Ten years ago, I was sixteen. A junior in high school. School had started recently enough that everything still felt new. Like most other days, I woke up at 6 a.m., showered, and went downstairs with wet hair to eat breakfast. I’d already gotten dressed in a long-sleeved pink shirt and flared, faded jeans with a few pastel pink, blue, and white stars embroidered on them. I would be wearing white sneakers.
September 11, 2001 is one of the few days in my life from which I recall my outfit. I don’t even know why; it had no relevance to anything. I know it was still dark out, that my parents were sitting in the living room watching the news, and that my mom said, sarcastically, “God, why don’t they just blow up the whole country?” At that point, I still hadn’t put two and two together. Was there a bomb? Was that why the towers were falling? When I realized a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I figured it was a freak accident. A pilot with a heart attack, some sort of horrible engine mishap, something sad and devastating but not sinister. Terrorism never even occurred to me, the sixteen-year-old who hadn’t even known what the World Trade Center was.
In the carpool to school, we listened to the news on the radio. They talked about the Pentagon, about the plane that was headed there and crashed. In first period, aerobics class, we didn’t have a TV but we spent the class period discussing what was happening. Some people hadn’t heard yet, busy in the rush of getting up, getting ready, and getting to class. In second period – AP U.S. History – we stared, agape, at the TV for an hour. I always felt out of place in that class, as it was full of intellectuals who made me feel inadequate, but that day we were all on the same page. In my math class, it was barely touched upon. We went through the motions as normal and I kept wondering how that could be when so many people’s lives were in the process of falling apart. The TV stayed on in Spanish class. That’s where my memory of the day cuts off, for some reason. I remember the evening, heading home to sync up with the rest of the internet about what had transpired.
I remember all of this, yet I feel like it’s not my story. At the time, I knew one person living in New York. She wasn’t near the Towers. I didn’t spend the day fearing for my loved ones, nor was I involved. I’ve never been to New York City so I didn’t lose a landmark.
It isn’t part of my story, but it did impact the way I saw the world. At sixteen, I was still naive. I was horrified – I shed a few tears watching the footage and I worried that the next attack would be in Seattle – but I wasn’t deeply impacted. I didn’t, and still don’t, label myself as patriotic. September 11th, 2001 was probably one of the first times I paid attention to what was happening in the world, and so I came to know the world as a scary place. I hear a lot of people say they’d never thought something like this could happen; for me, I hadn’t yet formed opinions on the world, and when 9/11 happened I figured that’s just how the world was.
And now, ten years later, I still don’t know what to say. I know that I roll my eyes a little at the slew of “NEVER FORGET”s because how could anyone forget? You don’t have to remind us not to. I know that I cried almost every morning this week, thanks to NPR’s stories of people who lost loved ones on 9/11. I know that I cannot imagine what people went through that day, and I know that I’m grateful for it. I know that while I despise terrorism and am deeply saddened by the events of September 11th, it has not made me a xenophobe and I am not accepting of people who are.
In ten years, I don’t know how much has changed. We still fear attacks, as evidenced by all the new security measures of the past few years. We are still on guard. The world is still a scary place.
But it’s also a good place; the heroism present on September 11th is evidence of that. Today my thoughts are with the loved ones of everyone who was lost on 9/11. I wish you all peace.