Finding Peace with Violence
Issue 5, Volume 108
By James Huang
The hallways were bustling with a plethora of entertaining and unique costumes, teachers were handing out candy, and people were animatedly talking about the usual struggles of Stuyvesant—tests, quizzes, and the lack of sleep. Later that day, I was planning on going trick-or-treating or at least overdosing on Skittles or M&M’s. Tests—and the ensuing anxiety—were coming up, but today was going to be a wonderful day.
I exited onto the bridge and down to the wall across the Tribeca Bridge. The sky was brilliant, the sun left a warm embrace on the pavement, and the air was crisp, yet comfortable. One could sit there on the wall, forget about the struggles of schoolwork and homework, and just appreciate how beautiful the weather was.
My friends and I were talking about something, and everything seemed to be so normal, when a loud bang interrupted our laughter and banter.
A horrifically dented school bus was the first thing I managed to discern through the putrid smoke in the air, and then, a deafening silence filled the air. Even the incessant movement of traffic seemed to freeze for a moment as everyone took in what seemed like a terrible accident.
“What just happened?” How could this have happened in the first place? The truck was in an extremely awkward position, and never in my life had I heard such a loud accident.
“He has a gun!”
For a moment, I froze in shock. A man got out of the truck, but from my angle and across the street, I could not discern a gun. For a moment, I stood there in awe.
Then I saw the running, the screaming from across the street, and the panicked expressions on the people around me. It suddenly dawned on me that this was something much more serious.
I sprinted down Chambers Street, and behind me I heard four gunshots. I didn’t even stop for a moment at the busy intersection. What the hell was happening? Police sirens pierced the air, and they joined together in a progressively louder wail that only intensified my heartbeat.
When I got home, I turned on the news, and I felt a sense of numbness. I was in shock. The helicopter footage showed my school and a scene of carnage that could only be described as traumatizing. I saw the bike path me and my teammates occasionally ran on strewn with the wreckage of bikes; on Snapchat, I saw the body bags.
Terrorism had struck with its evil scythe right in front of my own eyes, and suddenly, a concept we learned about in history class became so real.
At first, I only felt a sense of emptiness, of shock, of denial. This couldn’t have happened. Not in my world.
That night, the nightmares came in full force. Gunshots, me dying, my friends dying; I saw it all. I woke up early that morning, in a panicked sweat.
It had scarcely been a day since the attacks, and on the way to school, I still only felt shock. The long, slow procession of students marched around the crash site, under the watchful eye of thousands of policemen. The usual sounds of honking and chatter were replaced with the eerie drone of helicopters and the scary silence of West Street. This is all a bad dream. I walked the detour to school with the same friend that had run with me across Chambers Street when the attack started, and we couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed.
At school, the teachers all tried to return to business as usual, but a subdued sense of fear and sadness loomed over us all. People hugged me that day, and for the first three periods at least, I was holding up well.
The tsunami of emotions finally came crashing down when I went to guidance to talk about the incident. I didn’t even see it coming, but as soon as I sat down in front of my guidance counselor, the tears came rushing out. I had written about the events the night before, but now the gravity of the situation rained down on me with full force. All the thoughts that were suppressed by my stress response the night before came rushing out. Eight people died that day, and I was just in grief and extremely afraid. At that point, words couldn’t express the emotional roller coaster that I was on.
When I got home that day, I cried some more; I had homework that night, but I did so little of it. The usual background noises of sirens triggered me, and once again, my sleep was plagued with nightmares.
On Thursday, the Tribeca Bridge reopened, and life seemed more and more normal. With the exception of the police barricades and the flowers left for the victims of the attack, it almost seemed like the attack never happened in the first place. I no longer felt emotional pain or thought about the attack 24/7.
Now, the attack’s emotional trauma is gradually fading away from my mind, and in its place, new feelings have taken place. I hug my parents more often, I take the extra minute or two to appreciate them. I feel a newfound sense of appreciation for the world around me and the city I live in. My friends and I have grown closer, and our bonds have become stronger after this tragedy.
The terrorist attack on Halloween struck fear in my heart, but even though that fear has still not subsided, I strangely feel at peace with the demons in my heart. I still feel terrible for the eight families who won’t be able to appreciate their loved ones, but as their legacy, I love the people close to me even more.
I am forever changed by the Tribeca Attack, but I hope it’s for the better. This evil coward who tried to terrorize me has only made me feel more thankful to the greatness of humanity and the wonderful people my friends and family are. This act of terrorism hasn’t divided me—it’s stitched me back together, stronger than ever.