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In Remembrance: 9-11-01

September 12, 2014

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s beautiful accounts of where they were and what they were doing on this day, thirteen years ago (one of note is comix creator Dean Haspiel’s powerful and relatable depiction of his experience that morning.) I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever written down my story.

But that makes me think: why should my story matter? On that same note–why should the story of anyone who wasn’t actually there or didn’t lose anyone on that day matter? Who am I to write an account–I wasn’t in the city when it happened. But, I didn’t have to be there. I didn’t have to have that experience. Because while the nation-wide mourning on this day is a blanketed feeling we may have all experienced, everyone’s own pain, loss, suffering and memories of the day are unique. So, here is my story.

As a child, the one word I could use to describe myself was paranoid. I’m still a pretty paranoid adult, but I used to get *really* freaked out over everything back then. As I’ve mentioned before, I was obsessed with the Book of Revelation, often envisioning different ways the world could possibly end. These thoughts would cloud my mind and make it hard to focus on anything else. If I were having fun, they would interrupt my good time and force themselves into my mind so a day of fun turned into a day of fear. I remember one instance of going down to the city to attend the Ringling Brothers Circus with family. As I walked around and marveled at the big buildings, my awe turned quickly to horror, imagining a bomb going off right in the middle of everything, or the buildings toppling down and crushing everything in their wake. This happened only about a year or so before the events of 9/11 transpired.

I don’t remember much about my day on September 11, 2001. Just that it was remarkably… normal. Every school chose to handle how they told the students what happened differently. Mine opted to have the teachers not say anything at all.

So when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was completely unaware. Blissfully ignorant that the world was falling down around me—only 20 or so miles away from where I was sitting, in my 8th grade science class.

When I left school that day my grandma was nervously awaiting me. As soon as I got to her she told me the news. “A plane flew into that World Trade Center.” I really had no clue what that meant. I think I responded with something along the lines of, “Oh geez, is everyone ok?” She didn’t respond. She probably didn’t even know where to begin—but the news would tell me everything I needed to know—but never wanted to.

The news for the next few days was a constant stream of reminders of the horrific tragedy that took place. Seeing it happen for the first time—and every time after that—left a knot in my throat and an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t know what any of this meant, but it felt like a horrible nightmare—one that had plagued me for what felt like years—coming true in a way that I couldn’t control or understand.

My uncle worked on Wall Street when 9/11 happened. We didn’t hear from him for an entire day. It turned out he made it onto a ferry and into New Jersey, where he eventually reached some cousins-in-law who took him in for the night. That uncertainty of where he was or what happened to him didn’t settle until he finally made it home, two days later. When we heard he was ok it was a relief—but it was hard to be happy when so much awfulness was all around us.

It was hard to avoid the news. The only keywords being thrown around at the time were “terrorism,” and “war.” I wanted to shut off everything—including my brain—and pretend like nothing was wrong, but it was impossible. I had to finally face my fear, but it didn’t make it go away. Sleepless nights of hyperventilating and panic attacks that had ceased over the past year returned with a vengeance. I didn’t lose what others had lost. I wasn’t there to experience it firsthand. I didn’t even witness the events as they were unfolding on the news—but I still felt it. I felt everything. We all did.

The year anniversary took place a week after my first day in high school. We congregated in the gym to share our memories. I didn’t like remembering, but I had to. We also had occasional assemblies for “what to do if doomsday occurs” scenarios. I didn’t like having to think about those, but I had to.

Every year after it for a long time I dreaded September 11th, both for fear that it might happen again (my thoughts of that started to only really occur on that day) and simply because I hated remembering. I hated thinking of those images on the TV, recalling my feelings witnessing them and worrying about my uncle. I felt for all those who lost who had to remember each year.

I’ve started to hate remembering less. I still shudder when the news replays the events of that day, but I no longer live in fear of its anniversary each year. I don’t mind reading peoples’ accounts from that day. I’m now ok with sharing what I remember with others.

And that’s why we have to remember.

So now, thirteen years later, I’ve been able to recall my account of that day. Thirteen years—meaning infants who lost their mothers or fathers that morning are the age now that I was when it occurred. It’s surreal to think of. How far have we come since then? In some ways, tremendously, in others, frightfully not. But if there’s one day where we can all stop and just—remember, together—maybe we’ll someday have the ability to come together more than just once a year, and not just because of a tragedy. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, and I know that’s not thinking I often have, but if this day instills hope rather than fear, then we have come a long way.