Ten toy cars
Are all that stand between me and reality,
Where two rooms away
Mother calls my name —
Urgently, but not urgent enough.
I clatter my orange Camaro
Into the generic blue speedster I found
At the bottom of my toy bin just last week.
Pushing air through my teeth, I hiss
The way a banged-up Camaro might sound in the aftermath of a crash.
She calls my name again,
This time with force.
I neatly rearrange my cars,
Careful not to warrant an imaginary parking ticket.
Mother sits in stillness,
Illuminated by violent flashes of white and blue
Leaving imprints, like sharp razored-wrinkles,
On a face grown weary with time.
Not once does she flinch.
I follow her hand as she raises the volume.
Violent sparks of white and blue flash across my own face
Where the blood begins to drain.
I look into the soulless eyes of a boy
Not much older than me.
Mother raises the volume some more.
Aside from the perfect shrill of the ambulance siren,
There is silence.
I am frozen under the collapsed wall
Of a home much like my own.
“Mama, what is this?”
Still silence. The volume goes higher more.
A group of men climb the wreckage,
Digging away at it with their own bare hands.
I watch their fingers turn to red.
There is a boy under there,
Covered in little else but ruby-colored soot.
The camera pans and shows
That he is not the only one.
Someone in the scene muffles their sobs.
It is a struggle that lasts many minutes.
There, the men dig for lost treasure.
Here, my knees begin to buckle.
Mother is still unresponsive and
I’m only now beginning to make sense of things.
A news reporter cuts in and
I catch sharp fragments of what he’s telling me.
Reconstructing the scene behind him,
I learn that we are under attack.
A family lived here once, but no longer.
We are tainted by the mark of a ruthless army
Flashing its white-and-blue across our sullen faces,
Responsible for every blast and lost life.
The scene begins to register in my newest mental catalogue:
“Why we fight back.”
It all boils over and I bolt out of the room,
Kicking my wonderfully aligned cars out of the way,
The deafening shrill of the ambulance chasing me as I
Race to bury my head in the coldest pillow I have.
An unadultered rage consumes me.
I wailed, not so different in intensity
From the wailing that, for a brief moment earlier,
Masked the ambulance sounds that still ring in my head.
It was the first time I remember crying for someone else.
I was just eleven at the time.
It is hard to unsee how limp a person becomes
Despite being shielded by the hard glass of a television screen.
The urgency in my mother’s voice made sense.
Her silence, even more so.
I cried myself to sleep.
This intimate exposure to the Second Intifada
Seared itself into my mind until
It became an unwanted memory,
A knee-buckling, ear-piercing, eye-flooding sensation,
I will never be able to shake off.
As for those ten toy cars,
I left their paint to chip at the bottom of the bin.
Like the orange Camaro in its most pristine,
Life is too fleeting
And there is no more time to play.