For those of us in America, this is the anniversary of a collective moment of panic. Talk today, twelve years later, went to “Where were you when…” and “Do you remember how the news…?” And most of all “Can you believe it has been twelve years?”
In 2001 I had just graduated high school. When the attacks happened, while I had friends who were in college in New York – I had just gotten out of my first stint inpatient in a psychiatric unit. My Bi-Polar disorder had onset sometime in my teens and it all came to a head in the summer on 2001 when I damn near ran off to California to be with a guy I met in a yahoo chat room. People didn’t use internet dating the way they do now and my parents thought I was delusional because I had developed feelings for a man I had never met face to face. There was a lot of friction in the house at that time and I was going through my first true manic episode. This all culminated when I started to come down from it, realized I’d spent about $7,000 on crap, that I was completely broke, I had driven a huge wedge between myself and my family and I saw no way out. I was un-medicated at the time because my parents really had no idea that Bi-Polar was even a thing, let alone a thing that could and was happening in their house. I downed an entire bottle of Tylenol, and about 28 Advil before I passed out in the hallway…Leaving my parents to find me.
I had been released from the hospital earlier in the week, and I was staying with my grandmother. She went and got me out of bed, and I remember watching the news with her. I watched the second plane crash into the building in horror just like everyone else did that day. My grandmother was crying. She just kept saying “Nothing has ever attacked us HERE before.” The whole day was spent glued to CNN, my mom called from work multiple times to make sure I was okay.
In the coming days I got in touch with all my east coast friends – friends who had been out there in college – I remember a girl friend of mine recounting that day, talking about how they ran out of hurses and coroner carts to transport the bodies so they started using Ice Cream cars…and one of the drivers couldn’t figure out how to turn off the song. So for a long time, whenever she heard the song of an ice cream truck, all she could think of was the smoke and the fear and the dead bodies.
I was safe in the Midwest. No one was driving planes into buildings in my home…yet somehow, we were all affected by it. All of us. The moments we all shared as Americans in the weeks after 9-11 were some of the most beautiful, selfless, and compassionate moments I have ever witnessed.
In the years that followed – the years of the wars, all the warm fuzzy feelings I had faded and were replaced by other things. I was the class of 2001 – forever, we will all think of that attack any time that year is mentioned, but one thing many people forget is that we were all 18 that year. It was some of my friends who were the first to sign up to go and fight this enemy who had weapons of mass destruction. It was my friends…my classmates who were among some of the first to show a desire to serve in something that turned into over a decade long collective nightmare that we are still not all the way out of.
I know men and women my age with severe spinal injuries from being shot. I know men and women my age with traumatic brain injuries, and post traumatic stress disorder. I remember writing letters and sending supplies when they were over in the middle east – some of them multiple times.
I’m not going to bore you with my political beliefs – Those of you who know me likely know what they are. I am merely stating facts. That day echoes in my memory and for sure in the memory of many people my age. Not only because it was a terrible thing that happened right on the cusp of our adult-hood, but because so many of us have paid deeply to BE American. It’s not just the soldiers – it is wives, husbands, parents, significant others, children…One guy I know has been enlisted for 12 years, He’s done several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has a wife, two beautiful children and a lovely house and puppy now, but he’s STILL going.
I’m glad that there are people out there who can do that – because I sure as hell couldn’t. Regardless of how I grew to feel about the war itself, or any of my political beliefs, these people were fighting so I could sit here on my ass and write and have a relatively normal life.
Every year, on the anniversary of the attacks I like to thank my friends who serve and who have served. Thank you. Thank you to their families, and their wives and husbands for being willing to share them with all of us. Thank you for being willing to step up and take care of business – when people like me couldn’t.