Sunday, September 11, 2011

Side Effects

Today is the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

I'm not here to recap the "where was I" on that day; I've already done that in the past. And in fact, I've probably retold my 9/11 story dozens of times over the past 10 years. In the days following, my story was retold among friends and acquaintances. In the months following, every person at college heard the story after asking me if I had known anyone who died in the Twin Towers when I said that I was from New York. Every year since as people stop to remember that day on message boards and social networking sites, I retold my story.

But what about the story of what happened after 9/11? How has life been affected over these past 10 years?

That is the story I'm here to share today.

September 14, 2001: It was the day that I left for college. My father and I packed up a rental car and drove all the way to Boston. I just remember the eerie feeling of their being no planes in the sky, a site rarely seen in the northeast where so many major airports are in close proximity. In fact, it wasn't until the next day when they lifted the ban on aircrafts and, while crossing a Boston street, I looked up and saw a commercial jet and felt a little lump rise in my throat. Two of the planes that crashed had taken off from Logan Airport. What if it happened again? My first semester, I had a class that met in the mornings on the top floor of a building from which I could look out the window and see the top of the Prudential Building from my seat. Every day I sat in that class looking out at that building thinking, what if a plane crashed into that building right now? What would I even do? It would be a slow trickle back to normalcy.

October 26, 2001: I came home for the weekend to go to a Halloween rave party in the city with friends. We took the subway downtown and got off at the Chambers street station, just blocks from Ground Zero. The thing I will remember the most was the smell; of burning debris, steel, plastic, asbestos and most of all, the undeniable smell of burning bodies. We rounded a corner and there it was: surrounded by wooden fences, smoke still rising from the ruins. Even in the middle of the night, work lights were on and workers were in the rubble working diligently in their rescue efforts.The fences were adorned with posters: some were looking for missing persons, some were memorials. There were flowers and rosaries and prayers. There was a cop car on the corner across the street. We stopped to ask them for directions and I remember just wanting to reach into the car and hug one of the police officers, to thank them for anything they might have done on 9/11.

September 11, 2003: I moved back home and was attending school in NYC. I had a break in between classes and decided to go down to Ground Zero to pay my respects. I had printed the lyrics to the song "Believe" by Yellowcard, which is a tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. I put the sheet of paper in a plastic holder and I had found a rose on the sidewalk. I walked around the viewing area where the flower arrangements were and next to a metal memorial vigil of the twin towers, surrounded by flowers, candles and poems, I lay down my lyrics and placed my rosebud on top.

Think about the love inside the strength of heart
Think about the heroes saving life in the dark
Climbing higher through the fire, time was running out
Never knowing you weren't going to be coming down alive
But you still came back for me
You were strong and you believed
Think about the chance I never had to say
Thank you for giving up your life that day
Never fearing, only hearing voices calling out
Let it all go, the life that you know, just to bring it down alive
And you still came back for me
You were strong and you believed

September 11, 2011: Ground Zero is no more. Long gone is the rubble, the ruins in the depths of which the yearly memorial was held in its early stages. What remains is a beautiful, glorious memorial in the footprints of the Twin Towers. The beginnings of the Freedom tower and several small towers that will surround the old WTC site. I watched the families of those lost on 9/11 find the names of their loved ones on the walls surrounding giant waterfalls that pour into the footprints, leaving roses and creating rubbings of the engraved names. A memorial not just for those who were lost that day but for those who gave their lives. A memorial for those in decades to come to look at and remember what bravery occurred on that fateful day.

"We still here! And we're building four more new towers!"

I recently read an article about people who developed post-traumatic stress from the events of 9/11, even if they weren't directly in any of the buildings or in the area of the WTC; PTS developed simply from knowing, from watching the news non-stop, from worrying. All these years I thought I was being dramatic in my thinking that maybe I had developed some kind of PTSD after 9/11, but after reading their stories, maybe I was right? I can't even think about this day without bursting into tears, remembering my city in ruins, watching the people running, people jumping from buildings, people burned and covered in dust, firefighters and police officers and medical personnel simply overwhelmed. I've developed several anxiety disorders and gone through periods of social isolation, constant worrying, constant fear of the "what if" - things that have been a severe impediment on my personal growth in a time when it was needed most.

The 10 year anniversary of 9/11 has really amplified these past ten years of my life. In a year where I also graduated from high school and was going to be starting college, 2001 suddenly became this enormous cornerstone of my life because of the events of September 11th. That post-graduation decade, in which many young adults begin to find themselves and grow and come into their own with careers and families, was drastically altered by what happened that day and all the events that have happened since. I know at least 6 people who became firefighters (either through volunteer services, local departments or FDNY) because they were so touched by the acts of the firefighters that died on 9/11 that they wanted to give back. I have known another handful of young men who joined the Military to try and fight back and "get the bastards who attacked us"; one of which was my former roommate who was deployed in Iraq at the time when a fellow unit captured Saddam Hussein - to which he disclosed that they had actually captured him a month before it was announced here in the United States due to the fact that that they had to be sure it was really him because he had so many doppelgangers.

The invasion of the Middle East, the killings of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The recession/depression/collapse of the American Economy. These are not the typical events that most high school graduates have to deal with but all of us who have become adults in these past 10 years have had to struggle with it. With deciding what to do with our lives and our futures while struggling to find jobs and stability. As children, we were promised safety and security, a solid education, a thriving jobs and housing market, a warm and welcome place to start families and raise children, freedom and equality, with liberty and justice for all. And instead, over the past 10 years, we have watched the America that we grew up with, the America that we were proud to call home, become a shell of its former self. Would things have turned out much differently if 9/11 never happened? The world will never know.

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