Ten years ago today, I was in Soho an hour before a neo-Nazi group bombed the area. I wrote about what happened that day years ago, here. It’s a significant anniversary. I’m caught up in remembrance. 7/7, 9/11, other significant days when people (lovers, brothers, mothers) died in the name of hate. But today’s date holds incredibly personal significance for me, because I was there that day. Because it happened in my neighbourhood. Because I spent hours with a phone in one hand and my heart in the other, looking for people I loved. The relief when I found out they were okay is something I have never felt at any other time. Hearing the relief and love in other people’s voices when they found out I was okay drove home the fact that I very easily couldn’t have been there to see it.
Fear of losing loved ones. The biggest fear I have ever experienced. Scared of the void people leave behind. There were so many tears during that time. It was really, really dark. As dark as the military-enforced curfew in Khartoum in 1989, but I wasn’t old enough to fully understand the implications of gunshots heard in the night. Old enough to understand fear brought on by senseless violence. Remembering that fear makes me grateful to be here, in Toronto, despite this city’s shortcomings.
Fear is palpable. The thickness in the city, the tears shed by strangers on street corners, the imposed sense of solidarity in the face of an enemy threatening your own personal safety simply because they don’t believe you have a right to exist in certain places. Did you know you could taste sadness? It’s sooty, unpleasant. The air becomes dense with it, makes it hard to breathe, each inhalation getting stuck, chest feeling thicker. And it’s not just the post-explosion smoke.
I only realised the impact that day has had on me since when 7/7 happened and I was watching the news. Seeing familiar neighbourhoods in the same state Soho was in brought back that day in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Uncontrollable sobbing, hours of shaking and trembling, sadness that I still carry with me.
And that feeling, the knowledge of senseless, hateful murder comes up at different times. Sometimes irrationally, even. Seeing walls pockmarked with bulletholes. Loud bangs in the street. Unexplained smoke wherever I am. The number 18.
This is dedicated to the memory of those who died in London, in all three bombings in April 1999. This is in support of those still affected, physically and mentally. This is to remember.