Last Sunday was the ten-year anniversary of September 11. We woke up to news coverage of the memorial being revealed for the first time, as well as images and video from that day. It forced me, and everyone, to reflect on where we were that day, how we found out, and how it made us feel.
The main feeling I remember having was confusion. I was about 13 years old, in middle school. Had I been one year older and in high school, I would have known about the attacks right away. I would have watched the second plane hit the tower. I would have watched people jump out of buildings to avoid fire. I would have watched the first tower clapse onto itself as if it were made of sticks, followed by the second tower, and I would have watched all the people, covered in rubble and white dust and blood, running, screaming, crying, shell-shocked, away from the wreckage.
But I was in middle school.
We knew something was off that day because a lot of students were called down to the office over the intercom. But it wasn’t until the end of the day, in an emergency homeroom session, that they told us that the World Trade Center towers had been hit. Then they sent us home.
I remember feeling confused: what were the twin towers? What did this mean? Were we in danger? Were we in war?
I felt numb as the bus pulled us away from the school and my classmates traded theories on what might happen next.
I was wearing red pants and a black shirt with an American flag shaped as a butterfly on the front.
When I got home, Mom was there–maybe Nadine and Ari too–I don’t remember. And we watched the planes hit the towers repeatedly, each time feeling as though we ourselves were being hit over and over. I still didn’t understand. Mom said this would change the world; that nothing would ever be the same.
And so my generation came of age in this period of extremism, terrorism, US interference, the Patriot Act, long security lines, and war.
A couple weeks after September 11, people opened letters that contained a deadly white powder: anthrax. And so our mail system was under attack.
George W. Bush declared war. I expected that some goods, like butter, would be in short supply just like in the books I had read about World War II and other wars. I expected World War III.
Rations never came. World War III still hasn’t begun. But I never could have imagined that ten years later we’d still have troops “fighting terrorism,” as they say.
I also never would have imagined that I’d be spending the ten-year anniversary in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Volunteer. La Prensa, one of the country’s newspapers, had a full-page-and-a-half spread on September 11. It reported on the schedule of that day: when the planes left from Logan Airport, when the first plane hit the tower, when the second plane hit, and so on. It interviewed Nicaraguans that happened to be living in New York at the time. It mentioned the death of Bin Laden.
While I’m no longer the 13-year-old kid that watched the planes hit the towers, I still get that same feeling of confusion when I review the events as they unfolded: Why are we using bombs to fight terrorism, when we could be using education? Why are we celebrating the death of Bin Laden? He’s just a man. He’s just a symbol. And finally, if we’re still fighting this war in another ten years, what is the world going to look like? What legacy will it leave?