Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Travelling with Fear

I am trying to act in a way that is congruent with the last post I made: when I said that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Yesterday and today I took the tube to work; today, the same carriage I travelled in on July 7th, same place in the carriage. Because I know how to escape from there. Fear is my companion when I travel, but some journeys are worse than others.

Last night, after teaching dance class, I had a call from another girl who had just joined Kings Cross United. She lives in Spain. She called me, her voice shaking with emotion as she spoke to her first fellow passenger about the experience we both shared. She is traumatised, trying to be brave: she is brave. It turns out we were next to each other when we fell to the floor. And that she was five seats away from the bomber when his bomb exploded. She remembers me taking her hand, pulling her to her feet, she remembers my voice telling everyone to stay calm and to use our mobile phones as torches, to stand up if we were not injured, to hold onto each other and to ssssh, don't panic, don't scream, because we needed to listen out for the cries of who was injured in the darkness and the smoke. She walked behind me down the tunnel, then we lost touch when we came out into the light. Last night, we found each other. She is flying from Spain to meet us all in March, when we have our next pub get-together.

She has been visited by the police, they are going round the passengers with a plan of the train and asking us all to fill in where we stood. I have not had my visit yet: though I gave a very detailed statement the weekend after the bomb and I had already drawn a plan of the train and where I stood for the officers, so maybe they don't need to talk to me again

That plan I drew became the Kings Cross United train plan, and at each meeting new joiners can sign themselves on the train plan and see who was near them. It is very moving to see the Kings Cross United book, with everyone's names in their handwriting.

Today I thought of the brave girl from Spain as I took my place on the train. I thought of the other passengers I have got to know and how much I like them all, how knowing them has helped me get back on the train to work. Then, at Kings Cross, a heavy-set Asian man with a rucksack and a beard stood right in front of me as I sat by the first set of double doors. The train was too crowded for me to move away, and I realised that I was in the kill zone if it was a bomb that he carried.

There was nowhere to go. The train moved off and I stared through the train window at the new red wiring on the restored tunnel walls: that is how you can tell exactly where the explosion happened between Kings Cross and Russell Square. I stared at his rucksack, trying frantically to see his face, his demeanour, see if he sweating with fear - to look for clues - but his face was turned from me. I tried to cover my face under my coat, behind my hands, like a child. Knowing that it was pointless: if it had been a bomb in his rucksack my body, my face, my coat, my hands would all be blown to pieces. I was feeling sick as the fear gripped me and the remembered shock tore through me, leaving me shaking and gasping. I waited to die. I looked at my fellow passengers and waited for them to die. I tried to hold onto what I was, to collect all I was, ready for oblivion. I thought of the people I love. I was angry, I was afraid, I didn't want to die.

We stopped at Russell Square: I have not stepped on that platform since July 7th. Passengers surged off, the man with the rucksack stayed on. I watched the train disappear into the tunnel, I curved my body behind a wall to shield me from the explosion my body told me was coming. I waited for the bang and the smoke.

Nothing happened.

It was an ordinary train and there was no bomb. But I was standing on the platform, reacting as if I was in the middle of a war. Adrenaline was thundering round my body and the station was shimmering and swimming in front of my eyes. I realised that I was so afraid I could not focus properly, that my eyes were full of tears and that my face was wet with sweat but I was freezing cold.

The man with the rucksack was no-one to be afraid of. I wanted to apologise to him for thinking he was a killer.But of course, he was long gone into the tunnel.

I looked at the station clock, it was 8.42am.

I had to get to work for a meeting at 8.45am.

I forced myself to get on the next train.

It got to Covent Garden and I was safe. For now. I walked into the meeting late. I tried not to show that I was still shaking.

The worst thing of all is the fear; I have so few defences against it.

Getting to work is still so very hard. Blogging why helps, writing this has calmed me down.

I need to go to another meeting; thank you for reading this.


Anonymous Tim Neale said...

Well done

February 22, 2006 10:35 am  
Blogger Clive Scoggins said...

Blimey blimey. I hope the shakes have subsided a bit by now.

I hope you can talk to someone about this soon - either KCU people or someone else who can help you deal with the physical stress reactions you are understandably experiencing in situations like this.

