Week 2: Your earliest memory.
To be honest, I’m not sure that this is my earliest memory. That honor may belong to watching the fireworks at midnight as we entered the 21st Century, but I think this memory is far more formative.
My first day of kindergarten was 9/11/2001. Yes, this is dating me, and I apologize to everyone who forgot that I am, in fact, a child. Moving on.
My first day of kindergarten was 9/11/2001. I was five at the time and we were just starting our day when the first plane hit. To give credit where credit is due, I don’t have any concrete memories of issues at school, and since we were in New York City, I find that quite remarkable. We celebrated a classmate’s birthday and we were told we could go home early. My mom came to pick me up and I went home.
It was the days immediately following 9/11 that I remember far more clearly than the day itself.
I remember overhearing my parents watching the TV. The TV in our house was rarely on so any usage was a noteworthy event. I remember peeking around the corner of the entry to the living room and seeing video of the fire on the screen. I remember hearing the word “terrorist” for the first time. I remember pressing my parents for answers to questions they were not prepared to answer. I remember promising that I wouldn’t have any nightmares if they told me the truth and they did so.
I had nightmares.
I remember walking up the hill to my apartment with my father. I remember him pointing downtown and asking if I could see the smoke. I remember telling him that I could.
I couldn’t see the smoke. But I could smell it.
The smoke was pervasive. I lived miles from the site of the attack and could still smell it in air.
The Sunday following the attack we went to church, as is our habit. Our church was filled to the brim. I remember thinking it was strange that there were so many people on just a regular Sunday. I remember sitting in a different spot than normal since our seat had been taken by visitors.
I remember standing on the pew and looking around at the faces that surrounded me.
I remember the tears. I remember the tears that were not my own. The tears of the adults around me. The tears of the people who were wearing black with more intentionality than New Yorkers generally did.
I remember the fear. I remember the fear that grips a small child when all the adults around her are crying.
I remember silence. I remember the silence in the Prayers of the People where normally names would be read. No one knew who had died yet. There were no names to be read.
I remember the chilling start to a beautiful piece of music. One that will, ’til the end of my days, be associated with the horrific loss of the attack. I hear it now in my head as I write this. I feel the pounding of the drums deep in my heart. I hear the shimmer of the gong as it rings through my body.
I remember because I have never been allowed to forget.
I remember because our country demands it of me.
I remember because I had school projects that involved designing memorials and field trips that culminated at the base of the towers.
I remember because my parents still have the yellowing newspaper from a few days after the attack. The newspaper with the faces of the passengers on the flight. I remember asking who those people were. I remember learning that the little boy on the flight was the child of a friend of my mother’s.
I remember because to forget would dishonor their lives. I remember because to forget would dishonor the lives of those who fought in the resulting wars.
I remember because I wake up every day with the fear that this could happen again.
I remember because I cannot remember a time when this was not a part of my reality.
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