Vulnerable.

September 11, 2008

I write the most when I am weak, when I am tired, when I feel that there is nothing inside of me to keep going. When I am at the end of my rope, the best things come out. I am honest, because I am too tired to lie. I don’t often share my personal essays with others, but after reading many other accounts of today, but there was something inside of me that forced me to write it out I don’t think I’ve ever written about it to this extent, but I just kind of went with it – sorry if it’s a bit choppy.

Growing up, I couldn’t stand silence. These days there are times I can’t live without it, but as a teenager growing up in a quiet college town in Oregon, silence was never something I became accustomed to.

I lived in the attic of my family’s three-story home, a welcoming environment: renovated many years earlier, it was well lit, painted a soothing mint green, and had a skylight above my bed. The silence in the room was deafening – floors away from any family activity. I would turn on the radio to kill the silence, often leaving it on when I left the house and while I slept at night.

I woke up on the morning of September 11th, 2001 as I would any other day. My alarm went off around 6:45, and I wiped the sleep from my eyes and rose to prepare for another day of Sophomore year. As I woke, I realized how quiet it was. Too quiet. I looked to the radio – it was on – and realized the DJs were speaking in low, inoffensive voices. This was not the regular morning show. No wacky sound effects. No pop music to sing along to as I showered.

“A plane crashed into the second tower about 45 minutes ago. Casualties are still unknown, but are assumed to be in the thousands…”

It occurred to me that this was not a prank phone call they were playing on the air. Something was wrong. Their silence scared me. The dead air popping with static.

I went downstairs into my parents room – they had just woken up to their own alarms and going about their routines – and turned on the television. There they were: the gray smoking twin towers of New York. I heard my mother pause from her makeup and turn towards the television. We stood in silent and watched the repeating footage of the towers burn and fall. It was a haunting dance: the tallest sticks of charcoal in the skyline cracking, shifting, and crashing to the ground. Giant plumes of dust and smoke billowed upwards like a group of tangled, deflating, gray balloons.

We were told to attend school as usual – not to let anything interrupt our daily schedules. We were reminded to pause in respect of the destruction 3,000 miles away, but to continue dissecting frogs in biology and filling out vocabulary worksheets in French class. Some teachers had the news turned on in their classrooms – on mute – but continued on with their lesson plans. Some students followed along in their textbooks – the tragedy just being a terrible apocalyptic movie someone had accidently turned on. Others were completely distracted and disturbed by the images, myself included.

A majority of the citizens in my quiet little town continued about their business – buying groceries, doing laundry, going to work – and no one really stopped to mourn a loss the entire country would feel for years to come. There was a brief moment after lunch where all of the students in Corvallis High School observed a moment of silence; overhead projectors returned to their quiet hum soon after.

Watching from a distance was horrifying. I admit that going through the motions that day was all that we knew to do. From three thousand miles away, there wasn’t much to do but observe. To pray. To reflect. Presently, I have several friends who were born and raised in New York, a few from Manhattan who knew people in the towers. Hearing their stories of that day terrifies me, and as a future New Yorker (in the loosest sense possible) I wish I could understand that day a little more. There’s a part of me that is so unattached to that moment – I only have static-ridden clips of radio DJs and repeating footage of the second plane flying into the other tower. When I hear people talk about their experiences on September 11th, I am silent: there’s no reason to share that I woke up and went through the motions, watching recaps from the back row of a classroom, when I could listen to someone who’s life changed so much more than my own because of that day.

When I visit New York, I often visit ground zero by myself. I don’t like the pressure of having to be strong in front of someone else. I instantly become emotional – tearing up – which is uncommon for me in a place that I feel so emotionally detached from: I never saw the towers when they were standing. There is a spirit in that place that is so sad, yet so hopeful. It’s been seven years, and there’s still a giant hole in the ground – a void that’s slowly being filled. I know that there’s nothing I can do to fill the void in any New Yorker’s life – there’s nothing I can say and nothing I can do. So I stand, and watch, and secretly pray that everyone who has been affected by that day is somehow finding peace in their own lives. Whether it’s the family of someone lost on one of the flights or someone 3,000 miles away watching CNN like it’s pornography – you don’t want others to see you looking, but you have to – I pray to whatever force brings peace to anyone’s life that they appreciate what they have and what they have to live for, even after such a horrible moment in our history.

Today has been really difficult, but not for the reasons you’d expect. From the moment I woke up I knew it was going to be a struggle. From the get-go, complete sentences were a struggle, and my reactions were often manic and dramatic. Finally back somewhere I feel relatively safe (except for the cockroaches and house centipedes), I wonder if every day is actually like today, and I am just better at ignoring it and going through the motions…

P.S. Love you, AP. Thinking of you.

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