What I’ll never forget

It’s the day after the anniversary, and my Facebook timeline is still filled with calls to #NeverForget.

I’ll never forget that I slept through the 9/11 attacks; my friend texted me shortly after and woke me up, and I looked at my phone to see his name but not the text, long enough to think, “What is he thinking texting me this early?”, before going back to sleep. I woke up two hours later to the sound of NPR telling us that we didn’t know much and we shouldn’t panic, and realized immediately that this was a terrifying thing to hear.

I’ll never forget the sense of disbelief when I read on the Internet that the towers had collapsed. I pictured a facade dropping off with the superstructure remaining intact. It wasn’t until I saw the video that I believed it.

I’ll never forget the sound of fighter jets flying what sounded like inches above the roof of my apartment building.

I’ll never forget the epiphany I had that evening, desperately clinging to normal routines on an abnormal day, having a cigarette in front of a Washington DC Starbucks: that they had hit us as hard as they could, as hard as we had ever been hit, and that it didn’t even register on the scale of existential threats. We were too big, too spread out, too powerful; the sun would rise on America as it had the day before. My greatest risk was still getting hit by a car on the walk home.

I’ll never forget finally reaching my parents when cell service started working again, telling them I was fine, only a few miles away from what would have been the worst terrorist attack in the United States the day before. And it was true. We were fine.

I’ll never forget how my country seemed to lose its collective mind, demanding any action whatsoever that seemed to increase its safety, regardless of whether that action had anything to do with 9/11. As if we didn’t accept gross infringements on our safety daily as part of living in the 21st century. As if our individual safety was our highest value.

I’ll never forget the time I did feel personally terrorized, when two men converted their car into a sniper’s perch, and for a few weeks randomly murdered people in the DC area. For those weeks, I walked home with a staggered step, in zigzag, wondering if a sniper bullet left you alive long enough to realize what had happened. These men weren’t al-Qaeda or ISIS, they were just crazed criminals with a rifle.

I’ll never forget being taken off my plane at Newark, when a random guy decided to say goodbye to his girlfriend at the gate, and they shut down the airport. Thousands of us were herded into crowded conditions in the baggage area, with all of our luggage. We were told nothing by the airport or the airlines. I’ll never forget realizing that if any of these people intended to blow up a plane, they now had a better, easier target; hundreds would die in an explosion, hundreds more would die in the crush for the doors. I went outside and smoked a pack of cigarettes, got interviewed on local news, and managed to be on the first plane out eight hours later.

I’ll never forget the number of people who have looked at me like I was crazy when I have said any of this in the past fifteen years. I don’t expect that to change in my lifetime.

I’ll never forget how I’ve felt proud, patriotic, sad, moved, communitarian, ashamed, and guilty, about what happened to us and what we did after. But I’ve never felt terrorized by terrorists. I’ve reported unattended bags on trains, but never someone who “looked wrong”. I’ve never demonized the enemies of this country, or exalted them to the rank of supervillains, or forgotten who in this world is powerful, and who is weak. I’ve never felt like the victim.

These are things I hope to never forget.

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