“If we don’t stand for what we believe in, we fail.”

30 07 2012

Read this, Sean Flynn’s piece on the massacre at Utøya: “Is he coming? Is he? Oh God, I think he is.”

Two of Freddy Lie’s three daughters are on Utøya. Cathrine, who is 17, is there for the second time, and Elisabeth, who is a year younger, is at her first island camp. Sometimes Freddy thinks his girls joined the AUF just so they could go to Utøya, but that’s not completely true: Elisabeth believes she can change the world. She wants to help people, and especially she wants to help animals. Oh, yes, the animals. Very important. She would say, “The fur, it stays on the animals.” She is also a number-one picker, a top recruiter, for the AUF in the østfold southern district.

Freddy’s girls are worried about him. He drives a dump truck in Oslo Monday through Thursday, but he’s added a few Friday shifts lately. Cathrine and Elisabeth don’t know if he’s in the capital when the bomb explodes. They call his mobile. Freddy always answers. If they call me one hundred times, ninety-nine I take it. Freddy is at home, in Halden, a border town south of Oslo, but he’s left his phone in the car. He misses the call. On the island, his daughters start to panic. They are certain he has been blown up. By the time Freddy retrieves the mobile, just before five o’clock, there’s a message from his ex-wife. “Call Elisabeth.”

He dials her number. She is giddy with relief. Through a window in the cafeteria building, Elisabeth sees Cathrine walk by outside. Cathrine points a thumb up so her little sister can see it, but tentatively, more of a silent question than a statement. Elisabeth smiles, gives her sister a thumbs-up in return. Their father is safe in Halden.

Freddy and Elisabeth talk for sixteen minutes and forty seconds. Elisabeth complains about the rain, teases that she might want to come home if the sky keeps emptying on the island. If it’s still raining Saturday, Freddy teases back, he’ll bring her a survival suit, and maybe a pair of goggles, too.

He tells her not to worry. He’s safe.

You know what happens.

The police emergency lines in the North Buskerud district start ringing just before 5:30 p.m. on 22 July. There are only four officers on duty in the entire district, which is headquartered ten miles north of Utøya in the little city of Hønefoss, and the calls come faster than the operator can answer. The senior officer, a sergeant named Håkon Hval, has been watching news of the Oslo bombing and waiting for his shift to end. He picks up a line. “There’s a guy in a police uniform,” a hysterical voice tells him, “walking around Utøya shooting people.”

Håkon does not believe this. He has worked in North Buskerud for eight years, and he has never been to Utøya, because there’s never been any need. Also, police in Norway do not shoot people. This is a sick joke, he thinks. But the phones keep ringing. Phones are ringing in South Buskerud and Oslo, too. He realizes, very quickly, that this is not a joke.

The cinematic moment, in awful reality.

Boats are launched. Toril climbs into one with a man who steers out into the lake to fish kids from the water. Hege stays at the jetty, waiting for people to come ashore. Within minutes, she helps two girls, wet and shivering, onto the jetty. “A policeman is shooting,” they tell her. She begins to walk them up the path to the café at the top of the camp, then detours to her trailer to retrieve her cell phone. One of the girls spoke to her mother less than an hour before and told her she was safe on Utøya. She needs to call her back.

Boats bring more campers, dozens, then hundreds. The people at Utvika gather blankets for wet survivors. Hege loses track of how many kids borrow her phone. One is a girl, maybe 18 years old, with long black hair. She is nearly hysterical, and she wraps herself around Hege. She refuses to go to the café, refuses to leave the jetty, because she left her brother on the island and she won’t leave until she finds him. She uses Hege’s phone to call her brother, over and over, but he does not answer, and Hege does not leave her.

Toril and Hege were engaged; it’s not clear if they are any longer.

There are ten kids on South Point. Five are dead; the other five are wounded. One of them, a girl, is in the water, upright but limping. Adrian helps her out of the lake and sees a wound in her right leg. There is no blood, just a hole deep and round as a golf ball. They sit together. The blue lights are still flashing across the water, but the helicopter is gone. Adrian tweets: “Shot on Utøya. Many dead.”

He turns to the girl. “It would be really nice,” he says, “to have a cigarette now.”

“Yeah,” she says without looking at him.

“Do you think the shop is open?”

The girl laughs and Adrian laughs, and then they laugh about their water-wrinkled fingers and the cabaret scheduled for tomorrow night that probably won’t happen, and they keep laughing, because there is nothing else to do until someone finally gets them off Utøya.

He gets his cigarette, at the hospital.

He’s missing some muscle, and there are seventy or so fragments still embedded in his flesh that work their way up to his skin every now and again. “So there’s always a reminder,” he says, “that there are pieces of evil in me.”

He smoked a lot over the winter. He got hate mail from right-wingers, and once, down by the water behind the mall, a little thug told him, “You weren’t killed then, but someday I’ll make sure you are.” When he went out, he left notes in his apartment saying where he’d gone and who he was meeting in case that person turned out to be a lunatic assassin and the police had to search his apartment for clues. He also wrote a book, with a Norwegian journalist, about his hours on Utøya. It’s called Heart Against Stone, which is a reference to his desperate effort to quiet his pounding heart in the moments before Breivik tried to kill him. He often wonders why he is still alive, why the man with the gun didn’t put a bullet in his chest when he had a clear shot, and how he managed to miss the head of a still body at point-blank range. Adrian decided it was luck, and that perhaps all of life is endless luck.

Maybe that’s true. On the sixth day of his trial, Breivik explained exactly why he didn’t shoot Adrian when he had his first chance. “I thought,” he told the court, “that he looked right-wing.”

Of course, Breivik came back to shoot him, mangle him. Luck, good and bad.

Read it all, all of the way to the banal and beautiful and awful end.

h/t Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic Monthly


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