Tuesday, March 10, 2009

remembering 5 years ago


Five years ago I was midway through my semester abroad in Madrid, when I woke up to hearing my Señora frantically talking to my roommate, Lisa, in her kitchen. All I could pick up on was the word "bombas." I figured I must have heard wrong, that surely I would have known if bombs had exploded. I figured wrong, I learned a few minutes later.

I just dug up my journal from that international time in life and below is what I wrote on that day. Although I sound disconnected from the events, the repercussions ended up being eerily similar to those of 9/11. I still seem to involuntarily shiver any time I enter a train or train station and my brain automatically assumes one or the other is going to explode. Comes with the territory, I suppose.

"March 11, 2004. Exactly 2.5 years, to the day, after experiencing the worst terrorist attack in the U.S., I just lived through the worst terrorist attack in Spain. It's remarkable how similar the two days started out...it was like de ja vu. Around 8 a.m. I woke up with a bad stomach ache and went to the bathroom. I was so mad that I was awake cause my alarm was set for 10, that when my Sñra knocked on my door soon after I reentered my room, I ignored her. Even when she frantically said, "Alyse?!" three times, I pretended to be asleep. At 10 my alarm rang and about 5 minutes later Lisa came home. I heard her talking to Sñra in the kitchen and then she came into our room.
"Bombs exploded in Atocha Station, most likely ETA terrorists."
I was going on day-5 of my constant headache and my stomach was still upset. I crumpled onto my bed, still holding the hot pink pills, and stared up at the ceiling.
"Why?" is all I could think of to say.
"Probably because elections are this week," Lisa said.

The flashbacks began. Brianna coming into our room freshman year--"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!" I decided to go to school despite the news, mostly because I needed a computer. Skipped my shower and breakfast, wore my glasses. When I went out to the bus stop, I took my phone out to text message Sheri since it was 3:30 a.m. back home. As I started my phone rang like I had a message. So I stopped typing and listened. My mom, as usual, woke up and read online about the bombs before I had a chance to call home. She was hysterical, telling me to call her asap even though it's the middle of night. So I called her back right away and she couldn't stop crying. I felt really bad.
When I got to school I sent out a mass e-mail letting people know I was okay, since most were still sleeping. Then, for part of Spanish class time, we had a "news briefing," but I don't remember most of what they said. Walking onto the patio I had lost my balance and scraped my elbow really hard against the rough wall. So that hurt and was bleeding and I was just in such a daze.
I felt bad for Raquel (Spanish teacher) because she said something like, "I don't even know if all my friends are alive. I don't want to teach grammar." So, for awhile, we talked and then, because NYU sucks and wouldn't let her end class, we learned the words for body parts...as grossly ironic as that is.

The rest of the day was very unlike 9/11. Yeah I saw some news coverage on TV, but it wasn't like NYC where I then ran to the window and watched it in person. And there was no suffocating smell. And the weirdest thing was the city seemed to function as normal.
On September 11, I walked down FIFTH AVENUE and nothing was going on. The whole day I had horrible flashbacks of 9/11 and selfishly that's what disturbed me most. I feel very detached from what happened here. I am just baffled that I've now lived through two terrorist attacks...unreal. When I got off the bus and walked to school, "Ooo child, things are gonna get easier..." came on my CD and I thought, I really don't think they are and was overwhelmed by survivor's guilt for the third time. I mean seriously, what is the point of life? Nothing makes sense. One could argue--love. But usually that's about as non-sensical as you can get and your lover just ends up dying too...

It's always been strange to think back at the things that happened the day or night before something like this happens. For instance, the night before in my cities class, my teacher passed around a special edition of "Time" magazine dedicated to why "SPAIN ROCKS," why it's become such an amazing and innovative country. Then, when I left, I was waiting at the bus stop and there was bad traffic because of the Real Madrid vs. Germany soccer game. There was a young girl watching two cars slowly roll by, decorated with politician faces and megaphones playing music and declaring the possible presidents' stances. And, I don't know why, but I thought--"If suddenly these cars were shot down, like JFK style, when I got around to finding words to describe what happened, I would write from that girl's perspective."
After dinner (on 3/10) I talked to both my mom and sister on the phone. My mom excitedly announced, "9 days!" and when I talked to Sheri I was like, "Are you so excited to come here?!" She was."

3/15/04
"...At dinner Maria told us the bombs were from Al Queda, not ETA. I almost threw up on the table...I wish I would have been here this weekend to join the protests [I was in Paris] and vigils and take pictures...yesterday were the elections, Zappatero won, the Socialist party...apparently public opinion changed overnight...this should be a slap in the face to Bush as far as supporting the war against Iraq...or so I hear..."


I remember going to view the memorials a week or so later and thinking, "Man, this is like 9/11 in Spanish." I remember seeing a drawing that a kid made with markers of a train on fire and dead stick people lying on the ground. I was so overwhelmed, that I penned a letter to Joey back home. I recently found out he never received any of the letters I sent him while I was there, which still blows my mind, but as I've been paging through my journal, I've found multiple excerpts from those letters that I transcribed as entries for myself.
So, in closing, here's another entry:

"excerpt from 3/19 letter to Joey:
...How do you possibly explain to a child the terrible things that happen in our world...that there are people who will ruthlessly blow up cities without an ounce of remorse. Last summer I worked with this guy Tim who was the most negative person I've ever met. He hated everything except cigarettes and soup. On more than one occasion he mentioned hating kids, but I distinctly remember him saying once why he would never have his own--because he wouldn't want to 'subject another human to this fucked up world.' At first I just rolled my eyes, but later I actually found myself thinking about what he said and that maybe had a valid point. I thought of that today when I was looking at that kid's picture. I guess it's just another one of those 'what ifs...' or 'why bother...' thoughts. What if I had a kid and he/she ended up a victim of senseless violence? Or what if I didn't have a kid because I was scared, but he/she would have been able to change the world? Why bother letting yourself fall in love when it might end in heartbreak? Because as cliche as it sounds, nothing is for certain and every day should be lived how you want it. I don't know why I'm still here after all that has happened around me--survivors guilt times two--but since I am, I hope I can someday die knowing that I've positively impacted at least one life...I think that is probably the purpose of life--to help others live and love."

2 comments:

Rick said...

That was incredible reading. I was really touched by your words.

alyse said...

Wow. Thank you, Rick. Do we know each other or did you stumble upon this on your own?