It looked like a cigar.
Or did it.
It didn’t really look like a cigar, but my mind tried to make it into a cigar, because what else would someone be throwing behind a bush?
The woman holding it was maybe a couple feet away. I just saw the shape of it, and the lit end, glowing red.
My mind flashed: Embers. And: That’s a careless way to dispose of a cigar, good thing it’s raining.
Then the explosion, loud and immediate, and I took off running.
This was Saturday, late morning.
Except in my mind I was back in a different Saturday, a Saturday night more than ten years ago.
Different city, different setting, different circumstances, but the thing that made me run this weekend was the same thing that made me drop to the floor behind the bar then.
Exploding. Noise. That instantaneous thought-feeling of this is the end.
About four blocks away I realized it must have been a firecracker. A big one, by the intensity of the explosion.
My monsters had already stepped into the power vacuum. Look at you, panicked over nothing. Snap out of it. Pull yourself together.
Twelve blocks later, my ears were still ringing like crazy. I couldn’t hear in my right ear. Everything was muffled.
This of course wasn’t anything like the terrorist attack, but I was having a little trouble figuring out the difference between now and then.
What do I remember from then?
Mostly the waiting.
Long minutes after the explosion.
Waiting, grimly, because we didn’t know if there was a second suicide bomber, and if so, was he going to try to take out my bar.
The explosion then was bigger, louder. Though not as close. Across the street. We weren’t even sure which bar or cafe had been demolished, there was too much smoke, and we had locked ourselves inside.
Waiting. Watching the news on television to see if they knew, or if they knew something we didn’t. My boyfriend had just left word that he was looking for parking a block away, this was moments before the explosion. I didn’t know if he was alive, or just stuck behind police barricades.
I tried not to think about it. My job was to keep everyone at the bar and inside the restaurant calm. And drinking.
Terror warps perspective.
I didn’t realize it at the time, the effect it was going to have on me.
The truth is, I don’t remember experiencing it as terror at the time at all.
Maybe that was shock. Or maybe it was lack of shock: too jaded from a decade in Tel Aviv to even show fear. I mean, I’d been a bartender for years. You kind of half-expected it on every shift, and especially in those last months when things had gotten bad.
I’d sit at my local pub, and when the manager left, he’d nod to everyone and say, “Okay guys, just try not to get blown up between now and Thursday when I’m back”.
That was our humor in those days.
So when a suicide bomber took out the place across the street from where I worked, my plan was to get through the night, have a drink, shake it off, go back to the routine. And at some point eventually move to Berlin where people were presumably less likely to try and blow up my place of work.
And that worked.
I don’t remember much more from the night itself.
I was able to contact my closest friend, the one who killed himself later, and he called my family to say I was okay.
I remember Ofer, the cook, nicknamed “The Butcher” — a half-joke about the mismatch between his terrifying appearance and his sweet teddy bear of a personality, he was the one who unlocked the door and went outside to hand out water bottles to people in the street. The rest is vague.
It turned out my boyfriend was indeed behind police barricades, unhurt.
He helped me close up the bar, and then we drove to the other bar. The owner bought us whiskey, and we sat there until very, very late. Morning, really.
The next day I went back to work. I worked there for another six months maybe.
While me-then was almost alarmingly blasé about this experience (she says, “come on, what other choice did I have?”), current-me is still going through all the fear that didn’t get felt then.
This weekend, when the woman threw the not-a-cigar, it took the better part of ten minutes to even fully comprehend that this wasn’t another suicide bombing.
I mean, clearly this woman was not a suicide bomber.
Conscious-me knew that.
This woman may have been bored, or mentally unwell, or any number of things. As my mother used to say in situations like this, “She must have problems.”
She was being wildly irresponsible. And not particularly concerned about safety or hearing damage — a double M-80 is not something to screw around with. She wasn’t being malicious though.
Or, to put it another way, she wasn’t trying to kill civilians in an attempt to make a reasonable political point in a completely unreasonable way. She wasn’t trying to hurt me or the people I love.
And she probably didn’t know that I’d spend the next three days in bed, unable to get anything done. I mean, I suspect she might not care either way. Just that this was not her intent.
Current-me sometimes has trouble differentiating. It’s because of the wormholes.
Coming slowly back to now.
While current-me has a harder time dealing with scary things than me-then seemed to, at least on the surface, current-me is also a lot better at taking care of herself.
She knows about the healing powers of baths and naps, of intentional not-doing, of process and play.
She knows about peacefulness.
So I gave myself permission to be fully derailed.
I hid in bed for a few days. I let that be okay.
I reminded myself of all the ways that Now Is Not Then.
I took eight breaths and used the ringing in my ears as a reminder to be a bell, to reverberate.
First bell: the bell of clearing. Everything gets clearer.
Second bell: the bell of joy. I can find the joy sparks here, even the very small ones.
Third bell: the bell of presence. I am here.
Fourth bell: the bell of curiosity. Noticing what is actually happening.
Fifth bell: the bell of steadiness. Anchoring.
Sixth bell: the bell of sweetness. I am safe and loved.
Seventh bell: the bell of anticipation. Finding my way back to wonder.
Eighth bell: the bell of resonance. I am a clear bell.
Come play. Or come hide. Or both.
One thing I have learned from being alive is that we all have our stuff. Everyone has pain, hurt, sadness, longing. This is a safe space to be a human who has stuff.
We don’t need to think in terms of hierarchies of pain, that’s a distortion. The fountain can take everyone’s pain, and the fountain doesn’t care whether or not you think it’s not as big a deal as someone else’s pain. We are all equal at the fountain.
In the meantime, we’re all learning how to get better at taking care of ourselves, to tread gently, to play at the edges, to create safety for ourselves. Not just for our current selves, also for who we were then, and for incoming-selves.
Things I’d like today! Hearts, pebbles, breaths, warmth, appreciation, sweetness. Or ring some bells with me.
We keep this safe space by refraining from advice-giving and care-taking. That being said, you are also welcome to share things that are sparked for you, or to play in your own way.
Thank you, and much love, as always, to everyone who reads.