To the People Who Ask Me About 9/11:
It has been over 10 years since I learned the full damage pure hatred can cause. I was 13 years old, a high school freshman, and although I already was acquainted with issues related to hatred and violence, nothing could have prepared me for that day. I don’t think anyone could ever be prepared for what happened on that day.
I woke up that day and felt the euphoria that my entire state was feeling: the sun was shining, it was a warm Indian-summer day with a comforting breeze; the world seemed to be glowing. I wasn’t in school that day because I had a dentist appointment, so I rolled lazily out of bed and made my way into the bathroom. I don’t know why, but everything just seemed to stand to me as I went about my morning; the feel of the sun warm on my skin as it shone through the open bathroom window, the sound of the world outside. I remember trying to shake the fog of sleep out of my head when I first heard my mother screaming for me. I scrunched my face as I finished washing up, yelling back to her to relax, and that I was coming. I remember grumbling at her impatience as she continued yelling for me, and as I made my way down the hallway I felt my stomach start to twist. But I was 13, so I greeted my mother with “What do you want?” I grumbled as I walked into the living room, and my mother turned to me.
The look on my mother’s face is something I can’t forget. Fear, horror, anguish…I can’t even begin to describe as our eyes met and her words died in her throat. Movement on the television screen caught my attention, and my eyes fell to the television screen as a large plane tore through the second Twin Tower. I turned back to my mother and asked her “What movie are you watching?”
What movie are you watching? Those words slam through me every time I think about them leaving my mouth. How I wish my mother was watching a movie about someone attacking the city that represented every single New Yorker. A city that I was always in constant awe of; a city that I had been in only weeks before…god I wish it was a movie.
But it wasn’t. Tears were flowing down my mother’s face as she told me that we were being attacked. The twisting in my stomach shot to my chest, strangling me as all the knowledge of New York City and my family started to flow through my mind…8 million, give or take, people in NYC…1 million in Manhattan on a slow day. My mom’s boyfriend was in the city that day; my uncles were firefighters living 20-30 minutes outside of the city limits. I had friends in the city…and I stood there…my feet frozen as the phone started ringing.
I remember hearing my mother frantic on the phone as she tried to locate people while simultaneously trying to get to through to the schools to get my brother. Then came news of the Pentagon…and the plane in PA, the information scrolling under the constant footage of the burning towers, and I stood there…watching the world explode and not knowing what to do. I watched as debris fell from the buildings, and people ran for their lives…and I remember swallowing back the vomit that violently rose up from my stomach when I realized the debris I thought was falling, was actually people jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive.
I was alone when the towers fell. I hadn’t moved from where I stood. I just watched, praying that I didn’t see a familiar face. Prayed that people got away…all I could think was for them to keep running…please keep running. Helplessness, rage, and fear rolled through my body in waves as each minute passed, and then the first tower fell, and a part of me fell with it. I remember watching in horror as the building started to crumble…and I don’t know if the screams I heard were coming from the television…or if they were coming from me as I sank to me knees. People were in those buildings…people were running in the streets. The smoke billowing up seemed to come alive; a monster chasing after anyone who dared to try to escape. I felt my heart stop when the second tower crumbled…and I watched as the city, the heart of my state, fell to silence.
I vaguely remember my mom pulling me to my feet, and sitting me on the computer chair, she continued trying to get a hold of anyone, someone to tell her good news. Eventually information was getting through…my uncles weren’t in the city, they couldn’t get over the bridges…my mom’s boyfriend was safe. My mother pulled me into the car and we drove to my brother’s middle school to get him. I remember walking through the doors of what was once my middle school, and looking at familiar adult faces that struggled to remain composed, while they fought with desperate parents. No ID, no child. Parents screaming at teachers they’ve known for years, begging for their children, no one knowing if more attacks were coming. Would they try to hit New York again? Would they go after other buildings, schools? Were we being thrust into war again? How many were dead? No, they hadn’t heard from loved ones yet…
The conversations swirled around me as my mother and I were led into the gymnasium. My brother ran over, upset and unsure of what was going on…and it hit me. Some of them didn’t know…kids…many were being kept in the dark. I looked around the room as broken pieces of news were being handed over, and the unease was stifling. Some of these kids just lost loved ones…and they didn’t know. I was going to be sick again, so I pulled my mother towards the door, my brother safely in tow. I tried to smile at a few of my old teachers as we passed by them, try to comfort them as they smiled sadly at me, but I couldn’t get the muscles to work in my face. Smiles died that day.