I went through a period of experiencing stress reactions to certain situations, and although the reason behind them was (is) totally trivial compared to what you've lived through, I know they can be extremely debilitating. I can only just begin to understand what you must have felt on the train this morning, and I hope you are starting to feel better now.

February 22, 2006 11:04 am  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

WELL DONE my dear!.....horrible horrible....but such an achievement. I know everyone says this, but it WILL get better. So very proud of you.
This morning I bumped into a KCU person for the first time...Bumblebee! We were both on the same carriage we were on that day. We sat together & chatted, and we did that journey again together, for the first time since that day. It really meant a lot to be sitting next to her again and to make it to our destinantion this time.
big hugs...hxx

February 22, 2006 11:54 am  
Blogger Bumble Bee said...

Hey Rach,
Well done you for getting back on the next train! It's such a horrible thing to be gripped by fear again but well done for facing it. It will get better hun, I promise and in the mean time we are all here for you thinking of you.
As Holly said she was my buddy this morning - strange journey. Happy to be sitting next to her again but strange as I didn't know what to say. Glad we made the journey again!

February 22, 2006 12:08 pm  
Blogger Ally said...

Well done, you. It *will* get better. x

February 22, 2006 12:20 pm  
Blogger steve said...

V well done for getting back on Rachel!
I think I would have done the same, last time (the only time) I got on the tube I rushed down the platform so I could travel with a group of Transport Police.

Also, feel free to link any posts from my blog.


February 22, 2006 1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done

February 22, 2006 2:31 pm  
Blogger Ceridwen Devi said...

Every time you feel fear but have the guts to get back on the train you win. You reinforce the positive feeling of achievement. It may not always feel like that but is so. Well done! It's easy to say that in Cardiff, I know. We don't have an Underground. Well done, anyway.

February 22, 2006 2:36 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

Do one thing that scares you every day. Didn't someone clever say that once?

To be fair I think they had something different in mind...aww hell you don't need more wittering on.

Well done.

February 22, 2006 3:10 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Lass In London said...

Well done for getting back on that train, even if it was a meeting that forced you to.

It sounds like an awful journey and it's like you need one of those "we are not afraid" badges but with a hologram one which says "I'm bloody terrified" from another perspective.

February 22, 2006 7:30 pm  
Anonymous Joon Flowers said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I read it every day. It's often the first place I go to when I sit down at my computer. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am sure that a lot of people benefit from reading it. I am not sure if I said this before, but have you ever thought of making a book out of it. That way I think many more people would read it and I think that would be a good thing.

February 22, 2006 8:35 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Lass In London said...

I forgot to add that today has just made you stronger.

February 22, 2006 9:37 pm  
Blogger Geoff said...

Well done Rachel. I have often wondered if a good response to the bombings would be if all passengers would just say hello good morning to each other.

February 22, 2006 11:58 pm  
Anonymous Patricia said...

I am so proud of you. Every now and then I check to see how you are doing. I am many miles away but my thoughts are with you.

February 23, 2006 6:13 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you all so much.

Bit weepy reading all the comments but in a good way.

February 23, 2006 7:35 am  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,

seems to me that you are doing ok..btw guess what..i saw it on tv...dominos pizza uk and fox are having a simpsons tie-in to promote the new "ay caramba fajita" pizza.


ill get off the plane,catch a cab..and should i say,"laddie or guvnor take me to dominos"? :)

lol..just having fun here.seth :)

February 23, 2006 11:27 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Dominos is take -way only Seth! You want to get to your hotel and pick up the phone - aye acarumba!

yes, come to the UK!

February 23, 2006 11:56 pm  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,

oops..can u book me into the ritz-carlton? :) :) :)

February 24, 2006 12:22 am  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,,
yes here in the u.s. dominos is delivery only-they used to promise "30 minutes or less"delivery but they dropped that-too many crashes. they used to give u the option of stopping in to get your pie but again i think thats also gone....

February 24, 2006 12:27 am  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,
can u see me driving around london in the austin powers car,a slice of pizza in one hand,butterfinger candy in the other yelling ay caramba at those cheeky passers-by (grin) seth

February 24, 2006 12:38 am  

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