled to a stop called Shook Ha’Sitonaim (the Wholesalers Market). The market was surrounded by a fairly low-built greyish wall with patterned dents and the whole surrounding area was saturated with the smell of overly ripe fruits and vegetables. It wasn’t an inviting aroma, but more of a compost smell, as I imagine it to be, heavy and oppressive. As it often happens with memories of events obscured by time, I am not sure if this is something I once knew or whether this is just me filling in the gaps in the story, but I somehow know that the perpetrator was working in the market and then spent some time hiding there until he was able to (unsuccessfully) execute his plan. When he pulled to the stop, the bus driver, for some reason, didn’t open the door, accidentally saving his passengers’ lives. When I probe deeper, my brain responds with “okay, there may have been some sort of a lightning-like occurrence near the bus’s door indicating an incident”. There was probably some sort of a controlled blast that would account for the subsequent glass in my hair, and the passengers may have been let out the front door, but none of these memories are readily available to me. I do remember the feelings involved. A much more tangible dread evoked by thoughts of what if and emotional impacts and consequences. Imagining later, based on her side of the story, what my mom who had stayed behind with her friend downtown must have experienced listening to the news and finding out that there was an explosion on the bus her mother and daughter were most likely on. News travelled fast in Tel-Aviv even in pre-internet and cellphone 1980s and by the time we got home and were able to call my mom, she already knew. Emotional scars were scarier, even when I was just nine, or eight. I was also extremely shy and the next day when they were talking about it on the school bus I wonder if I had actually said “I was there” or was it just the voice inside my head responding to their conversation.

I sometimes forget that this even happened at all. Much bigger explosions with louder booms and multiple fatalities shaped my youth in the 90s. I was out of school and performing mandatory military service in an office in Tel Aviv when “the big ones” started happening. I feared the aftermath of explosions, it was a fear for your life but just as much a fear of what happens to my family if I’m there, what happens If one of them is. A fear of deafening booms that sound like the loudest of thunders amplified, leaving no room for confusion as to what it is you’re hearing.

A few days ago the weather was nice and the boys were playing outside. Ben was experimenting with his new skateboard – his range of motion still limited – and Daniel was defying the speed of light on his glider. With both functioning on different ends of the speed scale my gaze kept scatteredly meandering, heart fist-clenched, that nervous foundation, the lens of anxiety through which I watch, ever present. An older gentleman was walking his dogs, they caught my children’s attention for a bit and just as quickly they released it. The older gentleman with an accent I immediately pegged as Dutch and blue eyes shining bright through a pair of glasses admired the boys’ capabilities, especially Daniel’s speed. Watching with boyish fascination and delight he excitedly exclaimed “We never did that!“. His sentences a little broken. “No?” I densely asked. “Well, we didn’t have this. We didn’t have anything. We were hiding from the booms“. “Where was that?” I asked on this sunny street where the air is heavy with the fragrance of lilac and spring. “Schiphol airport. Those booms, it’s something you don’t forget“. I nodded. “I know. I’m from Tel-Aviv, I heard them too“. His turn to nod. He said a few more things and I wondered if it was just his English that was a little broken.
Two days later I read about another terrorist attack in London and I think about my friends there and some people that are travelling and I think about my home country and me and all the ways that I’m broken and the world is broken and what started it and how it ends. I see the pictures of people hiding inside a restaurant and I’m so familiar with this reality and state of mind, the planning, the knowing what to do IF and I want to post something on my Facebook in support, but it seems very self-centered. *I* understand you, because I’ve been there, so I decide against it and just post “London ❤❤❤️”.
I come from a country that I’m pretty sure collectively suffers from PTSD. MY heart aches so much whenever I see new countries joining that circle. I don’t want anyone else to have to. The scars that terrorism imprints on your psyche through “what if” can be just as lasting as the physical ones.

6 thoughts on “Scarred

  1. Both hated and loved your story, Katia. Hated because there are nine (or maybe eight) year olds riding on busses that are bombed. Loved because your voice and telling ability are beautiful and your message is so important. I can’t believe the world sometimes. At all. And like you said, life goes on. Getting ready for school brushing glass out of your hair… getting on with the day of caring for kids after burying a loved one. All of it. ❤

  2. Thank you, wonderful friend! Yes, it was a non-event in the sense that there were no serious consequences to this, but it blows my mind (poor choice of words) when I think about it now, that this left such little impact,
    and that I hardly ever remember this, but then again maybe the impact is there.

  3. Liz says:

    Can’t even imagine this. Very touching writing.

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