The next few days blurred together in a raging fury. Kids were absent from school; families searched for lost loved ones in the wreckage of the attacks, and the entire country mourned. But underneath the pure grief, was a wave of rage. Kids lashed out at each other; words like muslim, jihad, and terrorism, were thrust in our vocabularies. Anyone who looked like the men on the television were cornered, attacked, and blamed. Flags were flown and songs were sung as pure, unquestioning nationalism flowed undeterred through everyone around me. I felt myself getting swept up in it, joining in the chants of USA as our buses rolled through the streets. But as the hysteria grew in the passing days, I started to withdraw from the riotous masses demanding blood. War was in the air, and I watched, quietly turning 14, still wishing it was all a bad movie.
It’s been over 10 years. 6 days after the attack Wall Street resumed business. New Yorkers mourned, got pissed off, and cleaned up their city. Thousands more died in the aftermath of 9/11…thousands of innocent people caught in the crosshairs of hatred and blood lust. In the months following the attacks, racism and xenophobia dominated society…and my school…and I found myself on the receiving end of a few threats when I faced down students who attacked anyone who even resembled someone from the Middle East. It’s been 10 years and I’m still mourning.
I’m mourning the scar that I see every time I look at New York City. I’m mourning the destruction of our country as a community; the angry lines of division amongst race, religion, and politics growing redder every day. I mourn the acceptance of blind hatred, the blatant use of the blame game, and the blasé attitudes towards the still rising death toll of innocent lives. I mourn as I listen to my family talk about “nuking” the entire Middle East. I mourned as the country celebrated the death of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t say that I was upset at the news of his death. But I wasn’t dancing in the streets with the some of my fellow New Yorkers. Numb is a good descriptor of what I felt…because even though he was dead, Bin Laden still won.
Because what do we have to show for the last 10 years, but more bloodshed, more hatred, and a crippled society that can’t get itself to its knees? A country that is still divided over issues of sexuality, race, and religion, a country that is still feeling sorry for itself; this is what we have to show for that day. It still hurts, that day. I wasn’t in the city; I wasn’t in danger, but every walk down memory lane leads me back to that moment…back to being 13…back to wishing that kind of devastation only occurred in movies.
And I know that time heals, and that we have come a long way from those moments, and that New York is strong and still as badass, but I’m not there yet. The memorial is beautiful, but when I close my eyes I still see the twisted metal, and I still smell the air, and I’m still standing on blood-soaked ground. I’m still seeing blind hatred, and retribution against those who had nothing to do with that day. I still see my country sacrificing in the name of revenge…and I know the world has become blind. It’s what I see, and it hurts, because I saw more than the loss of life that day. I saw the loss of humanity. I saw brief moments of hope being crushed by greed, and fear, and propaganda, and I’m angry.
So I ask you, not to ask me if I was there because I am still there. I ask you not to talk about that day with me, as you sat thousands of miles away, and look at me with pity. My people were strong. We picked ourselves up. Don’t ask me about that day, because you are not going to like or understand that I was not one of those people screaming for revenge. You are going to be angry with me as I talk about the last 10 years, and the hundreds of thousands that are now gone, because of hatred…Stop asking because I just cannot handle going back to the day when we allowed ourselves to lose everything…you won’t like what I have to say.