September 11, 2001

Where were you during 9/11? I’ve seen this question posed no less than two dozen times online today. Considering the horrific events of that morning, I wanted to share my own experiences with you dear reader. Mine was not horrific in any singular way but I think it’s an experience in which many of you can understand and relate to.

I was driving to school that morning. I used to drive a 1969 Volkswagon Bug and everything in it was a bit finicky, to say the least. So when the radio wouldn’t turn from talk radio, initially I chalked it up to my crappy car. I flipped stations several times and eventually gave up when I was unable to find music to bop along with. The news sucker-punched me. I pulled my car over on the side of the road, tears streaking my cheeks. Was I hearing this correctly? Was it some sort of prank? It was fucked up if that was the case. I flipped stations and listened, only to hear the same thing again. A plane hit a building in New York City. I heard the words terrorist attack, war, death, chaos. My 16-year-old brain couldn’t process what was happening.

9/11 was the first time I took notice of politics. It was the first time in my life I would be aware of the effects war had on my own life.  I had one class at the high school, and that morning it was PE. I met my BFF in the locker room and she was all smiles. I could hardly contain the tears.

“Do you know what happened?” I asked.

She shrugged, “Sure but it’s not like it means anything. It was probably an accident. I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Umm… how is this fine? Thousands of people could die. If it’s a terrorist attack like the radio said, we could go to war. That means your boyfriend goes to war.”

Her face paled. Two of our best friends, her boyfriend being one of them, had already joined the military and were shipping out to boot camp in a couple of weeks. The ramifications of that morning slowly hit her.

She sat down. “Okay, tell it to me straight.”

I did. I told her everything I’d heard on my drive.

“Do you think…” A sob stuck in her throat.

“I don’t know. I think if it is as bad as they say, yea.”

“He’ll go to war.”

Up until that moment, I’d lived life as though nothing could hurt me. I was indestructible. I raced cars, I stayed out all hours of the night, ran from the police, encountered gangs. I should have gotten into trouble a hundredfold. I should have died several times too. I used to think life was short and we should all live it to our wildest moments.

Then life really was short and I got scared. As I write this, I’m starting to realize maybe this was a defining moment for me. In more ways then I understood. It was around this time that life got scary. I stopped doing stupid shit. I stopped racing cars, for fear of crashing them. I stopped sneaking out of houses and pushing cars out of driveways because I didn’t want to go to jail. We all stopped doing anything that might lead to our paths crossing with gangs because gangs carried guns and it all became too real. Instead of growing up though, I grew afraid. Afraid of life.

Life = Loss.

It was many years before I learned to change my views, to live again and to learn to have fun and be adventurous in a safer way. But 9/11 changed me. It changed my friendships. More men and women in my graduating class and the one prior to it joined the military then I’d ever expected to. It meant we lost some people both physically and mentally. Every loss was another slice of my ability to think the world was still a safe place. The thing is, it was never really a safe place. 9/11 just opened my eyes to something that was already true. I just hadn’t known it at the time.

I was driving to school when I learned about the twin towers. I pulled my car over and listened to those horrific events unfold. I didn’t go to my college classes that day because the school closed. I waited for another plane to hit Seattle instead. Waited for bombs to go off. Waited for my backyard to turn into a war zone. I’m thankful this didn’t happen. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like living in New York or D.C. that morning. I won’t pretend to. I only know the world through my own eyes. My own experiences.

9/11 changed my whole look on life. It took a long time to come back from that. To live in spite of the dangers. To find hope again and not just see destruction. To see that life was still worth living and living to it’s fullest. Because it is short. I just didn’t know how short at the time or that it didn’t have to be all or nothing.

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