Recovery is now underway in New York. And now, Linkin Park's 'Paper Cut'.
I live in the US now. I grew up in the Philippines.
I awoke Wednesday morning of Sept. 12th, 2001, in my family's condo apartment in the Philippines. I was sixteen, a military kid. Our housing was courtesy of my Dad's military job.
It was a school day, so I got up early. Groggily I walked into the corridor to see my Mom darting out of the kitchen with a frenzied look on her face.
"The twin towers have been destroyed!"
Blearily I looked up at her. "What?!"
"The towers!" My Mom cried out, dropping breakfast hurriedly before shuffling to the main bedroom in her tsinelas [slippers]. "They've been destroyed in an attack!"
It was six in the morning so nothing made sense, least of all that. There was an attempt to bring down the towers with a car bomb parked in the basement of one of the towers, in the 1990s, but it failed. I knew that at sixteen because a few years ago I had seen a movie dramatization of the attempt on HBO. The ending made me scoff but it chills me now. The final scene is of the jihadis being flown off in an FBI helicopter. As they pass the towers, one of them mutters: "One day."
I followed my Mom into their bedroom to see what she was talking about. My Dad was away, as always; a frequently absent military dad presaging a new era of absent military dads. My Mom was staring at the TV, and I turned to it.
One of the towers disappearing in a cloud.
A news chyron. "America under attack."
All memory of sleep fled my brain and I was awake from that moment.
The trip to school that morning was surreal. The DJ on my favorite radio station, known for his jovial and charismatic booming voice, was now saying in that same energetic baritone that "two planes" had collided with the twin towers, and that recovery was now under way in what was now being called "Ground Zero." He cued the opening synths of Linkin Park's "Paper Cut" over the end of his report. One of the jolliest voices of my youth just segued into one of the 2000s' biggest rap metal tracks from a news report of an act of war. If you know that song, then you know that in its own crude way, it was apropos.
I arrived to a school under a muted atmosphere. I passed one of the classrooms and overheard some of the students loudly wondering the implications of the events in the United States.
A thought idly crossed my mind to the classroom. Were we going to war?
I entered my classroom and all anybody could talk about was seeing the towers collapse over and over on their TVs that morning. I started talking about it with my classmates seated directly behind me. "They're going to build a memorial on that site one day," I said.
As was custom in my Jesuit-run Catholic school, homeroom period was opened with a prayer. The designated prayer leader called for mercy for "the poor souls who were killed in the towers." One of my classmates later scoffed, unsolicitedly, and strangely, that "when it's your time to die, it's your time." I never understood why he chose to say that. It was foul.
That morning, the school administrator broke over the school intercom that they were "monitoring the events in the United States," but for now classes would commence as usual.
Homeroom was turned into a special session where our homeroom teacher asked us to make editorial cartoons about the events. I was the class artist, so mine was picked for discussion. It wasn't anything imaginative. I simply drew what happened: a plane flying towards two towers. There was no room for metaphor, now that I think about it, when the unthinkable had become real.
One of my classmates, a kleptomaniac jackass, drew a giant butt labeled "terrorist". It was squeezing out a massive, pointlessly detailed turd over "America."
That was in my junior year of high school. The next year, during practice for our senior graduation ceremony, one of the students behind me jeered, "I want to go home and watch CNN! Iraq is going to disappear!"
Twenty years later, Iraq is still there somehow. Other things have disappeared since.