On the 7th July, 2005, bombs exploded on the London Underground system. 52 people died, countless more injured. Hundreds of people’s lives changed that day.
I grew up in London and my school shared a fence with a tube line. That day was the last day before the summer holidays. We were having a doss day at school – movies, games. My group of friends were incredibly excited – there was a big garden party/sleepover planned. I was 15, very much besotted with my then boyfriend and wrapped up in the headiness of teenage youth.
The first we knew was a friend’s mum, texting her daughter to say there had been a power outage and their group would have to get the bus into town. Outrageous! Buses were desperately uncool – so they flicked on the tv to see how long it would be out for. And, slowly, the beginnings of the truth trickled into the air.
The school fell into a hush, only punctuated by the “lockdown” procedures being put into place. The slam-click of the windows and the locks. Strained voices everywhere, not to worry it’s all fine but you need to come inside now. The hush lasted whilst the shock passed – then the second movement came.
Everyone was frantic. So many of us had parents in London we couldn’t speak to, family we couldn’t find. One girl’s daddy was a bus driver; another was meant to be on the train. The tears fell as people redialled, over and over, wanting to hear their mother or father or sibling. The irrelevancies of our teenage lives were forgotten – my summer dress, picked to impress the boy, now stained with mascara from the girl who’s mother worked nearby. Someone half-joked that we probably shouldn’t light the smoke bombs and fireworks tonight. We laughed, but realisation was bedding down in the most painful way – our lives have changed.
The most disconcerting element, though, was not the teenage fear. Those emotions felt big but amongst teenage girls, that panic comes with the territory. The fear that made our blood curdle was not ours, but the teachers. The adults who were usually at the front of the class demanding respect were now in the corridors, sobbing as their son says he can’t find his girlfriend. Suddenly, our teachers gained lives – they had an ‘outside’ life and we were less important. They had love and family and the desperation on their faces still chills me now. All the usual rules were different – now, we were fending for ourselves, family and love ruling all.
After what felt like hours of panic, we settled into a stunned silence, sat on the floor huddled around tv screens, cuddling each other and hiding behind pillows when the images got too much. Eventually, our risk level was reduced and we shuffled off our separate ways – nobody really saying goodbye, everyone with a thought somewhere else.
We still went to our party. Our group was very split between those who couldn’t watch, and those who couldn’t not watch. We watched, watched in amazement until we were all asleep, in one double bed all together like the frightened children we were – the tv still playing like some sort of malevolent lullaby.
For a few weeks, you remember to hug before you leave, to say I love you once more, to never leave on an argument. For a few weeks we remember how precious love is and we remembered that it can be over in the blink of an eye. But then it goes back to normal – eventually, you let yourself be run too late for the kiss. Normality returns – but still, when I catch up with school friends, we talk about that day as one of those days where we all shifted and changed.
I have no interest in politics, war, government, religion: I’m just not educated enough or motivated enough. But when days like today in Woolwich happen, my fascination lies with the human horror and suffering and disgust. I frustrate the people I’m with to the point of rage with my insistence to sit and watch 24 hour news – a horrible invention, really, it allows people like me to chew the cud over and over and over – but I still do it. It feels right, respectful, important. Both to honour those lost and understand it, yes, but it’s more than that – it is a reminder not to forget the importance of love. It can all be lost so quickly.
My parents and my partner will be in London tomorrow. If it was up to me, they wouldn’t go – but they will, because they will not let themselves be scared. Today is a particularly sore due to its military connections – the victim could so easily be my baby brother, who’s forces and proud. But life goes on – just with a few more texts to check in – a few more “I love you”s.
I’m shook tonight, curled in bed with Woo in my palm, remembering the fear and loss of that day when our lives altered, just a little bit.