End of Innocence

I remember when you could meet a family member at the gate in an airport, instead of having to wait until they cleared security. Airports themselves were more accessible and fun to explore for a child like I was back then, but I suppose that was part of the problem.

I was fourteen, about to turn fifteen in just over a month, when the September 11 attacks occurred. I’ll never forget much of that day. I am blessed that I lost no loved ones, although I did have a cousin who was at the Pentagon during the attacks, but thankfully he was safe. No, the attack, rather than do any familial damage, simply blew a hole into my perception of life in this country. It was a true end of innocence, and nothing has ever been the same.

I had been a freshman in high school for just about a month on September 11, 2001. My second period geography class had just ended just after 9:00 (Central time) and my classmates were dispersing when my teacher, who had been checking her email, suddenly turned the classroom television on. I was on my way out the door but paused when she did this, and I saw the aftermath of the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, black smoke curling into the Manhattan sky. I was shocked. I thought it had been a terrible accident.

The way our schedule went was that we had a 12 minute break after second period, and I had to use it to get all the way across the building to my English class, so I left after a few moments because I didn’t want to be late. I probably only went thirty feet or so into the gym lobby (the area outside the gym where there was a concession stand and where they displayed awards) and by then people were yelling something about another plane and another attack, things I couldn’t understand right then. I shrugged them off and went on my way.

To this day I am so glad I didn’t see the second plane hit live. I think I only missed it by a few seconds.

rest of the school day wasn’t as memorable, though I do remember a few classes where we were allowed to watch—school administrators wanted to shield us freshmen for some reason and not allow us to watch, but mostteachers rightly found this ridiculous and let us anyway. I don’tremember when I first saw the second plane but it may have been fourth period or it might not have been until I got home from school. I just remember that first stroke of horror—in that instant, whenever it was, I knew the world would never be the same.

I still feel trauma around September 11. I would argue that it was the great watershed event of my generation, the way Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination marked my grandparents and parents. I cried for the first responders we lost, and I always try to support and help them in my community in small ways that I can. I do watch documentaries and programs about September 11, but I always have to look away or close my eyes when they prepare to show the second plane hit. That is my own trigger moment. I also usually get upset, and perhaps I’m making things harder on myself by reliving everything, but I think it’s important. If children, either mine one day or others, ever ask me about what it was like on September 11, 2001, I will be able to answer. September 11 destroyed our collective sense of safety in this country, and even though it’s been twenty years now, I’m not sure we’ve really healed. I strive for healing and I believe we Americans are definitely resilient, but I don’t think the sharp pain has subsided to a dull ache yet, and I’m not really sure we ever will.

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