Everyone my age seems to have the same story about how they remember Sept. 11. They all seem to have this sharp memory of a teacher announcing what had happened to the class, a recollection of faded news reports and parents calling in the middle of the school day, demanding to take their children home. People my age — who were second graders at the time of the September 11th attacks — remember their childish sense of sadness and loss for the 3,000 lives they didn’t know.
Sept. 11, 2001 is a date that will remain preserved in textbooks and the nation’s collective memory. But though I lived through that day, I have no recollection of it whatsoever. Sometimes, I wonder if that day fell out of my normal routine. I might have been absent from school, or sent to run a teacher’s errand when everyone else heard the news. I don’t like to ponder other possibilities — that I might have been too preoccupied with math worksheets and Babysitter’s Club novels to notice everyone else’s suffering.
Sept. 11 remains blank to me, but I do remember Sept. 12, the day the public started deciding how we were all going to go on from here. My brother and I arrived at daycare before anyone else, because my mom worked early at the hospital. As we waited for friends to arrive, the babysitter read the paper and gasped. “What?” I asked.
I remember seeing a really big headline on the front of the newspaper. In the middle of her own moment of discovery, the woman replied to a curious 7-year-old, “There was an airplane crash.”
“Oh,” I said and offered a polite moment of quiet because I didn’t know what else to say.
At school, my teacher had us write our weekly journal entry on how we felt about the attacks. Having no information about what disaster she was talking about, I panicked and scribbled meaningless words. It was so sad. I feel so sad for them.
I once learned in a psychology class about how people’s memories become distorted after a trauma. Survivors can feel so certain about details that never happened. Sept. 11 is blank, but I know I didn’t invent my teacher’s cursive black comments on the returned journal assignment: You’re right. It was sad.
If someone asked me fifty years from now what it was like to live through the collapse of the World Trade Center, I would have nothing to say except the disjointed memories of an absentminded and apathetic child. But I could tell them about the things that changed after that.
I could tell future generations about how scared everyone became, about how airport policies and torture tactics changed. I could tell them about the xenophobia, the newscasts of a desert war, the political ads where candidates showed footage of the attacks and pretended like they got us through it. I still don’t think we’re through it.
So no, I don’t remember the September morning that changed everything. I don’t remember where I first heard the word “terrorist” or how I ended up grasping that the entire country had transformed without me noticing. All I remember is what came after.
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