I Don't Remember September 11 — But It Still Had An Effect On Me

Everyone my age seems to have the same story about how they . 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.

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.

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.

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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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