Almost a year ago today, I remember waking up at 5 in the morning, just a few hours before a final. I remember logging into Facebook and reading a status that said, “TTP: you finally hit us where it hurts the most.” I remember thinking with an overwhelming sense of dread, “No… not another attack…” And then, as I scrolled through my news feed and saw what that status was referring to, I realized that this wasn’t just another attack. It was so much more.
Almost a year ago today, I remember how my heart dropped out of my ribcage. I was thousands of miles away, seeing it unravel through my computer screen. First, there were 80 kids gone. “Many held hostage; 80 dead” read the headlines. Refresh. 90. Refresh. 110. Refresh. 130. Until the death toll rose to 141, and I remember thinking with a surreal kind of numbness: “They were just kids.”
Almost a year ago today, Pakistan bled. We’ve bled so many times over the years; we’ve bled constantly, but on December 16th, 2014, all the stitched wounds were yanked open and Pakistan bled more than it ever had before.
And I say this with the utmost sincerity. No exaggeration, no dramatization. No. Just the truth.
But then I think about what the parents went through- that day when their kids were in their school with… creatures. Not animals, but creatures, because animals are not so callous. If this event affected me so much, how can I even begin to imagine what they went through? What did those parents go through when they stood outside, not knowing if their child was going to step out of the door or if their child was going to be carried out. A mother recounted after the event that her child begged her not to go to school that day, and she blames herself for putting him in the hands of death. The parents who sent their kids to uniform in crisp uniforms and polished shoes, only for them to come out in wooden coffins.
The teacher who shielded her students and defiantly asked the creature to kill her, because she wouldn’t watch her kids die in front of her eyes. The teacher who got out safe but went back inside to save the children, but she never came out again.
What did those kids go through? The child who got shot in the legs and had to put his tie in his mouth to stop from screaming so he could escape. The child who lay under the lifeless bodies of his friends, pretending to be dead. The child who desperately looked at the list of the deceased after the attack and realized that all of his best friends were dead. An entire ninth grade wiped out, leaving only one survivor, who is alive today because his alarm clock didn’t go off.
A year ago today, many Pakistanis all over the world changed their social media pictures to black, as a show of solidarity, as a show that we know, we see, we remember, and we will never forget. But on the first anniversary of this attack, I don’t want to drape myself in black. I want to drape myself in something else. I want to put a face to the children who were there, who lost their friends and teachers, who lost their innocence and their childhood. Whose eyes many will see throughout their lives and think, “Those eyes have seen things.” Today, I want to express how proud I am of these kids that they donned their uniforms, swung their backpacks on their shoulders and went back to their school.
If Pakistan is anything, it is resilient. And if Pakistan deserves a face, it is not the face of its politicians – it is the face of these children who lost so much but who show us what it means to pull back our shoulders, to hold our chins up and carry on. Because these aren’t “just kids” like I thought almost a year ago today. They are so much more.