Saturday, September 11, 2010

I remember...

That morning, 9 year ago today, I was in Seventh Grade English. I know that many people my age either don't know or care where they were at that time. It belongs in the realm of crushes and way too easy book reports. It is distant to them in a way that saddens me immensely. Or maybe it makes me jealous, for I can't help but remembering so clearly.

We were in the middle of an exercise when my teacher was summoned out of the room. When she came back, well, let it not be said that pre-teens are completely oblivious. From the moment she entered the room, dragging a chair over so she could turn the classroom's mounted TV on, we started to quiet. There's nothing scarier to a kid than when adults focus so entirely on something other than them. Not just ignoring them, but being unable to spare any attention at all. It sets off alarms in our heads that all is not right in the world.

How accurate those alarms can be.

She turned the channel to CNN and a building was smoking, spewing out thick, greasy black clouds. Again, that comprehension without comprehending. I didn't know what had happened, no one did. But we all knew in our hearts that something was wrong. A part of me was more confused about why the teacher was so interested, but somewhere, deep in the pit of my stomach, the wrongness of what I was seeing pulsated with knowledge I had never learned. Skyscrapers are not supposed to burn like that.

My teacher just stood off to the side, in front of the entire class. I can still see her perfectly as she was that day. Black shirt, pencil skirt. She had her left arm wrapped around her stomach, the tv remote dangly out of her hand. Her right hand was poised over her chin, fingernails near her mouth. She may have been biting them. The image of her standing there, so tense, so scared, is intrinsically linked with my memories of her. She understood what was happening but, like so many others, didn't know how to react, didn't know if we needed to be sheltered from this. So the TV stayed on.

Whispers dashed around the room. What building was this? What had happened? Should we pray? The news aired the live footage from minutes before. A plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.

Crashed. You don't realize how innocent that word really is until you compare it to the reality of what happened.

It was... surreal. Few of us had ever been to New York. We never payed attention to it's skyline, or at least I didn't. The Towers were something I took for granted. They were just there. Beautiful and strong and indestructible. I did not need to pay attention, because there would be time for that later. I was only a kid. The world was still safe.

Then, it happened. As we were watching, on that crisp, gorgeous September morning, it happened. Even now I feel the chill in my gut, the lump in my throat. Before the newscasters saw it we, the audience, did. A black smear across the screen. A horror so intense that you react to it before you are even aware it has happened. A second plane hit the second tower.

I know I was in shock. There are many ways to react to shock. I am blessed, or cursed, to belong to a family where that state manifests as a detached clarity. An ability to reason out what had happened and what to do. I was also a bright child. Between the two, I was probably among the first in that room to realize exactly what we saw meant.

What had happened was deliberate.

A girl nearby started to cry. Voices grew louder as we tried to make sense of it all? Why would anyone attack us? How had they attacked us? We were all twelve years old. If our teachers could not deal with what they were seeing, how could we?

Even as we were ushered to our next class, that cold lump in my stomach pulsed hotter, sharper. I still was unable to react to the event, only process the unmistakable facts that raced through my young skull. The terror was not over yet. Skyscrapers are not supposed to burn like that.

We were either in Religion or Literature next. They were taught by the same teacher, so who knows? But on the screen the towers still smoked. Several times they went to the cameras on the ground, to show the firemen rush into the building, the random acts of kindness as strangers helped each other out then rushed back to get one more person safe. I remember praying. Just praying. The teacher tried to hold our attention, but even her eyes were constantly drawn back to the scene behind her. I kept praying. Keep the victims safe. Keep the firemen safe. Keep the police safe. Just please God, save them. Not quite twenty people in this classroom, only one older than thirteen. I cannot bear to think of those who had to witness this alone.

We saw the first jumpers. We saw the clouds of smoke block the sun. We saw bleeding heroes and frightened children.

Then we saw the first tower fall.

Another moment of knowledge without comprehension. Of the body reacting to what the mind could not accept. I started crying, and quickly reached the point where I was unable to stop. The shock was broken, only because there was nothing left to figure out. Someone had set out to kill as many people as they could and they were succeeding.

The cold lump in my stomach was cold no longer. It had transformed into a molten lump of anger, hot and heavy. I did not know who had done this to us, but that did not matter. We were and are the United States of America. We were bruised, not broken, and we would fight back. The tears burned down my cheeks, and I knew there would be hell to pay for whoever was stupid enough to stab us in the back.

We were twelve years old. And on September 11, 2001 at 8:59 am (Central), our world was changed.

The rest of the day is near lost to me. When I lost my clarity, I lost my ability to comprehend what I was experiencing. I remember hot tears, and the teachers not knowing what to say. I remember hugging my sister before school ended and thanking God that my dad was a firefighter in the Midwest and not New York. I remember coming home and wanting to scream. Learning of the Pentagon attack and the feeling of hope and righteous, fierce pride when I learned of the flight that fought back. Watching the President address those that attacked us and the world and promising, as I knew he would, that Justice would be had. And I remember going to sleep hoping that maybe, just maybe, the world would make sense again when I woke up. But mostly, I remember the anger and the tears.

What happened that day still haunts me. I almost could not watch the World Series or the Olympics for years because any gathering of people made me nervous. I hated the terrorists for making me feel that way. I still do.

But what upsets me the most is that right here, right now I seem to be the only one upset. Not in the country, but on campus. No flyers for a moment of prayer. No e-mail linking to a patriotic song. No flags marking those who lost their lives or memorial for the soldiers who have died to make sure it would never happen again. The bells did not ring "Amazing Grace" or "The Star Spangled Banner" and damned if I know where to find an American Flag on this campus.

But this campus is too busy preaching "acceptance" and "tolerance" to remember. They try to enforce a false, meaningless peace amongst the peaceful rather than attempt to remember that day when we truly stood together. That day when, regardless of race, gender, religion, or even country of origin, we stood together in genuine solidarity and told the world "We! Are! AMERICANS!"

I wish I had my printer so I could have at least had a few flyers to post around campus. Instead, I will have to content myself with asking for a moment of silence tonight at my extracurricular. Even if it's only a dozen people or so, I hope that I can remind them of those two days, 9-11-01 and 9-12-01 where we decided that America was worth protecting. For too many of my generation act as if America is at fault. That evil does not exist in this world. They forget their confusion, their fear, their anger.

But I never will.

Never Forget. 9-11-01