I was a freshman at Pitt on October 27, 2018, the day of the Tree of Life shooting. I was on the second floor of the Cathedral of Learning, Pitt’s 40-story building of classrooms and offices in the center of campus. I was looking forward to a meeting of my improv club, and I had gotten to our classroom a bit early to set up. It was a Saturday morning.
I remember hearing the sirens. There were just so many and they wouldn’t stop. Then I saw the news notifications on my phone. I waited alone in that room for two hours, just waited to hear the sirens calm, suddenly aware of how prominent my necklace was, sporting a hamza, announcing my identity that now felt like a brand, seared onto my chest. I tucked my necklace underneath my shirt and zipped up my coat over it.
I remember calling my mom and her telling me that it was probably okay to walk back to my dorm room because it would be difficult to tell who was and wasn’t Jewish on a large college campus, and only we were being targeted. I remember seeing everyone else walking around campus on my way back up the hill to my residence hall and how they all seemed so eerily okay, while I could feel the now-concealed charm of my necklace bounding off my racing heart, hoping that the other students’ presence would ensure the continuation of my own.
I remember collapsing on my carpet and sobbing, and I remember thinking of all the open spaces that hatred can simply slip into and all the windows that let in darkness instead of light. But what I remember most is the sirens, those never-ending shrieks screaming in my ears and in my heart, and how they haven’t stopped since.
This is a poem I wrote after attending a vigil a few days after the shooting. There were thousands of people there and it was raining.
All the smoke of the past had not prepared us for the gray of that morning
City sirens bloody red and incessantly inflamed
Clinging to the carpet, tucking away an identity
Prayer and painless ascension
The clouds roared and the sky wept
2,000 umbrellas blocked out the horrible ugly saline
Our tears were stone but our hearts were harder
So brittle they cracked into 11 pieces
The azure vastness spit on the funeral procession
Clarity and Cleansing gently pelted down
Like the bullets quietly replacing the righteous souls
Screaming silently into outstretched arms
May their memories forever be a blessing.