Writings from my little corner of modern domesticity.

10 Years: Thoughts on 9/11

I know it’s not strictly in the scope of things here, but I feel the need to make an exception for a day that changed so much.

Almost 3000 people died.

A war (or two) was started.

History was made right in front of our eyes ten years ago today. I was 11- about a month and a half shy of my 12th birthday. I was in 7th grade, in a small-town junior high, and I understood that this would change the way things were.

When the planes hit, I was in math, probably doodling or reading- I don’t remember, really, nor do I remember exactly what happened in band, after that- what I remember is everything after I walked into the door of my 4th hour- Mr. Tierny’s history. We could all tell something was wrong- he wasn’t smiling. He was pacing in front of the TV at the front of the classroom. After the bell rang, he turned on the TV and said to us “I doubt many of your other teachers will show you this, but this is something you need to see. This will change everything for your generation.” And we watched round after round of the towers’ collapse. It was on FOX news, and I remember thinking how absurd it was that the ticker across the bottom was still rolling the usual snippets of general news- none of it mattered then. I remember seeing the dark flecks falling from what seemed to be random points in the building, and realizing they were people jumping.

Some of my classmates started crying- some of them weren’t paying any attention, not aware enough to understand that this wasn’t just some building falling down somewhere and that in a week it would disappear from the TV and we’d never think of it again, and some of them went to the office to call home. I didn’t do any of that- I just watched, and wrote. I had my little journal with me, and I knew this was something I needed to write about.

This is what I wrote at that desk, center column, three from the back of the room, on that morning:

I’ve got something dead serious to say today. On this day, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I came to my 4th hour, and Mr. Tierny turned the TV on. At first, we were all like “Cool, we get to watch TV!” But then, two planes ran into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York. Flown by terrorists, one plane into each tower, a few minutes apart. It was 10:08 when I saw it, but they were hit around 9. They collapsed not too long after. There is no World Trade Center anymore. Thousands dead and gravely injured. Another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, but they weren’t playing video of that. This nation is in a state of shock over how our military/intelligence could’ve missed such a thing’s planning. I think this is the beginning of something bad- I have just witnessed history.

I didn’t cry until after lunch- I was always the level one when things really hit the fan, playing Mom and keeping everyone around me calm as best I could, and I was too busy doing that to think on it much. But walking into my 5th hour, Mrs. Bowling & Mrs. Ording’s 7th grade literature class, and seeing it on the TV again with tears welling in Mrs. Ording’s eyes brought it on hard for me. We talked about it, and what we thought would happen next- if there would be a war, what might change in this country. Many of my classmates expressed the wish that we’d go “blow the hell out of someone” for it. Some of us just cried- not knowing what to say or even think about it all. I remember saying “We can’t possibly know. This hasn’t happened before- there’s no pattern to follow. We just can’t know.”

As the day went on, I remember being sad, and being angry- I remember being angry when they showed the video of Palestinians burning the flag and celebrating in the streets, and I remember being even more angry when we saw the video of Bush being whispered to by a Secret Serviceman, pausing, and then continuing to sit there. I was 11, and all I thought when I saw that video was “He’s the President- he’s supposed to do something.”

The bus was silent on the way home- Ms. Tammy didn’t even have the radio on like she usually did. When I walked through the door, my mom and grandfather were watching the news. Mom tried to turn the TV off, but Grampa agreed with Mr. Tierny and told her to sit back down, because I needed to see it. I remember asking him if he thought we’d go to war now, and he told me the country was too angry not to. We ate dinner in the living room that night, all five of us- grandparents, Mom, my little brother (9 at the time) and I, watching and talking.

Four and a half years later, in the summer of 2006, I went to France with my French class, and at the art museum in Caen, they had a piece of the rubble mounted in cement in a small garden. I saw it from inside- where they had a plaque about it in three languages and a bench you could sit on to look at it. I cried then, too- the scorch marks on the I-beams were still evident, and I remembered all the people dying in those fires, and all the firemen that ran in to save them.

Ten years later, I don’t really know what to say about it. It was a terrible thing, and it has been immortalized in song, in coins, in myriad assortments of memorabilia, in museum displays, in art, and in all of us who witnessed it recounting our tales. We as a country have done terrible things to each other and on foreign soil in its wake, and I don’t blame us. We had an emotional reaction to a devastating hit- not in terms of numbers dead, but in terms of sheer surprise of it all. There are millions out there who say we could’ve done better; should’ve been better- but on that day they were probably just as pissed as everyone else and ready to rip someone’s eyes out if they thought that person was involved. We’ve got the hindsight now to better our reactions to anything that may happen in the future, and that’s incredibly valuable in this changed world.

It’s all lessons learned, in the end. And it’s all worth remembering.


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