Brooke’s 9/11 story
Since posting my dad’s and my meditations on yesterday’s 9/11 anniversary, I’ve gotten several heartfelt messages and emails from friends, detailing their experiences and perceptions of that day, and the way they feel about it now. With my sister Brooke’s permission, I am posting her version of events below, as an addendum to yesterday’s posts.
I’d also like to encourage anyone else who has a 9/11 story they need to get out – if, as Brooke put it, you’ll go crazy if you don’t write it down – to find a quiet spot or put your headphones in, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and see what comes out. Sometimes it’s surprising to see what you’ll say, given the opportunity, and your thoughts are always a precious thing down the road.
And if you find that you come up with something you want to share, I will be glad to post it here for you. (You can send it in a Facebook message or email it to handsopeneyes [at] gmail [dot] com. Include some note to the effect of “yes, please post this,” so I know you’re not just sending it for my personal edification.)
I don’t have many distinct memories before middle school. I remember playing in our subdivision with the neighbors and my sister–circuses in the backyard, sprinklers under the trampoline, and time at the creek. I remember girl scouts, knocking out my front tooth in second grade, family trips. I remember reading Harry Potter in fourth grade. I remember the formative year of fifth grade, and the morning after my elementary school graduation when my Grandma passed away.
I remember the middle school principal, Dr. T., coming over the loudspeaker while I was sitting in my 6th grade class, saying that “an airplane hit a building in New York City, but we have nothing to worry about at SMS” and going about my day. I remember going home and not leaving the couch for the rest of the night–glued to the newscasts. And I remember being angry.
At eleven years old, I didn’t know to be angry at the people responsible for September 11th for the loss they’d caused or the impact they’d had on my country. I felt like my principal kept a secret from me, and I was mad. I felt that maybe if I’d been watching the news along with everyone else in the world, maybe I’d feel some kind of connection to what happened. Maybe I’d understand what happened, maybe it would make sense. It didn’t, and I couldn’t make it, and I felt like it was Dr. T”s fault.
I tried to immerse myself in the news coverage–the songs, the TV specials, the interviews. I learned every detail I could, forced myself to watch things that made me uncomfortable, cried when Alan Jackson sang and felt empowered when Toby Keith did. Still, nothing resonated with me, nothing felt real enough to hit me. I’d lived 11 years in blissful ignorance that anything could happen that could shake my whole world and even as I witnessed the most defining event of my generation unfolding, I still had my family, my health, my dog, my house. My life hadn’t been significantly altered and I couldn’t fathom that 19 people and 4 airplanes could change my life, let alone the entire country.
But it has–and I still can’t wrap my head around every way. Every time I board an airplane or hear one flying low, I’m shaken. Living across from the tallest building in Georgia, I sometimes think that if ever Atlanta was to be threatened, it could happen right off my balcony. I became interested in politics for the first time–even after seeing the issues they caused in my family. All too often, I wonder when I’m saying goodbye to someone if it will be for the last time because of some catastrophic, unexpected event. I hold my friends close and my family closer because I know that my world is not safe, no one’s is, and anything could change.
There are people my age who don’t have the luxury of remembering slumber parties with friends or specific assignments from school because they’re too busy trying to hold on to any last memory they have of their parents who died on a Tuesday morning when they were in class. Worse, there are teenagers who may not even have those memories. Adults who lost coworkers, lifelong New York residents who are constantly reminded of September 2001 because their skyline hasn’t been the same since. There are people whose lives have been so drastically changed beyond recognition.
I’ve been told over the past ten years to “never forget”, when in fact I’ve been trying to remember. I finally feel comfortable enough to say that September 11th resonates with me. It hurts me, it confuses me, it makes me cry, but at least it finally makes me feel something. It makes me recognize that nothing is given–any day could be your last and anything could change in a split second. It makes me thankful–for those who served, for those who lost, and for those around me. It makes me proud–of my country, the people in it, and the way we’ve found normalcy in chaos, the way we’ve redefined our character. 9/11 will never be a part of my past. It will remain a part of every single day that I am able to live freely and live well because I live in a country that is better than the things that happen to it, a country that can overcome.