Before 9/11, I didn't know where or what the World Trade Center was. I was unfamiliar with terms like 'ground zero,' 'al Queda,' and 'jihad.' Had no idea what anthrax was. Didn't know the lyrics to God Bless America.
I knew Afghanistan was somewhere over there by the other "-istan" countries, but I couldn't tell you the capital or what kind of government it had. Iraq was that place we kicked the pants out of during the Gulf War when I was 5 years old.
I didn't personally know anyone who died on 9/11. For that I am forever thankful. But my brother has served in 2 wars that began in its aftermath, and since, I have grieved honorable men and women I will never have the privilege of knowing. Walked with a ghostly, unshakable fear for 26 collective months as my flesh and blood toiled in a war zone. Like many Americans, I continue to bear the emotional scars of a day that will haunt me the whole of my lifetime.
Below is a journal entry I wrote in the months following 9/11. I can't remember the exact date; I think it may have been written in October '01. I've typed it up exactly as it was written:
I will never forget the day. I really don't remember the condition of the day before about 9:00.September 11, 2001 changed me in ways big and small, some which I cannot properly articulate even now. I think I'm a more compassionate, aware person, but I'm more fearful, too. I'm always trying to figure out how to live my life, not 'let the terrorists win,' while confronting fears that, had 9/11 never happened, wouldn't be even a seed in my mind.
It's September 11, 2001. Pretty normal day. It was the second week of school and I was in second block, AP US History. My teacher, Mr. Wilson*, was explaining something, though I can't recall what, when one of the librarians, Ms. Melton, appeared in the doorway and beckoned Mr. Wilson over. He trotted to the door and Ms. Melton and he had a quick, frantic whispered discussion. Ms. Melton disappeared from the door and Mr. Wilson looked at our class rather gravely.
"You guys, the World Trade Center in New York's been hit by a plane. It's probably a terrorist attack. Y'all, if this is true," he shook his head, "then this is a whole new era in history."
I'm not sure those were his precise words, but that was the idea of what he said.
The entire class sat shocked in our seats. We began discussing the situation frantically (I remember hearing the name Osama what's his name a few times - really, who could pronounce bin Laden's entire name before September 11th?). Suddenly, Ms. Melton reappeared.
"They've hit the Pentagon!" she called, running down the hall to tell another teacher. All I can remember thinking at this point is scenes from Independence Day and Armageddon popped into my head.
"Turn the TV on!" someone cried. We turned it on to find that, oh great, the tv is not working. Mr. Wilson fiddled with the TV a few seconds then, to our great relief, a teacher came to our door, saying, "My classroom's empty and my television works!"
Without even so much as uttering a word or even looking to Mr. Wilson for permission, all 20-something of us gathered our belongings and hurried to the empty classroom. Someone flicked the tv on and BAM -- !
Oh my gosh, it's not a joke. It's true. A minute later we watch in utter shock as the World Trade Center began to pancake down, falling over a hundred stories. My classmates and I watched in panic.
Several girls began to sob and I wiped a tear away as I realized THERE WERE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN THERE. All I could say was, "This is America. This. is. AMERICA! How could this happen?" There was no way it was real. I mean, c'mon, Hollywood, this is a pretty cruel joke.
But, of course, as we all know, it certainly was real. We watched CNN's coverage until the bell rang and then I was off to my 3rd block, Spanish. My AP History class being one of only about 10 or 15 classes in the entire school that was told the attack on America was taking place as it actually happened, my Spanish teacher knew nothing of it. Myself and one or two other students who knew about the attack told him it was happening. He laughed, not believing us. Finally, he turned the tv on, saw it was true, and flicked it back off. The class bellowed at once and nearly in unison, "We can't watch it?"
"No, no. It's time for Spanish."
Being a good student, I usually get along with teachers quite well, but at the moment, I truly wanted to slap that idiot of a teacher. Who cares about Spanish when I just saw my country violated on live television?
As my Spanish class wore on, I got more and more agitated, and when the bell rang for lunch I stomped out of the classroom and to the cafeteria. My friends Jenna and Janet had been allowed to watch the coverage during 3rd block so they filled me in on what the latest developments were - including the airplane that crashed in Shanksville, PA.
The bell for 4th block rang and I hurried off, breathing a sigh of relief when I arrive to class and found my Global Affairs teacher glued to the television. Our class watched sadly and attentively all class. I was so glad when I got home and I could watch with my family undisturbed.
September 11th was a horrible, tragic, fearful, historical, hurtful, and defining day. I shall always remember my utter disbelief, my utter sadness, my true despair, my REAL anger, my FAITH in God - I will always remember.
September 2001 was a fearful time to be a teenager, but maybe now is even worse. Sixteen-year-olds now have lived nothing but terrorist threat levels, troops at war, an unbalanced economy, a country still struggling to balance the ideals of security and freedom.
On the eve of 9/11, I hope you will remember it not just as a jumble of horrific images and tragic sound bites. I hope you will pay remembrance to the human cost, both immediate and long-reaching, and recall not just where you were when you found out, but the manner in which the American people gave the very best of themselves. Let's try to hold onto a piece of the goodness, the pride, the dedication to our fellow man we felt in the days and months following that awful day. If we do that, the terrorists can never win.
*Names changed to protect privacy