When I was eight, a .223 bullet broke the windshield of my family’s Toyota Corolla and hit my mother’s thigh. This was June. I was in the backseat thinking about ham sandwiches and sunflowers. A girl at school had just taught me about the way baby sunflowers turn their faces to the sun. So I was thinking about that. I thought it was amazing.
My mother’s legs were very flabby back then. And this was a big bullet. Well, bigger than I’d expected. It kind of jiggled on the surface of my mother’s thigh, or maybe it jiggled just inside her skin, like a Mexican jumping bean. And my mother jiggled too. Everyone did, kind of.
She turned her face toward me – it was a reflex. She saw my legs dangling from the edge of a piece of leather covering a piece of foam, and my right hand squeezing a ham sandwich as the mustard dripped onto my crotch.
No one cared about us. I.e., no one was trying to kill us. Instead, a person was trying to kill another thing with a beating heart and fur: a deer. Or something. Two graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Hospital fondled thick burgundy ballpoint pens as they told me that a .223 brass teardrop can slaughter a doe. They told me some guy had probably stopped shooting deer and was shooting at the sun, miles away.
There are worse things. About twelve years ago, my parents and I saw all the colors/shapes our television could give us. All the frequencies the subwoofer could make. We sat on a white leather sofa for two days next to three bags of Fun Size Milky Ways with our eyes open. We touched/smelled each other a lot and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more love in my life.
At one point, my mother fell asleep in front of NBC, her neck bent like a cane. As people’s bodies fell from the sky, she snored. We smiled. Actually, we giggled.
Eventually she woke up to two people – me and my dad – laughing at her. We offered her a Milky Way. A tall metal rectangle fell down behind her and four thousand people screamed as she unwrapped it.
A year later, a friend and I wanted to watch a beheading. Like, we really wanted to watch one. This was right after Daniel Pearl was killed, and we took our shoes off and padded across his Persian rug to the glowing iMac. It was the kind of iMac they made in 2002 – they called it the Sunflower, and it had a double-jointed silver swivel cylinder neck. We had hot chocolate in gemstone-colored mugs, and peanut butter, and we kept pausing the video to touch our bodies and shake our heads and stick our tongues out and smile.
We tried a bunch of search terms: Daniel Pearl Beheading Real Video. Daniel Pearl Decapitation Footage. Daniel Pearl Being Decapitated. Daniel Pearl Real Death. Daniel Pearl Neck Slice. All of them worked. We tapped the iMac’s neck to move its screen a little closer. We watched it twice.
Sipping hot chocolate and thinking about what it would feel like to have our heads cut off.
My mother has a scar like a pink carnation on her upper thigh. Sometimes when I’m bored I rub its little grooves with my fingers. It’s kind of cute. She wasn’t really hurt by the bullet. We laugh about it sometimes.
And I think I was touching it – leaning against my mom on our white leather sofa and lightly feeling the little crenellations in her thigh, and how fancy they are, and how dainty – when peppery smoke started covering almost every single building on Maiden Lane and Ann Street and all the other streets below Canal.
This is the feeling of sitting down while people die. The feeling of touching soft things and soft bodies and knowing that you too can blow up as your DNA — the code to your life! — coats a hundred tall buildings like paint. Drink that cocoa. Feel that Persian rug. Your aunts and uncles and best friends truly love to watch beheadings, too.
I am always looking forward to the next terrorist attack. The next time we feel the full force of our computers’ retina displays and graphics cards. The next time we either die or turn our heads toward each other and feel it like a reflex. The next time we can walk home and think: shit falls from the sky and it’s amazing and you’re funny stay alive see you soon.