As A Woman And A Parent, The Manchester Bombing Feels Incredibly Personal

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Leon Neal / Getty Images

When I first heard about the bombing of the Manchester Arena in England, I was obviously shaken and upset. Bombings are terrible, especially in venues where it is jam-packed and can be especially hard to get out safely.

But when I heard that it happened at an Ariana Grande concert, I was positively gutted. My first thoughts went to the kind of people who would have been in attendance at such a concert — mostly young women and girls, either with or without an adult chaperone. Anyone who would consciously wage an attack on a concert that was going to have a predominantly female audience, comprised of countless children, clearly had it in for women.

I know that none of this is ever random. These kind of things are premeditated and meticulously planned. So the person (or people) who decided to attack the Manchester Arena knew that the audience was going to be mostly young people and mostly female. What is it about women that they find so abhorrent that they had to attempt to blow up an entire arena full of them? Young girls are our future. They are the ones who will lead the revolution, level the playing field. Is that scary to these men? Are they somehow threatened by the amount of power an arena full of young women possesses? That’s the thought that just keeps turning over and over in my head.

To be crystal clear, I would be heartbroken and furious regardless of the venue or the audience, but this particular act of terrorism felt so pointed, so violating to me.

Then the anger gave way to a very scary realization: That could have been me. I went to my first concert when I was 12, almost 13. My best friend was 13. Her parents drove us to New Jersey and dropped us off at the venue, telling us to meet them outside in a few hours when the concert was over. Throughout my teen years, I never went to a concert with an adult chaperone. We were always dropped off by someone’s parents, and they were waiting in the parking lot when the show was over. They never seemed to worry about us getting into any sort of danger. They were excited for us to get to have fun, memorable experiences.

After ninth grade, my mom, who used to go to some other things with me, pulled back too. My parents figured that if I was capable of going to school by myself every day, 45 minutes away, then my friends and I were okay to stand in line for a record signing or an episode of MTV’s TRL. By then, we had been going to a few concerts each year — it was our thing back then, and we never had a chaperone. We knew what we were doing. My friend and I were never scared either. We were more worried about tour programs being sold out or not being able to snag the best R-shirt.

On September 11, my best friend and I were supposed to attend an O-Town concert in Manhattan. I planned to go straight to the venue after school to save us spots in line, and she was going to meet me there. Obviously the concert was rescheduled due to the unforeseen tragedy of that terrible day, but in spite of the horrible thing that happened, we weren’t scared to go to the concert alone the following month, and our parents didn’t fear us going alone. They simply told us to stay with each other and to make sure that we kept our cell phones where we could reach them in case of an emergency — the same rules they always told us before we headed out on our own.

I’m not just a pop-concert-obsessed teenager now though. I’m also a parent.

Now that I’m a parent, I am so much more fearful of what’s going on in the world. Seeing pictures and posts on social media of terrified parents who are looking for their missing children is making me physically ill. That could be me. That could be my precious child.

I have a toddler who, like his mother, lives for a good live show, so it’s something we do frequently together, and one of our most prized bonding experiences. But if these terrorists are willing to bomb a pop concert full of teenagers, who’s to say the next time it won’t be an event where the audience is even younger?

I shouldn’t be afraid to take my son to see The Wiggles because we might not return. When I was talking to my father about the event, all he could say was, “What if you were at that concert?” Because I’m still his little girl, and the thought of me being in those shoes is too much for his heart to bear.

I have tickets to go see Harry Styles with my friend this fall, and I should not be fretting about attending this concert, and possibly leaving my son without a mother because something terrible happened. Chances are everything will be just fine. We will have a great time, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves, and head home to the safety of our comfy bedrooms. That doesn’t discount my worry, my fear, my anger at this point. It all feels too real, too close to home, too heartbreaking.

Music, and by extension, music venues are supposed to be safe spaces. Music is something that unites people from all walks of life. It is the most universal example of the human experience. Music has always been a refuge for me, especially when I was a teen girl. To think that some deranged man with a bomb strapped to his chest would infiltrate and disrupt what is supposed to be a haven for Ariana’s fans makes me sick. It’s perverse on so many levels. These were people’s babies, and he knew it. You just do not fuck with someone’s children. Ever. I wish we could all just agree that kids are off-limits always and forever.

There is something, though, a tiny glimmer of humanity in the darkness. The coverage that is coming out of Manchester is absolutely heartwarming; these girls have banded together to lift each other up, show support during a difficult time, and prove that they really are a forced to be reckoned with. In spite of this truly heinous act, they are out to prove that there will always be love and light to drive out the dark. They are making their country, and their parents, very proud. They are making me proud too.