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Pass the Xanax: Paranoid ponderings of life under terror

Living in terror transforms daily acts, coloring everything a special shade of paranoia

As I slice into the butternut squash I am preparing for dinner, and I feel the knife’s serrated edge meet the soft flesh within, my mind goes to a place where, I promise you, it is not all that accustomed to going.

“Is this what it feels like to stab someone? To puncture their skin with a sharp blade and watch it cleave in two?” My morbidity frightens me. But this is not the first time today or even this week that I have entertained such gruesome thoughts.

Over the past few days, my life has taken on a surreal dimension, as I find my once cheerful world darkened by the ugly shadow of Islamic terrorism.

This morning, as my daughter left for preschool with her princess knapsack and perfectly placed bow, I knelt down and hugged her so tight I made it hard for breathing. I felt the curve of her back beneath my arms and traced her pudgy cheek with my fingers. “What if some crazed terrorist decides to shoot up her gan? Will this be the last time I lay eyes on my precious firstborn”? My heart silently screams.

My husband reluctantly obliges for a similar embrace. He seems to have a way of not letting the terror rip apart the fabric of his daily life like it does mine. I inhale his musky smell and rest my head on his chest and pray he’ll return safely from dropping our girl off at school.

I hurriedly get dressed for work. I sling my bag over my shoulder and carefully palm the pepper spray encased in the inner pocket. I carry my baby girl to her daycare down the block, and am met by a locked gate. After numerous trills of the bell, the teacher turns the key in the wrought iron fence and apologetically explains “Ani mefachedet mai’aravim” (“I am scared of Arabs”).

“No explanation needed, Morah Leah,“ I think inwardly. I have a hard time letting go of the soft weight in my hands and by the time I am done kissing my precious baby and reluctantly hand her to her teacher, I have no more lipstick left and my eyes are wet.

An Arab terrorist used his vehicle to ram into pedestrians and then proceeded to stab passerby on the crowded Malchei Yisrael St. in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood. Photo credit: Natan@Uncensored
An Arab terrorist used his vehicle to ram into pedestrians and then proceeded to stab passerby on the crowded Malchei Yisrael St. in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood.(Natan@Uncensored)

As I walk down the street to catch my ride to work, I am suddenly aware that I have been mindlessly scrolling through my phone. Remembering the admonition to remain fully alert at all times, I put away my phone and focus, instead, on what my initial reaction might be if I were shot at. Would I crouch down? Would I fall to the ground and play dead? Would I actually be dead? I banish these thoughts as I enter my co-worker’s vehicle.

Work. I try to focus, I really do. But with the constant news updates and refreshing of a Facebook feed that produces nothing but carnage and blood- footage not meant to be watched or experienced and certainly not committed — I am paralyzed with fear. Spreadsheets pale in comparison to the horror movie I find myself suddenly transplanted into. I feel bile rise up in my throat as I hear the cries of my colleague, whose daughter lives in Geula and is not answering the phone. A madman rammed his car into pedestrians on Malchei Yisrael St. and then proceeded to stab surrounding passerby. Two terrorists hijacked a bus with a gun and a knife and no regard for human life. Hashem! Please, no more.

I realize that I have been staring at a blank email, with only the greeting written, for about ten minutes. I minimize it and glance over at my officemate. He is utilizing his lunch break to search for guns online — which weapon will best protect him in an attack? He debates between the magazine that holds 14 bullets and the one that holds 10. I dazedly observe what has become my existence and bolt for the bathroom. I need to be somewhere safe, somewhere confined.

The unforgiving porcelain and tile stall holds no solace. I feel my heart begin to drum as my mind is hijacked in much the same way as the buses of this morning. Terrible visions flash through my mind, of my family members being butchered; my precious babies trapped in the hands of terror. I shudder and cry for my People.

I stumble out of the bathroom, pleading with my psyche, willing my mind to come back to reality. But this is reality. Where do you go when there is nowhere to escape to?

I return to my desk to see a trend of internet posts, urging us not to submit to fear, to not let the terrorists win. But guess what? I feel fear. I’m scared out of my mind. I’m scared OF my mind. I feel tremendous guilt every time I snap at my husband because what if I won’t get the chance to say “I’m sorry?” I’ll happily read my kid Dr. Seuss’s What Pet Should I Get? a hundred times because what if “tomorrow” never comes?

I see a lot of articles, some even written by me, exhorting the necessity to keep on celebrating life, despite, or perhaps because of, our devastating reality. But this is not one of those articles. This is me, letting it all hang out. Letting my thoughts and fears scream from the page. Because life isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow. And for the shattered families of the wounded and murdered, there is no happy ending.

Please, G-d, give us our happy ending. I long for the day when a butternut squash is *just* a butternut squash.

About the Author
Nechama Eisenman is a six year consecutive winner of the "World's Okayest Mom" title, and never met a carbohydrate she didn't like. She rejoices in finding G-d in the mundane, is madly in love with her husband and 3 little girls, and relies on spurts of infectious baby giggles to get through the day.
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