What fantastic advice.
“We’ll be fine, Jerry, it’s more of a party than a protest.” I was nervous, but Andy was green and sweating.
“April, I’m responsible for your safety when you’re in this building, but once you’re out there there’s nothing I can do.” His paternalism was cute up to a point.
“This is what I do, Jerry. You are awesome. We’ll be back in five or ten minutes, I promise.”
We pushed through the revolving doors, me ready to start talking, Andy with the camera already rolling.
I turned around immediately and started walking backward into the crowd of people, speaking just above normal volume. You’ve probably seen this video, but it feels like part of the story, so I’m telling it:
“April May here on 23rd outside Gramercy Theatre, the residence of New York Carl, where the impromptu response to what will undoubtedly come to be known as the July 13 attacks is one of solidarity, hope, and friendship. Only a few stragglers of the Defenders movement have showed up to continue their outrageous protest of a clearly benign presence in our cities.” People are starting to take notice, they almost all recognize me, and they’re giving us a bit more room to move. I’m moving toward Carl, I want to see if I can get him in the shot, but you never really notice how wide streets are until they’re filled with people.
I think for a second now, walking forward instead of backward, using my “April May” clout to clear a bit of a passage.
“Hey, April!” I hear called from the crowd. It’s a young guy with a sign that reads “If This Is Humanity, Bring on the Invasion.”
“Hey, handsome!” I respond. He’ll have a story for his friends, I think.
I turn back to the camera and continue walking backward toward Carl.
“On this truly terrible day the world mourns. In our mourning we have to remember that this was not done by an evil world or an evil species, it was done by a few individuals. Yes, the level of sophistication and organization is terrifying. Their goal is to be terrifying, and they have succeeded. I’m scared. Of course I am. But a few fools who killed themselves and others for some unfounded ideal that took hold in their broken hearts—I’m not afraid of them, I’m afraid of their fear.” That was one of the lines I had prepped. I look around, people are staring now, they’ve formed a circle around us and it’s getting quiet. “These people.” I look around as Andy pans the camera. “This demonstration!” I shout, and everyone shouts, and it’s beautiful and we’re all doing it together and it feels so good. People have their cell phones out, recording me as I record them—the scene is covered from every angle. “This is what humanity is, solidarity in the face of fear. Hope in the face of destruction. If the Carls are here for any reason”—and amazingly Carl comes into view right when I say this, towering above the crowd just a few yards away—“then maybe they’re here not to learn about us but to teach us about ourselves. I am learning more every day and I am learning now that even . . .”
A chorus of cries distracts me, but it’s way too late for me to do anything. Someone has flung themselves out of the crowd just a few feet behind me. You can hear some of the cries distinctly on the video—“April!” “Stop him!” “Watch out!”—but it is mostly incomprehensible shouts of alarm.
He’s clearly visible on the tape; he looks like just some white guy. Jeans, blond hair, medium height, white T-shirt, khaki jacket. He pushes his way out of the crowd and springs right for my back with a six-inch-long knife held up in his fist. I couldn’t see any of that, though.
I didn’t really react in any way until I felt the knife hit me, which is when I screamed. That scream is so loud and awful on the tape that we had to cut it out of the video. Lav mics are really good at picking up only the noise from the person they’re clipped to, so it’s just straight raw scream with very little of the background excitement. I only heard it one time during editing and I can call it back to memory at will. If I think about it, I can still feel a little echo of the knife slamming into me, just between my shoulder blade and my spine. The knife cut through my brand-new suit coat from Top Shop the first millisecond and brushed past my shoulder blade the second. It felt like being punched full force by a heavyweight fighter. The ripping of the skin didn’t even register over the feeling of the blade hitting my ribs. The pain shot up and down my back from my neck to my tailbone and then down my arms for good measure. The next moment, the weight of my attacker crashed into me, knocking me forward and down to my hands and knees.
