On a Tuesday in 2001, I woke up at 6am and started getting ready for school. I was sixteen, having just started my junior year of high school. I pulled on a long-sleeved pink t-shirt and my flared jeans with the pastel pink and blue stars on them (my fashion sense has clearly never been amazing) and wandered down to the kitchen, my hair still wet.
The TV was on, both of my parents glued to it. There had been a plane crash, or a plane flying into a building, or a terrorist attack. No one knew for sure. “Wow, why don’t they just blow up the whole country?” my mom said, assuming from the get-go that it was terrorists, even while the news still sought to figure out the details.
On the neighborhood-carpool ride to school, we listened to the radio. I knew nothing about politics at sixteen and hated talk radio, but for once I actually cared (even though I laughed when my neighbor said, “Oh, I didn’t realize the Pentagon was part of the World Trade Center!”). We spent first period – aerobics – talking about what we’d heard. Some people hadn’t heard yet. Second period was world history, so we stared at the televised news and discussed what was going on.
By fourth period – Spanish – everyone was abuzz. None of us had a strong personal connection, what with Seattle being about as far from New York City as possible within the US. But it was horrifying, and became more so as I followed the news, watching footage of men and women jumping from a burning building. I cried when I read the stories of lives lost. It was one of the first current events I remember caring about whatsoever.
But it was in Spanish class that I first heard the name Osama Bin Laden. As I’d paid no attention whatsoever to politics or current events thus far, I’d never heard of such a person. I didn’t even know why the hell someone would do this. I was so clueless that when my Spanish teacher made a remark about people thinking it was “probably Bin Laden,” I thought she’d said “Ben Laden,” a first and last name, and wondered who on earth that was.
My friend Justin enlisted in the Army not long after the day that became known as 9/11. I would come to date two other boys in the military as well as befriend numerous others. It wasn’t as if I gave Osama Bin Laden much thought in my day-to-day life, but, like everyone else, I’d often hear that he was “living in a cave somewhere” and that his whereabouts were changing and unknown.
And then, on a Sunday in 2011, my (military) boyfriend and I were eating pizza at the restaurant near my apartment. I turned around to look at the TV, which was displaying CNN, and saw a scrolling marquis saying “3 US sources say Osama Bin Laden is dead.” Then it turned to “BREAKING NEWS: BIN LADEN DEAD” and statements about the President’s upcoming announcement, late at night on the east coast. I’ve had the TV on all night, watching the celebrations in DC and New York and listening to the commentary.
I didn’t think I’d feel as much emotion about it as I do, and I still haven’t really formulated my thoughts. I feel a strange amount of relief, something I definitely didn’t expect because I don’t really consider myself political or patriotic. But the death of someone so instrumental in wreaking havoc on this country is huge, and this is an incredible historic moment. It’s one of those things where, like 9/11 itself, I’ll probably always look back on and be able to remember exactly where I was. It’s an exciting moment and it is some sort of closure, really. It makes me feel (however erroneously) that these wars we’re enmeshed in have had some sort of purpose.
And then it’s terrifying: this is huge. Bin Laden is not the only terrorist out there and his death doesn’t really stop anything. The internet is teeming with fear of retaliation, another attack on the US or on the troops overseas. While I want to let my mind drift into thoughts of ending the wars and pulling out the troops and not living constantly under the fear of terrorism, I can’t help but worry. Crowds are gathering in the streets to celebrate, but all the US Embassies are on security watch. I’m nervous about what’s to come, because things seem to never get better without first getting worse. Let’s hope we are right to celebrate and can continue feeling safe. And let’s remember to thank our troops for this – thank them and keep them in your thoughts as we move forward.
(In other news, as MSNBC just informed me, May 1st is also the day Hitler’s death was announced in 1945. I find this strangely fascinating.)