Thursday, March 06, 2008

In The Library



I walk into the library, excitedly dressed in my Princess Leia costume, having donnned a wig with her famous buns, and cleverly done my makeup to mimic the smoky eyes and deliberately red lipstick. My friends accompany me; some of them hold cans of Silly String; one of them is dressed as a clown, the other as an evil sorceress, glitter sprayed upon her dark tresses, while the third is a tzniut Marilyn Monroe, her blonde wig shimmering in the lamplight. We are giggling and making far too much noise. "Shhh," others in the library whisper irritatedly, and we roll our eyes as we continue making our way through the convoluted aisles, darting between them for hurried snickers and attempts at conversation before dividing up into separate desks in order to attempt to study.

Suddenly the room explodes as a group of students come inside and begin dancing madly, singing "Mishenichnas Adar" at the top of their lungs, grinning hugely as they dart about the library, releasing everyone from their pre-Midterm bondage. Irritated students shrug their shoulders and sigh; what is this, another TAC event? Couldn't they do it somewhere else; why not host their Chagiga at the proper time? Reluctantly raised to their feet by Adar devotees, they join the circle, shuffling about slowly before returning to their schoolbooks. The girls leave as suddenly as they had come, and the library is quiet once again.

I am sitting at my desk upstairs, poring over my Russian homework, avoiding making eye contact with anyone as I attempted to be studious. That is when I hear a scream, and suddenly I feel more than see that the room below me had erupted into chaos. I get down on my knees, frozen, unable to do anything but watch from between the bars. I see bodies moving but I don't know whose they are; everything seems to have slowed so that it happens before my eyes, and yet in no time at all. Screams come to me from a distance. Somewhere in my mind I know that I should run, or hide, or do something, anything, but I can't think. I've frozen. The sharp iron tang of blood suddenly hits me and I see that the floor is stained but I can't speak. A friend of mine is moving; I see she has something in her hand, as though she plans to risk her life to stop whomever it is that has created this madness. I half reach out to stop her, but don't dare to move. She crawls to the floor; I see her aim; there is a look on her face that is simply that of concentration, nothing more. The man staggers. People are still running everywhere; I am watching blindly, the images and the bodies don't make sense to me. I am shaking. Someone comes into the room, a member of administration, of Security; I don't know who.

Suddenly other people are there, people in uniform, people running with stretchers, barking orders as they go. There are people on the floor moaning, groaning, even shrieking in pain. For a moment I focus in very clearly on a stain on the floor, and it is only from a detached, almost curious perspective that I realize it is blood. How will they get it out, I wonder, almost as though nothing I am seeing is real, as though it all just has to be cleaned up and fixed. I catch sight of my friend, the one who was dressed as Marilyn Monroe. She lies at an unnatural angle and there is blood on her hair. I want to run to her and kneel down beside her, but I am afraid. But I force myself to move, only I get in the way because there are nurses and doctors and men in coats who are here and I can walk and nothing has hurt me. So I move to a corner, where I am unnoticed. And I just watch, because there is nothing else I can do.

And I see the Silly String that covers the room, and remember the dancing girls who were here just before. And I am numb, because I can't believe what I have seen, what I am seeing. It isn't real. I finger a piece of green string in my fingers; I raise my hands to my hair and touch the wig I am wearing, the buns, bring my hand down across one of the earrings that is long enough to brush lightly against my shoulder. I am shaking; I cannot be calm. I look at my dress. It is white, still white. There is no blood on it. I am not stained in any way. Nothing has touched me. Nobody would even know that I had been here. But I am here, standing in my school library, the desks with the four computers just there, behind me, people in front of me, crowded onlookers gathering outside the glass door and being turned away by members of Security, who bark at them for wanting to see into the room. And I am both repulsed and understand. Because they want to be part of this, and some of them truly care about their friends, and are wondering what is going on. But others are just greedy for tragedy, for the horror of it. And I remember when I used to feed off of that, too.

