The Sydney Siege: Sticking Together
It is something you never plan on encountering. And if you grew up in the slightly Stars Hollow-eque bubble that is the Midwest its something you don’t even see on TV until after the family friendly hours ended on public channels.
I woke up yesterday morning -after 12 smacks of the snooze alarm on my phone- and rolled out of bed. Threw on a sunflower dress, whipped my hair back in a headband as a suitable replacement for a shower, and put on enough makeup to be deemed socially acceptable; I ran to catch the bus from the end of my street (374 Express to Martin Place) – standard Monday routine.
My bus dropped me off at Martin Place on Elizabeth St, right in front of the Channel 7 Studios, and about 100 meters from the Lindt Cafe, just like it does every day. I always love walking past the studio because they film the morning shows around that time so sometimes I get to see famous people performing or being interviewed, Last week it was John Legend, a month ago it was Katy Perry. Most Mondays I am running late, this week I was actually early. I walked through Martin Place as usual, past the giant Christmas Tree, fancy shops I can’t even afford to look at, flower shops, etc and made my way down the hill to work (about 1k away).
About 45 minutes after I passed through Martin Place, the tone changed forever. I started getting texts from friends who knew I worked in the city, checking on my status. One was as simple and frantic as “Where are you?”
Immediately, I asked around the office to find out what was going on. One co-worker mentioned something ISIS related in Martin Place. I recoiled just hearing the words, but the larger part of me didn’t believe his report could be accurate. There had been arrests about a month ago foiling a plan in Martin Place, but lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place- let alone the same city block. As I followed the changes developing through twitter and live-streams from ABC and Channel 7, I witnessed the terrifying events that had become all-too-common over the past year, unfolding around my city landmarks. There was my bus stop in the background of a reporter. There was the train station I sprinted out of on Halloween, running late to meet a friend. And there was Lindt, where I’d shopped for truffles for a friend not too long ago, the friendly staff that waited on me trapped inside.
I texted all of my friends as well, although very few of them work in the CBD. One was in the building housing the US Consulate, evacuated around noon by the Police. She walked down to meet me at my office while waiting to be picked up, and after scanning the street from her, I heard her call my name and squeezed her tighter than I had anyone else in a long time. Yet again I was reminded to tell your friends you love them, better yet- never let them forget it. I received messages from countless concerned friends and family. Perhaps most surprising of all was a concerned text from a former friend who I haven’t spoken with or been on good terms with for almost six months (below). In the heart of it all, the true colors of everyone I’d met in Sydney showed through.
The events that transpired throughout the day don’t need to be recapped here, but its safe to say that I was not focusing on work with my head or my heart. It was especially hard to when your job relies on 30 different twitter streams. When I left work at 5pm, 5 hostages had escaped and there was talk of multiple bombs throughout the city. My bus stop was understandably sanctioned off, so I took a train to another bus stop at Town Hall. The train that is packed almost every day was a ghost town. I rode home, sick to my stomach thinking that I was going about my normal day, while those remaining were living out their nightmare. I went to bed, hoping- praying that I would wake up to good news in the morning.
Instead, I woke up to the news of two beautiful souls lost. I got ready and ran down to catch my same bus, but even my tiny bus stop had a tiny cloud cast over it. Everyone looked down at their phones, everyone looked tired, and not one smile was shared.
The bus ride itself was silent. I wasn’t sure where they would be dropping us as the exclusion area was still in place. They dropped us off in Darlinghurst, an adjacent suburb about 2k from Martin Place. As everyone was ushered off the bus, we silently tapped off our Opal Cards and shuffled along the sidewalk and through Hyde Park. Never have I seen so many business people in the park; never have I witnessed such a heavy silence. As my walk got closer and closer to Martin Place, I had to decide what route to take. I decided to walk through. Not only did I feel it was important to face Elizabeth St head on, it was also the quickest way.
Walking through Martin Place where my bus normally lets off, I saw a pile of 30-40 flower bouquets and was compelled to add to the tribute. I walked down to the local flower shop just as it began to sprinkle, and purchased one Sunflower. From the Sunflower State to Sydney – some love for us all. A woman with a microphone stopped me afterwords. Working for WSFM Radio, she asked me about the flower and where my thoughts were. I was surprised to hear my voice shaking, and even breaking at times.
I didn’t know anyone inside, but I felt like I did. These are people I walk alongside every morning. I told that woman with the microphone, “I’ve always felt so grown-up and confident walking through Martin place. It’s the gateway to my first ‘big girl job.'” She smiled at me understandingly and I held myself together long enough to wrap things up.
On my way home from work today, I saw that tiny flower pile of 30 or 40 bouquets had grown to a memorial that could be seen from helicopters circling above. People came in droves, & estimates were there was one set of flowers being placed every minute throughout the day.
That small pile grew at a rate not even I could imagine. As an American, I have experienced terror and shootings. I’ve followed the Virginia Tech situation from the televisions at school, watched the Aurora Dark Knight coverage from my sorority house, and read about the high-school homecoming court who snapped in the cafeteria. But never has anything felt so close to home as the Sydney Siege did this week. And while Martin Place may have lost its innocence, it will still hold a very special place in my heart. We’re together on this one Sydneysiders; new or old, near or far, young or old: I’m sticking with Sydney.