It still plays out in my mind like a movie.
I was in kindergarten when 9/11 happened. I remember eating lunch in the school cafeteria while teachers gathered around TVs, covering their mouths in shock. But the teachers didn't tell us what had happened. Instead, they seemed to realize us kids were getting confused and concerned, so they turned off the TVs. I guess they wanted to keep us calm, and I guess they felt like explaining this event was the responsibility of our families.
The next thing I remember is being dropped off at home and walking inside to see my mom glued to the TV, just like my teachers had been. She gestured for me to come over to the couch, and she pulled me close. I sat next to her and watched the towers fall, again and again and again. I watched people jump out of windows. That still haunts me to this day. We had just been in New York, only a few months before. After that trip, I had known - even at that young age - that I wanted to live in the city. 9/11 was the first time I actually recognized an area of devastation on my TV - the first time I realized violence and death could happen anytime, anywhere. I can still envision it all, clear as day, 20 years later. And I can still remember the anxiety I felt about flying or going to large public places for years and years after 9/11. I was just a child, but I had fears beyond my years. I was always hit by a sharp feeling of terror if anyone suggested going on a flight. I would keep my eyes peeled and be on high alert anytime I went to a tourist spot.
Some things never change, and though I will willingly fly now...I can't seem to stop the anxiety that comes from being in large, crowded places that could (at least in my mind) easily become targets of an attack. I eventually fulfilled my dream of moving to New York City. I worked only a few blocks away from the 9/11 memorial. It was so strange to be one of thousands commuting back and forth through the site of what had been one of my first major traumatic memories. Since moving to NYC, I've met multiple people who were impacted by 9/11 - including some people who nearly lost their lives in the attack, or who were close to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but something had convinced them to stay home. It's magical, in a sick twisted way. It feels like we were meant to cross paths. Such a terrible memory...but it's one that connects anyone my age or older who can distinctly remember the feelings of terror, confusion, and pain we all felt on 9/11.
Sometimes, I wonder if my memories of the day are ACTUALLY real. After all, how can someone who was only five at the time remember something so vividly?
But, deep down, I know it's real. I know it's simply the nature of trauma - especially a national trauma.