I blinked at the screen, at a complete loss. The headline flashed across the screen: Multiple people killed in shooting at Quebec City mosque. The first thing that came into my mind was that it was starting. I felt like I had been balanced on the edge of the cliff, or waiting for the calm before the storm, or waiting for the other foot to drop and it finally had. At the back of my mind I wasn’t surprised. What does it say about me, about my life that I knew this was coming sooner or later?
And over the few days before this I had been locked in a state of panic over the move that President Trump had made regarding both Syrian refugees and immigrants. It was as if my mind couldn’t take any more- and so when I sat and stared at the screen, I felt…nothing. My mind had shut down because I knew if I allowed myself to think about what happened I would collapse. I would refuse to do anything. And I couldn’t allow that to happen. I needed to be strong. I needed to prove myself.
In the next instant, I was off the bed, opening my bedroom door and walking over to where my dad was sitting. “Did you hear?” I asked, my voice pitched higher than normal.
He turned to look at me from where he was watching television. “About the shooting in Quebec?”
I felt myself deflate at his words. I had hoped that he wouldn’t have heard. That maybe, I would have been able to save him just a few more seconds of peace. And frankly, I had wanted to be the one to tell him because I wanted him to understand what this meant.
Because without fail, every evening he would leave to go and pray. And just the thought of how it could have been Calgary, how it could have hit so close to home, was so terrifying to me, that just like everything else I locked it away. It had ranked that high of a risk in my mind.
I opened my mouth to say…what? Don’t go today? I don’t know what might happen to you? There was nothing that I could say that wouldn’t end with my dad scoffing at my remark and saying that something like that would never happen here. There was no scenario where he would be convinced by my words. There was nothing I could say to stop him from showing his love and devotion for a religion that had in many ways changed his life and gave him a sense of purpose.
And so I didn’t say any of that. I made a weak joke about wanting to be the one to tell him, and he gave a short laugh before turning back to the television.
And I went back to my room- leaving the air hung tight with words left unsaid.
Stepping into my room, I took a moment to just stand there. At the books that were laying everywhere, at my journals that were still flipped open. The post it notes with all the story ideas. The bed with the comforter. The half empty glass of juice. The granola bar. The cough drops. The laptop. How long? How long did I have?
I moved towards the bed and took a seat. It still hadn’t processed. I wasn’t in a panic, or hurt, or sorrowful. I was still empty. I checked the news for an update and then I put on a video to distract myself. I couldn’t do it. My emotions were already frayed, close to snapping. I just couldn’t.
I only lasted for half an hour before giving up and deciding to turn in. I wanted to forget and sleep was the only way I knew how. I heard my mom come up the stairs. I heard my dad tell her about what happened, and her soft intake of breath, the quiet “oh no.”
I ended up staying awake for another two hours- caught up helping a friend with an application, caught in reading the same article again and again. I put on my favorite soundtrack and forced myself away from those thoughts.
But they kept coming back.
And after running through scenarios, through the future, my mind was finally so exhausted that I drifted into sleep without even noticing.
And when today came, I didn’t want to wake up. I really, really didn’t want to wake up. But I had been weak for so long. I wasn’t allowed anymore. I had to be ready. Be prepared. I had to take each day, had to examine it carefully and with a fragility knowing that anything could happen.
And I was still in shock. Still numb.
Coming downstairs, one of the first things my mom said to me was “did you hear about the shooting in Quebec?” Her voice was quiet.
I nodded and gave a quick reply, flipping open my book and cutting off discussion. I felt disgust rise in my throat from how I was treating this situation. I should know better.
But I was selfish.
And it wasn’t until later, when I was looking out the window as my dad drove me to the university that it slowly came back to me. I kept raising the volume on my music, determined to stay away from my thoughts. But they persisted.
And no matter how loud my music was, I still caught the words “Muslim community in Calgary is reeling with shock,” drift from the radio. I froze and paused my music, listening carefully. The news went on to cover the story, and they spoke with someone from the community.
And then my world narrowed to a pinpoint as the person being interviewed spoke with a voice tight with tears. “We are not terrorists. We came to Canada and we hope that the government will help us.” And the way he spoke, this leader who I had never known but would always be willing to defend the religion, to hear him speak so brokenly did something to me.
I blinked back tears as I listened to the statements issues by various politicians regarding the shooting. My dad turned down the radio slightly, speaking to himself. “It’s terrible. Really terrible.” I bit my lip and turned the music up again, trying to breathe.
The shooting was the only thing they talked about the entire way to the university. As I walked to the building, all I could think about was what other people must be thinking right now. Were they sympathetic? Apathetic? Did this do anything to them? I knew there were people out there who would be thinking that the attack was what we, as Muslims, deserved. That we were getting a taste of our own medicine.
There is nothing that I can say to those who have lost their lives in the shooting. There is nothing I can say to help those who are now living in fear. There is nothing I can say to myself to reassure myself that this will not happen to me. There is nothing I can say to anyone.