Andy was recording at 120 frames per second just in case. That lets you play the video in slow motion if you need to. You would have been able to see every bit of what happened if Andy had held the shot. He didn’t, of course, but here’s what the camera saw:
Half a second after he sees the guy running toward me, Andy’s lifting the camera up over his head, thinking not about cinematography but about attack. At first all you can see is sky and buildings and crowd, but as the camera comes down, lens first, you can see the literal moment that changed history. One second, the guy is rushing me and pushing the knife into my back, the next he goes limp. Not just limp—he loses all structure. All the power he has held tight in his body collapses. In the instant before the camera smashes his face, his skin goes two shades darker. His body crashes into mine, knocking me forward, but he’s no longer putting pressure on the knife, which wiggles a little in my back. The camera captures itself slamming into the guy’s bizarrely distorted face and then everything goes black.
From the perspective of the cell phone cameras that surrounded us, it’s a lot clearer. The guy crashes into me, knife in hand. The next instant, he’s a sack of liquid slamming into my back, and the next, Andy crashes the camera down on his face. I didn’t ever upload one of those wide shots to my channel, but there are plenty of videos around of it. His face, already bloated and distorted and dark, splits open under Andy’s camera like a soap bubble popping. The black mass that squirts and oozes out of the split skin is clearly not blood. I collapse onto my hands and knees, the shape of the body slumping off me onto the ground. In only one video did the camera owner keep his wits together enough to film me rising from my hands to stand. The knife is just sticking there (it turned out to be lodged between two of my ribs), blood starts seeping through my shirt, but the white suit coat is nice, thick wool, so at this point, it doesn’t look more than torn.
The crowd seems to be made mostly of screams. Some people stand perfectly still; others run. The running and the screaming at the center of the crowd causes panic in every direction. It’s a miracle no one died in the stampede. I feel the warm gel sliding down my back as Martin Bellacourt, my own little Gavrilo Princip, lies lumpy on the ground, very, very dead. I turn around to look at the body and it’s barely recognizable as a human. It looks like a bunch of dirty, wet, stained clothes on the street.
I look from the body to Andy and then to Carl and back to Andy. I’m in shock—well, not literally . . . yet. The pain is there and it is intense, but it’s like someone else is feeling it. Andy looks at the camera, covered in the dark gel. He shudders, suddenly pale, and drops it to the asphalt.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I think I’m fine.” And then I add, “Though it feels like . . . like there’s a knife in my back.” I turn to show Andy, which sends a new wave of pain up my neck and down my back. This is a new, fresher, sharper variety. I flinch, which makes it worse. I feel the knife wiggling around—moving my left arm in any way is excruciating.
“Oh my god. April, there’s a fucking knife in you,” he says. And the wiggling knife, which was only ever an inch deep, falls out of my back, clattering to the ground.
“It seems as if you are wrong!” I say, my head spinning as a fresh warm stream of blood starts pouring down my back. “Oh, Andy, this does not feel good.” We both look down at the knife on the ground, a little bloody but almost pathetic for all the damage it ended up doing.
It was a little thing. The cheap black plastic handle was designed for the blade to fold into it. There’s a picture of it online if you want to see it—it seems even more pathetic in its little evidence baggie. The blade is just a little wider than my finger. Turns out your ribs are really tightly placed in your back, I suppose to protect against this sort of thing.
Andy was staring at me, horrified. I guess that’s understandable. I wanted the camera, I wanted to finish the video, so I was like, “Can you grab the camera for me?”
“No! What?! April, you’ve been stabbed. You need to sit down.” And then he shouted, “WE NEED SOME HELP OVER HERE!”
This did not seem like a good plan to me. “We came down here for a reason. I’ve got like half a line left,” I said weakly. I was starting to feel dizzy, and suddenly every inch of my skin was covered in sweat.
“No, April, lie down, you’re going to pass out.” He was walking toward me with his arms out, ready to catch me.
“NO ANDY GIVE ME THE FUCKING CAMERA!” And with that final effort I was unconscious.