Saturday, September 11, 2010

We Will Never Forget: A Promise or a Curse?

I remember seeing the first "9/11 We Will Never Forget" bumper sticker and thinking the chosen slogan was a bit odd. What seemed to be a promise of always remembering the day seemed to be a sentiment that went without saying. Could we forget even if we wanted to? I remember the entire day perfectly and the fact that it has been nine years truly blows my mind. I remember hearing the report on the radio in the car on my way into school - I was a month into my senior year of high school - and immediately thinking of how terrified the airplane passengers must have been. I tear up at the slightest turbulence, I can't even imagine the terror of a plane crash. This was all before we knew the size of the planes, the strategy behind "the attack" and the magnitude of the day altogether.

First period began as usual. There were a few students buzzing about people they knew who lived in NYC, but no one had any details about what was really happening. We were high school students in Houston - no one thought to stop and turn on the television. It was reported to us (by teachers) as if a personal prop plane had accidentally skimmed the side of a downtown building. No big deal. I remember a girl in my class announcing a second plane had hit "another building" and there was speculation of this being on purpose. The day began to change. The televisions in each classroom were turned onto CNN and we all watched in silence as the two towers billowed smoke. All I could think about was the people. The people in the planes, the people in the offices, the people walking below on the street, the people in the neighboring buildings, the people who were supposed to be there, the people that were not. The first building fell. I blinked back tears. The second building fell. I called my Mom. An all school assembly was called and the entire student body met in the auditorium. The principal made an announcement that school would be dismissed and we were all to go home and be with our families. I walked to my locker to gather my things and my Mom was waiting for me there. I flew into her arms subliminally asking, What is happening? Why?

I drove home and sat at the breakfast table watching more news coverage on our kitchen TV: images of ash and debris, people bleeding and searching, papers floating through the air. My mind went to specifics - what exactly did it smell like, who made it out by the skin of their teeth, who went back in never to be seen again, what did those floating papers say?

Mimi and Grandaddy were living with us at the time (between selling their house and remodeling their condo) and I remember sitting with them in horror. How did this compare to the other terrible things they'd witnessed in their lifetime? How would it compare to the things I might see in my future? I launched into full blown baking mode - a coping mechanism I inherited from my Mom. When things are falling apart, put something together. Bake.

Several batches of assorted baked goods, and one long nap later, I found myself dazed at the dinner table. Did today really happen? How will tomorrow be different because of it? Will I still apply to college in New York City? Are we safe anywhere?

As time passes, I remember September 11th (as it happened from the point of view of a high school senior in Houston) and marvel at how I still remember the minutia. Will those details fade as time goes on and be replaced with the media images replayed year after year? Will I ever see the optical illusion of a plane too close to a skyscraper without those same feelings rushing back? Would I want those memories gone forever? I think the answer (to all of the above questions) is no. We will never forget. Like it or not. What we can control is what we do with those memories and how we treat others and our world as a result of them.

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