On a Friday night when I was ten years old a bomb exploded at the World Trade Center. I was visiting my grandparents in Queens, NY some 15 miles away. 20 years later I don’t recall being scared. I do recall playing Sega Genesis and eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I remember my grandmother turning off the television. I remember sitting in the laundry basket at the top of the stairs in my grandparents house and using it as a toboggan.
I was 17 and living in Washington, DC the next time the World Trade Center was attacked. Except this time it was different for obvious reasons. This time the White House was the intended target. This time the Pentagon was hit. This time I was five miles away in my dorm room. This time I remember everything.
I remember what I was wearing, what I ate, how I woke up that morning to the phone call that would change everything. I remember the threats and Peter Jennings and car bombs and most of all I remember the chaos. Both internal and external. It’s funny that I can recall the nuances of that day even though I spent most of it in a daze. There was no Twitter or Facebook (and we walked uphill in the snow. BAREFOOT.) There was just the noise of the talking heads who weren’t pundits but those we knew we could trust.
It’s the fear that I always fall back to when I remember that day and then the following year when two snipers terrorized the city I still lived in. My father wanted for me to come home after September 11th but I refused. There were bombers flying low but it would be fine. Then the snipers. Once again my father demanded and once again I refused to leave but decided to live enveloped in that fear. The fear of the unknown. The noise and the chaos of rumors and discerning fact from fiction.
An act of terror, whether it be NYC, Washington, Oklahoma City or even Aurora, Co – , is to impose just that – terror – on its victims. It’s supposed to make you feel afraid, ensure chaos and confusion and a fear that I have never quite been able to describe but I can try: Your body seizes up. There is no fight or flight it’s just numb. But your heart…your heart it picks up the pace and your brain goes back to the chaos as information is thrown about. Your brain first grasps the severity of the situation. Then it tries to reconcile, then nothing. Movement is automatic at first. For me? I am automatic eating pilot as my brain tries to calm down and then I think why…why…WHY? I eat even though I’m not hungry and my stomach hurts, there’s a lump in my throat and I want to scream.
A bombing – domestic or not – a shooting an attack in order to strike fear those are all acts of terror. But at the time of impact who really cares? It happened before I can form coherent sentences or speculate I just have to let all of the feelings wash over me because no amount of talking will fully make me comprehend the amount of evil this world holds.
I was so angry yesterday. So very angry. I snipped. I was grouchy. I knew what those at the finish line and in the surrounding area were feeling; confusion, anger, fear, all of the what-ifs. Angered because it shouldn’t be like this. This world shouldn’t be like this and those people will always remember every single detail down to the second and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. Angered because despite the lack of evidence everyone wanted to blame someone else. Angry because I want to know why – we all wanted to know why – but we didn’t.
Why am I working through these feelings in this space? Because the people reading are most likely raising children. I, myself, would love children one day but when an act of terror happens I think perhaps not. Why bring children into this. But then I think of that Mr. Rogers quote. We all know the one:
You all are raising the future helpers. You all are raising the people who – God willing – will be the ones that others can turn to in times of distress. When you want to throw things and scream towards the sky and everything hurts in ways indescribable: I want you to know that despite the evil you have in your presence the potential for good. Remember that.