When people say (or have signs, or attach bumper stickers, or anything of the sort) "Never Forget" in reference to September 11, 2001, I cringe.
A pleasant sentiment. A catchy cliche. But a saying that is redundant to those who lived it and were directly affected by it.
I was one of those.
After President Obama's announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I was instantly taken back to that day. A day that changed so many lives.
I moved to NYC on September 1, 2001. Wide-eyed, young, and completely naive I was ready to conquer this concrete jungle and take it by storm. A planner, we planned to be completely unpacked in 10 days so we could have some fun doing touristy things for the two weeks prior to starting my job. We each got cell phones on September 10th - the first sign of being true adults (and also a sign of showing my age...). I called my mother and told her our plans included a trip to the World Trade Center the next morning - the day was supposed to be beautiful. After hanging up, we treated ourselves and Indy to a bodega sandwich and walk around the neighborhood (big spenders at the age of 22). As we walked it occurred to us that we had set up the office all wrong. We went back to our new apartment and went to work on the final room until 3am.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we slept in.
8 miles from Ground Zero. Safely tucked away in Queens. Securely asleep while the world collapsed.
I was startled awake with, "Joy. Wake up. I think the Two Towers were bombed."
There was no television - the towers housed the tv antennae. There was no telephone - lines were jammed for days. There was no internet - the modem wouldn't be installed until the following week. We noticed through the rolling snow of the tv screen that the first tower had just fallen. We managed to get a radio to work. A woman had called into the radio station. She said, "I think I just saw my husband jump from his office in Tower One." Selby and I looked at each other and realized this was much more than a bomb. We needed to get in touch with our families.
I walked to the closest payphone - no dial tone. I jogged to the next - a line of frightened people. I sprinted to the next. Over a scratchy signal I heard the ringing. "Mother?" I asked as the other line picked up. I heard a sigh of relief and then tears. I asked what happened. My mother quickly gave me an overview of the morning's events as they had unfolded.
Static filled the conversation. The line of antsy people behind me grew. I asked her to call my dad and Selby's parents. I told her I didn't know when I'd be able to call next. I told her I loved her.
Numb, I walked through my beautiful new neighborhood, in the boro of the city where I dreamed of living. Ambulances screamed past. Fire trucks overtook the streets making their way toward Manhattan. Entering the apartment I saw Selby's transformation from college actor to grown-up caretaker on a mission. He had hacked into the building's cable, strung the line through the foyer, and was watching the news reports.
"This is horrific," he said to me as I sat down on the living room floor in fear.
For the next four hours we watched the towers collapse over and over. We heard fighter jets flying overhead. We had no friends in the city yet (certainly none in the towers). We had no telephones. We had no internet. We had stolen cable. We were 22 years old, 1500 miles away from our families, but we had each other.
By the end of the day we had been formally introduced to a character named Osama bin Laden. He was responsible for this fear. These tears. This despair. This hopelessness. This helplessness. I hated him.
In the following days we holed up in front of our stolen CNN. We finally decided to go see some of the destruction. The subway wasn't in service, so we were forced to see the new skyline from atop the KMart parking garage on the edge of Queens and Brooklyn - a sight I will never forget. This was my new home. This was worth sticking around. In those few days I went from wide-eyed southern baby to full-fledged New Yorker. They say it takes seven years... for us it took seven days.
The unity the city embraced made me proud. Proud to be a New Yorker. Proud to be a part of something by obligation. I fell in love with the city, the people, the tenacity. As much as the hate lived on for Mr. bin Laden, my pride overwhelmed me.
These past near-ten years has buried some of the anger and all of the fear I felt in those days of September 2001. But tonight seeing that vision of hatred, sadness, and murder killed provoked all of the emotions of that time.
And once again I am proud. Proud to have voted for Obama. I don't understand the celebrations that are happening... is someone's death ever reason to celebrate?? It's a time of remembering. It's a time of reflection. It's a time to never forget - and another day I will never lose.