On Recognizing the Sound of Bullets

The first time I heard gunshots I was about 10 years old, during a visit to Ramallah in the summer. It was a foreign sound, but it wasn’t loud enough to root itself in my lungs like it does now.

The second intifada erupted slowly, then very quickly, in the year 2000. It began with a few protests and developed into a full blown daily assault in the span of a few weeks. Sounds became more and more invasive as time passed. First it was bullets, followed by tank shells, followed by bombs dropped from F16s. Within a year, we had trained our ears to recognize the level of danger we were in.

When you grow up in a war-zone, your PTSD is always present because the danger lingered in your life for so long that it became an integral part of your consciousness. You are almost always alert, even when you know that there’s not much you can do once the danger presents itself. I only realized how traumatized I was when I moved to Washington, DC, and every car backfiring knocked the wind out of me, but then a few years later, I trained my body to relax because no one was trying to shoot me in Washington, DC. Safety became a reality rather than a concept, and when you feel it once you get addicted.

Yesterday, I read an article about the latest mass shooting in California which quoted the bartender who said that when he heard the popping sound he immediately knew someone was shooting. There’s a world in which this man knew the sound because in America people shoot guns for fun, but there’s another world in which Americans know the sound of an automatic weapon because they are surrounded by the possibility of a mass shooting.

How is it possible that my Palestinian city has become less terrifying than being anywhere in America?

Please humor me; I might not be savvy in the affairs of the second amendment, or in the guns don’t shoot people but people shoot people argument, but I genuinely don’t understand how this epidemic is being normalized here. How has this country, which is still considered a haven from carnage, become a map of dead teenagers gunned down in their classrooms?

The latest shooting was the 307th mass shooting this year, which technically amounts to a shooting every day.

When I was 4 years old, two members of my mother’s family were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers outside her parents’ house. My mom had to call my aunt, who was in America at the time, to tell her the bad news. When my mother broke down mid-sentence, I grabbed the phone and told my aunt that they were shot but someone put their band aids on their wounds and they’re fine now.

I don’t want my child to understand what a bullet is. I don’t want my child to explain away death to an adult on the phone. I don’t want my child to practice how to hide under a desk or push a chair against a door to prevent an active shooter from entering the classroom. I don’t want my child to recognize the sound of bullets, or the anatomy of a machine gun. I thought living in America was my way out of war, but now I’m not so sure.

Tala Abu RahmehComment