Disclaimer: Some of the times given in this article are factually incorrect. That is because it is a memory from ten years ago. Also because the information that was available and disseminated on that day was not always consistent or accurate. So before you begin to conflate normal human forgetfulness with disrespect for what happened, sorry if it ruffled your feathers. But not really.

That is where I was on September 11, 2001. I was 15 years old, and I just started my 10th grade year at the Seed School of Washington, DC. Terrorism was not a word I knew. I used it, generally in regards to my little brother and my father, but I didn’t really know this word. We were not on personal terms. I had seen the word in the cafeteria or in the hall on my way to class. Maybe even sometimes in DuPont Circle on Sunday right before I went into the Ginza shop to dreamily adore overpriced Japanese imports that I still can’t afford. We’d even had pretty good elbow rubs at Oriole’s games waiting to get through the ticket takers and go to our seats. But we had never been formally introduced. That changed.

One of the best men I know is John Ciccone. You can not argue with this guy. Verbally, sure. But you can not look at this man and think “Oh, this guy’s a douche. No thanks.” He is short, a little round, and all kinds of cool. He’s one of those guys that made me more convinced in high school that I should have been a boy so I could wear pinstripe suits, silk ties, and have an incredibly intelligent, tall and beautiful wife. So we were very perplexed when Mr. Ciccone walked into Mrs. Starnes’ English classroom about the same color as a well done egg white. What could possibly shake the unflappable Mr. Ciccone.

Among the ten minutes or so of a very pale and calmly speaking Mr. Ciccone, who probably was pushing up his shoulders to repeat the same thing to another class, it was mentioned that “At approximately 9am this morning, two planes crashed into the twin towers in New York City…Another plane hit the Pentagon…” What was said after or in between that becomes a wash. I don’t have a memory or a time line for that day. I have a general feeling of emptiness. Something was wiped out of me that day. I’m sure Mr. C mentioned that we should stay calm, that news was forthcoming. That our parents were notified and on their way to get us. Or maybe we were told to stay at school because it was safer. I can’t remember. And I would feel foolish asking. Because isn’t that something I was supposed to remember? What I had for breakfast, what I was doing, who I was talking to. I can tell you what i was wearing; my school uniform. What I wore everyday.

Eventually I saw footage of one side of the Pentagon knocked over like the side of a sand fortress. One minute, people are making photocopies, signing forms, going up and down stairs, waiting for elevators, talking on the phone, all this mundane shit. And then maybe you’re walking to another office, or the bathroom, or to get some more staples, or to see if there are donuts in the break room and then suddenly there is a noise you can’t quite place, but you know it’s getting closer and before you can turn to that lady next to you , or that guy you just passed, before you can hopefully comically ask the nearest possible person, “Hey? Do you hear that?” Nothingness. Then fire. Then smoke. Then ash. Then smoldering rubble.

To my knowledge there isn’t footage of the third plane hitting the Pentagon. We knew it was there but it wasn’t exactly a highlight of our cityscape. D.C. doesn’t have tall buildings, so any movie that shows you otherwise is fucking lying. There are no skyscrapers. I don’t even think there’s anything over thirty stories, if that. We are a low building city. We have the Washington monument, the Capitol Building, and the Old Post building if you need to look down on someone. So losing five stories of a five sided building hurt, goddamnit.

There was footage of the towers. The same thirty minutes stuck on repeat. All of our heads became VCRs that day as it was rewound, slowed down, sped up, and replayed. Over and over and over. But I didn’t actually see it. Someone put a tape in my head. I was downloaded with it. But there were people who saw it with their eyes. People who know these images without glass screens or wire or audio. People who felt the whine, the rumble, and the reverberating boom of thousands and thousands of lives falling apart somewhere between their lungs and their hearts. Where I have emptiness in my memory, what do they have? For the people who evacuated in time. For the people who were just about to walk down that hall in the Pentagon but had to go back for a paper, or wanted to use a bathroom before that meeting. What is in your eyes when you close them that will never be on TV?

The worst worst thing about this…For me, the worst worst thing about this was the footage of those who were trapped. Those we could not reach. Those who suffocated and went blind before they were taken. Because for every person who jumped there were a few who couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t call for help. The cameras are trained on the slender windows, and we are watching people forced to suicide. In the background are the low yet bright voices left on answering machines professing love. But what we can not see, what we can not hear right before the towers fall, before they implode into a wound in our brains, before we are all branded with this, are the people trapped inside. The ones we cannot see is the worst worst thing.

But the best thing. The best thing is coming. It’s not fucking Bush sitting with his thumb up his ass. It’s not the record media airtime and coverage. It’s United 93 telling evil men that they will not prevail this day if it takes every life on that plane. The best thing is us. It’s what we are capable of doing in the face of murder and trauma. It’s firemen and police officers pouring in from all over the country. It’s donations and volunteers. It’s the United States’ flag everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It’s erecting a flag on the rubble. A big red, white, and blue band-aid that said we are digging in our heels and we are pulling through this and leaving no one behind. That we are doing whatever it takes.

Sometimes I really hate this country, or at least vast parts of it. Certain groups of people. Certain religious beliefs. Certain cultural practices. I have a seething hatred for them. I will mock them. I will openly disrespect them. And when the appropriate opportunity presents itself, I will use logic to educate them and rub their faces in their own shit if they decide to be willfully ignorant of facts. But bringing physical harm and violence against these people is not a thing I will do. Not even a thing I consider when I am at my most enraged with their inability to treat people like people. Their inability to see truth instead of the mind numbing fiction they spin for themselves. I am not a soldier, nor do I think I am capable of being one. But I have one weapon in my arsenal that is stronger than my hatred, stronger than their hatred. And that is my belief that no matter who I am, and no matter who anyone else is, that we protect our own. If you were born in one of these fifty states. If you have sworn to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. If you take seriously “E Pluribus Unum”, “We the People”, and “Give me liberty or give me death”. If you believe in all that corny, cheezy, home of the brave and land of the free crap as much as I do, then we raise flags, we turn our faces into the wind, and we choke on the ash together.

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