They were called The Hillel and they ran the neighborhood. They stood outside my door in the corridor between my apartment and the third floor elevator. I was having a party or event of some sort, safe inside my apartment with loved ones, with a locked door between us and The Hillel. We could hear them and see them through the window, bald heads save the tattoo ink that covered not just their heads but some of their faces as well. They’d never bothered me before, I knew to stay out of their way and as a result they stayed out of mine. Somebody, maybe it was my brother- did not like my insistence that we all stay inside for the time being. Maybe he was brave on too much to drink, or maybe just too foolish on too much to drink. “Fuck the Hillel!” He purposely spoke loud enough to be heard. “I don’t give a fuck about the fucking Hillel!” his words grew louder, taking precise aim. I tried to shut him up, but the door flew open. All I saw was the barrel of a gun, a shot was fired and I couldn’t hear or see much after that aside from my own voice, weak.
I wanted to speak. I knew I should speak. I felt the burning desire to say something that mattered. But all I could say was “Please. Please…” and my vision started to go.
I awoke with a start. The way people do in movies after a particularly awful nightmare. But that had never happened to me before. People always gave me the advice “wake yourself up”, but I’d never been able to do it. Whenever I had a nightmare, I had to ride it out like a character in a horror movie. It was reality until it played out or an alarm saved me. I didn’t know if I had been shot in the dream or if the bullet had found its way to one of my friends and the loss of hearing had been from the loud bang, and the loss of vision and lack of speech was just from the sheer shock. Deep down I think I know where it landed, and as I darted awake I put my hand to my chest. My heart was beating wildly. Not like the fresh nightmare’s weak “Please, please” but like a roaring. Furious and frantic, wildly rebellious, “I’M ALIVE I’M ALIVE I’M ALIVE I’M ALIVE”. There was a burning in my chest that I couldn’t explain aside from an indicator as to where that nightmare bullet may had come to rest. I stayed awake until the sun came up. I searched online for “Hillel” in hopes of finding some sort of meaning behind a senseless terrible nightmare. Hillel was a notable Jewish religious leader, and one of the first things I read also struck me the most, under the heading “Notable Sayings”. “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am “I”? And if not now, when?”
If not now when had sent a bullet straight into my home and jerked me awake. It’s the only meaning I could derive from the terror. Hillel the Elder was not a killer, in fact he was the opposite. Why the nightmare gang bore his moniker, makes no sense really. Aside from perhaps the convoluted symbolism of bullets raining down upon you from “If not now, when?”. I suppose it’s human nature to try to make sense of the non-sensical. To try to take the terror out of the terrifying as best we can. If not now, when?