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My 9/11 Memory

September 11, 2011

Everything’s going to be OK.

Mrs. Slade was trying to calm our sixth grade English class to no avail. Something happened that our eleven-year-old minds could not wrap themselves around, something about a plane crashing into a building in New York, but I had never been that far north and had never heard of the World Trade Center. Neither had my classmates, but we had been scared stiff since homeroom, and now Mrs. Slade was trying to establish some kind of order. All the classrooms in school that day kept the televisions on, and our wide eyes stuck to images of billowing smoke.

Stop worrying, let’s focus on school.

Soon, another plane crashed into the first building’s twin, and the siblings collapsed on top of one another in a haze of ash and defeat. Thousands died. I do not blame Mrs. Slade for her ignorance. Neither she nor I knew that there would be pictures of people leaping from the burning buildings printed in newspapers. We did not know that American troops would be sent to faraway countries with strange names, to fight a war on ideas that still has not ended. We did not know that flying in an airplane would never feel the same. We did not know that terrorists would soon be hunted, as the people of our country used to hunt witches and communists.

American flags spontaneously reproduced overnight, the royal blue and scarlet visible everywhere I looked. Everyone thought it was appropriate that a team called the Patriots won the Superbowl the following February, and Bono rocked out at halftime in front of a screen with names scrolling up its length. Thousands of names. Names that now grace headstones and live on in memory. I knew none of those names. I was only eleven.

Three years later, I went to New York with my youth group and visited the site where the buildings used to be. A fence kept us at a safe distance from the rubble that still lay there, or kept what was left of those fallen sisters away from us. The flags that had sprung up so quickly across the country had already been disposed of or put away long ago, to be used as decoration for the 4th of July. The stickers that yelled, “Never forget!” clung to car bumpers, but lost their sheen, the patriotic colors of the flag faded into dull pink and light blue. My friends and I took a smiling group photo in front of the fence.

Mrs. Slade did not understand the morning it happened. Ten years later, although I assume I am much smarter now, I still don’t understand. I see memorials, I read essays about the experiences of unfortunate witnesses, I look at horrifying photos in the August issue of News Photographer, but still I do not comprehend. Was it ever really OK? Will it ever be?


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