I wander about aimlessly, trying to keep out of the way of everyone else. I concentrate suddenly upon my friend, the one who is dressed as a sorceress. There is blood on her cheek. "Alisa," I say, and the word comes out with some kind of nameless pain and in wonder I touch my hand to my cheek and realize that I am crying. And that they are real tears, not forced tears, not those of the intellect but those of emotion. And I see that she is shaking and I come to her and hug her, because I can't bear to look around me and we both feel so inadequate because there is nothing we can do; we only hear the sobs of people in pain as they are wheeled out of the room, and we feel so out of place, like we are intruding, because thank God we are okay, but most people are not.

It is only later that the anger comes. The anger at God, and at the people whose doing this is, who brought this upon us. This is after I have seen the news reporters, greedily trying to feed off of the tragedy, descending like vultures, and I faced a nameless disgust. A wordless, contemptuous feeling that enveloped me, because I could not believe that people could feed off of this, could ignore the pain and sorrow in efforts to get quotes from victims, to try to make this as vivid and appalling as possible to everyone else. There is no quiet, because everything has been invaded and taken and stolen. This is after I have heard that a particular group has claimed responsibility for it, has taken it upon themselves and praise themselves for bringing this about, that my friend is hurt in a hospital, that my friend is dead and these people are glad, and bear responsibility. And there is so much hatred in my heart, and at the same time, the only thing I can imagine is the empty library, after we have all left, and the silly string across the floor. They rope off the area and the police come and want to ask us questions but I don't even want to talk. Because all I can keep picturing is the library, in the dark, with a gragger on a table and a mask on the floor, and this image, more than any other, stays with me and makes me feel sick. And I don't know what to do. Because there is nothing to do. All I can do is pray.

And so I cry out to God and am angry with Him, for allowing this to happen, but I am angrier still at the man who came here and caused all this. And everything he represents. And the people who back him. And I feel sick, and exhausted, and I'm on the phone with my parents, who are crying because I'm okay and I'm alive and not even wounded. "Chana..." my mother says, and she uses a different tone of voice than she has ever used before. And when my father first speaks to me there is this relief in his voice, the most profound relief he has ever known. And I can't. I just can't. Deal with the fact that this is what he is feeling, that this is what he had to feel, that this is what this man who walked into the library made him feel. And I am angry, and have nothing to do with my anger. So I pray.

But it's not over.


Today eight were killed, and as of now, fourteen wounded in an attack on Mercaz HaRav. And I don't know the people there, though I know what they represent and I know what that Yeshiva represents. But this is the first image that came into my mind- of how I would feel, if it were me, of what it could be. And so I mean this with no disrespect; I mean this as a way of showing a little that it could be me, too; that this is of us, our nation, our people, no matter where we are. That we are all mourning today. And that we are all hurting today. Because I must feel this as though it were me, because it is me, a part of me, a part of my people and therefore of me. And though what I have described here is nothing compared to what truly happened, it is the part of it that I am able to comprehend.


a fellow Jew said...

May they rest in peace and may God keep the Jews in Israel safe!

a caring jew said...

Does Stern/YU employ security guards for their many dorms,buildings? Your post got me thinking....

Anonymous said...

Your beautiful post made me shiver. You managed to give a voice to my feelings. I think this is what Chezki Goldberg a"h meaned with his article (

I found your blog through Emes veEmunah. Your post on the teachers that didn't let you ask questions was very hurtful for me to read. As a teacher in both a Beth Yaacov school and a Bne Akiva style school, I always try to let my students ask questions. I hope I do enough to make them feel safe to share their doubts and questions. I hope that somehow, I can make up for the way you were hurt in the past.

Anonymous said...

I think I found your picture on Facebook. You don't have one up. If your sister's name is Lisa, then that photo (you on the left) is of you. At least that is exactly how I always imagined you looked like. Both of you are beautiful, you are a little bit more elegant. You Olivia are not my type as far as looks go. And I am not into the curly hair thing, it exactly demonstrates perfectly what you have inside. Emotions-curly hair, maybe there is a connection? Definately you are not the kind of person I would want to hang out with for coffee nor could I ever see myself (a simpleton) ever waking up next to a wife looking like you. I have said it before, and now that I have seen your photo, I will say it again, I was right: You do have a beautiful soul! That is the one blessed thing you have. I hope one you your soul will blossom!