I had an entirely different blog written and scheduled to post today. Now I just don’t know what should be said. What can you say? We are approaching the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and I find myself flooded with horrible memories, thrown right back to September 11, 2001, as if it happened yesterday.
That morning, I remember waking up to the sun streaming into my bedroom and thinking it was a beautiful day. I don’t remember what I was planning to do but everything went out the window when my mother burst into my room and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. She didn’t appear too shaken by it though, so I thought maybe it was a little private plane that clipped the corner of a building or something. We reached the living room just in time to see the second plane hit the other building on live television. I remember going numb and my brain shifted to a place of thinking it wasn’t real just to cope with what I had just seen.
I remember this hushed conversation with my mother a few minutes later.
“Why would another plane crash right there?” I asked.
Ashen, she replied, “I think we’ve been attacked.”
“By who? Who would do this to us?”
“I don’t know. I’m not going to work today.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, as I watched the columns of smoke rise into that perfect blue sky, I knew the buildings were going to collapse. I also knew that I had been having nightmares of plane crashes all summer and a strange tingling of guilt set in, as if I had known it was going to happen and I could have prevented it. The horror of watching people die on live television took the forefront though and we both lingered in the house amongst eerie silence, lost in our own thoughts. I don’t think there was anything that could have been said. Honestly, I don’t know how the news anchors kept talking.
Later that afternoon, we decided to go get something to eat and clear our minds. At the time, I lived in Calhoun, which is a small town in northwest Georgia not prone to much traffic. We noticed right away that every gas station in town had lines stretching around every block. People were buying gas as if we might never have gas again. My mother decided it was better to fill up our tank too rather than risk gas prices skyrocketing as soon as the government declared war. We sat in line for 45 minutes at a gas station on highway 53, which was the main strip through town. When we left, I noticed a man standing outside of another gas station guarding the building with a shotgun. Fear really set in for me then. It occurred to me that we were only about an hour and a half from Atlanta, a major city with major businesses and skyscrapers. What if Atlanta was next on the attack list?
In the days that followed, once the adrenalin died away, I can only describe it as sliding underwater where everything moves in slow motion and the fear of drowning paralyzes your body. I had what I describe as a hysterical breakdown on the fourth day after the attacks and my doctor at the time ordered me to turn off the television for at least a week or more. My mental health was in danger. It took a year for me to really recover from the things I saw on 9/11 and during that year, I felt like all of my creativity and life was drained from my body. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do anything artistic. My life was survival on a day to day basis. Sometimes I felt stabs of guilt because I was having such a tough time recovering from the attacks, yet I wasn’t there. It wasn’t my right to struggle so much. A lot of other people struggled to recover from the attacks who weren’t there as well, I found out, and my doctor termed my problems as survivor’s guilt along with post-traumatic stress from seeing thousands die on live television. I used to have nightmares about watching people jump from windows just as I had seen that day.
Every anniversary, I think maybe it’ll be easier this time – maybe it won’t feel like such a blow. But then the anniversary comes around again and it feels like the rug got pulled out from under all of us. Each year, I spend the day in silence away from technology as best as I can. I prefer to spend that day in reflection on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. I meditate and think about what I can do to make this world a better place by having my life when those people no longer have their lives. It’s precious to be able to breathe, to work in a garden, to hug your loved ones, to work every day, and to contribute love where others try to spread hate. I use 9/11 to remind myself that life is not guaranteed and should be used to help humanity evolve into something better.