Saturday mornings in suburbia mean lawnmowers. Rainy season in the South means trucks spraying pesticide to kill the mosquitoes. To me, all of these mean terrifying sounds and moments of paralyzing fear. I survived Operation Protective Edge, a brutal Israeli-led massacre in the Gaza Strip, and it permanently changed my frame of reference.
The buzzing sound of a lawnmower or a truck spraying pesticides — that constant, deep, low-tone buzzing — is eerily similar to that of the unmanned drones that killed so many Palestinians in Gaza and injured many, many others. The sound is like the bass of your car: when it is loud enough and close enough you can feel it vibrate through your body, just like the reverberations from every explosion did. That sound polluted Gaza’s skies nonstop and only changed when the sound intensified as the drones flew lower and in greater number. It took almost a week to get the buzzing out of my ears after I left Gaza even in the quiet serenity of my suburban home, but it doesn’t take much now to send chills down my spine.
The sound of thunder or a door slammed shut can take me from my normal, smiling self into a light-headed, pale-faced, paranoid shadow of myself. The first thunderstorm happened days after we made it back to the United States. It rattled my windows and made me shake like I did in Gaza when the shelling was close by. Once, a storm started during one of my classes and I bolted to the restroom to compose myself and remind myself that I was in a safe place. It is hard to come back to normalcy. It is almost as if normalcy doesn’t exist or cannot exist for people like me, people like those in Gaza who suffered through over 50 days of pure terror. You wonder when it is going to get better and when your mind will finally let you sleep through a thunderstorm.
I often hope and pray that I am not the only one who is struggling to be 100% again, to not have so much baggage anymore. Sadly, I am not alone. I talk to people who were in Gaza during the massacre and were evacuated to the United States too and we all seem to have fuzzy memories. It is almost as if we are beginning to erase all of the pain and the fear. But the details of the most obscure memories have stuck with us.
I remember how smoggy the sky always looked, how it was always quietest before the most intense round of airstrikes, how I was always afraid of looking at the sky, how I never really felt like I was actually there. It wasn’t me. There is a version of myself that existed in Gaza for the seven days that I was there during the massacre and I cannot relate to or identify with that person anymore. I talk about my experience like I am relaying a firsthand account from someone else.
I talk to others in Gaza who have survived and we recount all of the sounds that we hear now that make us jump or look over our shoulders much more than before and it seems almost comical how mundane they are. The worst sound is that of a plane flying overhead. I live in a town with two airports. I hear their engines roar over my head and I anticipate the whistling sound of the missiles that come next with an F-16. This is a far cry from my childhood days of watching air shows and air races.
I wonder to myself, what do the people who lived through the full massacre feel? How are the people still in Gaza coping? How do the people who suffered more personal losses than I did function?
I don’t want to admit that I have trouble falling asleep or that I have lost much of my appetite. I don’t want to feel like the occupiers have won. I don’t want them to break my spirit, so I push through. I have borrowed the resilience of the Palestinians, including my own family’s, and dedicated my time to working on the tangible changes and differences I can make because I refuse to let the occupiers break me.
People ask me how I am and I find myself defaulting to two answers: “I can’t complain” and “I am alive”. Isn’t that funny? I’m alive.
The author, who has requested to remain anonymous, is a graduate student who believes that laughter and life are the ultimate forms of resistance.