I think about where I was--in 6th grade. The morning had been strange, the teachers had been having hushed conversations in hallways, stepping out to have hurried conversations on cell phones. Every ten to fifteen minutes, the PA would interrupt and 15-20 students were being called out of school for early dismissal. Around the time the second tower was being struck, I was on my way to gym class.
I walked into that gym class in an ugly uniform, grey shirt and blue basketball shorts. I don't remember what games we played--dodge ball, capture the flag, basketball, or if I just walked around the edge of the gym because even then I hated running. I was self conscious, constantly being teased, and the greatest trauma of my day was wondering if I was going to be teased more because of my glasses, and counting down the hours until I went to karate that night. I had no concept that when I left the gym to go to 3rd period science, my world had already changed forever.
By the time I went to my science class, more than half the school had already been dismissed early because their parents had come to get them. Being 11, I had never seen anything that would force so many parents to come pick up their kids from school. I had two blue collar, working parents and I was already sure that no matter how dangerous it was--whatever it was--my parents were not coming to get me. I was the kid who was always picked up last from everything. In my mind, the only way I was going home early was if the school system decided on an early dismissal.
By the time I reached my 3rd period science class, I was demanding an explanation from my teachers about what they were watching on the news while we weren't there, then rushing to turn off as soon as any of us looked in their direction. I can't remember now if my mom came to pick us up early, or if we simply had an early dismissal because there weren't enough students left to even have 4th period English.
My mom didn't say anything about the attacks. She and I didn't have the type of relationship where we talked about anything, and I was still trying to metabolize being newly appointed to the ranks of latchkey kids of divorced parents. To say my world was turned upside down by 9/11 is false--my world had already been turned upside down about ten months beforehand by my parents, and the split family households they were trying to build up around us.
When I finally got the courage to walk into my mother's room--she was in bed with the curtains drawn and the TV on (looking back she was probably depressed, struggling with the pressures of being a new single mother) I finally blurted out a question that I'm sure didn't make any sense at all. But I had the sensation that in my upside down little world, someone had finally come through and turned off the gravity. If my whole world was going to float away, I felt like I at least deserved an explanation as to why.
She looked at me for a long time. She seemed angry about the fact that I even had to ask, or that I was demanding to know. She was quiet for a long time--trying to ignore me. But I wasn't leaving. I just stood there in the doorway, waiting. Waiting for her to tell me how life could get any more miserable than it already had been for us. To tell me that everyone was overreacting and nothing was really happening. That the world was going crazy, but it would all be better tomorrow. Finally, she put it so bluntly I feel like I had been struck--the accusation in her tone that I would be either too young or too stupid to understand what she was about to say.
"Two men hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center."
I resented the assumption that I was stupid, but I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the implications of what she was telling me. What did that mean? Why would someone just DO something like that? It didn't make sense.
I thought for a long time before I said anything else. "Does that mean we won't be able to export goods anymore?" I asked, relying on my rudimentary understanding of the implications of what a trade center might be on economics.
"No!" she said abruptly, and settled into a silence which I knew meant she wasn't going to explain anything else. I looked at the screen, saw smoke billowing out of the Pentagon, and couldn't even calculate how that fit into the equation.
Over the next several weeks, I did come to understand what 9/11 was, and what it meant. I saw the images being played, over and over again on the news until there was an undercurrent of hysteria everywhere we went. Neighbors we had never spoken to before asking if we were "all right," phone calls almost every day from friends or family "checking in," and everywhere the topic of conversation centered around one question.
"Are we going to go to war?"
We asked the teachers, the teachers didn't know. But turning on the news and hearing the same question being tossed around like a deflating beach ball, we waited for it to finally drop. War was inevitable, that much was clear as the issue continued to developed, and everyone learned new words like "terrorism," "Al-Qaeda," and "Taliban."
None of the 11 and 12-year-olds sitting in that 6th grade classroom ever imagined that they would one day be fighting in The War on Terror ten years later.
The impression that time period made on my life was permanent. I walked away from it with a powerful sentiment of national pride. I fly the American flag outside of my home, and put it out to half mast with the others in our small town. And it is that pride in my country and its history which has shaped and molded my life to this day.
|My flag at half mast on September 11th, 2013|
The history of this nation has always been of ordinary men who fins the means to be successful against extraordinary odds. That strength and intelligence has been a part of our nation since it's conception. Those virtues would be impossible to eradicate from this nation through the single act of terrorism we experienced as a nation all those years ago. We will always rise stronger that we were before from the ashes of defeat, and that is a viewpoint of myself as an American, and our people as a nation I wouldn't trade for innocent, less turbulent times.