I’ve never blogged on September 11th before. I’ve tried in the past, but it doesn’t ever really feel right. It still doesn’t today. There are too many things to say and as I visit my memories there are more and more that bubble up. This post does not feel complete and probably never will even if I were to write for weeks.
On September 11, 2001 I was a junior in high school. My memory of that day is crystal clear – from our 9am fire drill and the bright blue sky to the sound of our principal’s voice as he announced over the loudspeaker that the news had been confirmed.
I remember later in the day having the sick realization that I had no idea where my father was and that the Pentagon was on the short list of places he might have been (turns out he was home with my sick brother that morning where they both watched a live news report that unwittingly showed the first plane hitting the tower in the background). The moment I wondered if my mom would get to leave her job at the hospital that night. Trying to imagine doing what my mother told me I should do if my parents were “called up” – take the big bag of dog food and get in the car with my brother and our dog and drive halfway across the country to where my only other family members lived.
I still see the paper white faces of my classmates as they were called out of class and told to bring their things. No one knew if they were next. No one knew if they were getting the worst news or if this was just their family wanting to be together. So many of us kids had military parents, Department of Defense parents, parents whose actual roles were classified – anything and everything was possible. I remember one boy in particular who was the first to leave my physics class that day. The sick look on his face, like he’d just been waiting for this call. He knew what he would hear when he left the room. He did not come back – not later that year and not the next.
I remember the stories of my friends fighting with teachers who wanted to keep them from checking in with family members, being mad that our schools wouldn’t release us from early and in fact put us on lockdown since we were so close to DC and being even more angry when my teachers, many who were ex-military, refused to show us the news footage because it would be “giving the terrorists what they want.” This built until the very end of the day when for my last class our favorite teacher just put on the news and let us all hold each other, in one big dog pile of teenage angst, and cry.
I remember the aftermath when every song on the radio suddenly included heartbreaking sound bites from the news (this one in particular still makes me cry). How suddenly our school looked like the set of a 4th of July Musical with everyone in patriotic colors and how every car boasted a red white and blue bumper sticker. Where our crusty, conservative administration turned a blind eye to the “Fuck Terrorism” stickers that popped up on lockers and backpacks while they locked the gates each day and stopped letting us sit outside for lunch. How angry we all were at this perceived loss of freedom because while we “got it” we didn’t really understand.
How one year later our lives were disrupted again, this time by the DC Sniper, and how none of us could take the threat seriously. We laughed as the reporters reminded us to “bob and weave” while we were in public places. Our fathers joked that they should put on their Kevlar and earn money pumping gas for our paranoid neighbors. How the school bussed our sports teams to “undisclosed locations” for their games because safety was important but sports scholarships were on the line and college scouts were interested. And this time when they locked the gates and made us sit indoors we just rolled our eyes. There could not have been a greater lesson in perspective than how we coped with that strange time in our lives as compared to how we handled September 11th.
How this scene in 25th Hour stopped my heart the first time I saw it in 2002 (0:40 is the big moment):
And how I knew even then that no one would appreciate it ten years later. How watching it today doesn’t make my hands shake like they did the first time I saw it.
I never imagined the confusion and pain would fade like they have but that the strangest things would still be as real and raw as ever. How as time passes some memories are more painful rather than less. How different things stand out about that day.
How more years would pass and one random day my best friends and I would collapse on a bench in the middle of the Newseum sobbing as we were caught off guard by the news footage and pictures they’d memorialized. How the sight of twisted steel beams and broken camera parts hits a place in us that might never fully heal because as much as your brain can process an act of terrorism it’s something your heart can’t really understand.