Essay: 9-11-01: What If I Don’t Know How I’ve Changed?

This post originally appeared on Crazytownblog on 9.11.11. That blog is no longer in existence, so I am re-posting it here:

The closest I ever got to the WTC. May, 2001.

I’ve been anticipating the 10th anniversary of September 11th for years– the day when I wouldn’t feel I was the only person thinking about it. Everyone around me always seemed to be going about their day as though it were any other day. One year, I was walking in downtown Manhattan at about 11pm, and two girls looked up, saw the blue 9-11 lights and said, “Oh my god. Today is September 11th.” Really? You just realized? I’ve been thinking about it all day.

But after years of wanting 9-11 to be a non-working day of reflection, this year I longed for it to be just like any other day. For some reason, when I thought of everyone observing this anniversary, I thought they’d be doing it privately or in small, intimate groups. Instead, there were more articles than I had time to flag for later let alone read, and every person and their dog was talking about how we’ve all changed.

Yet “How have you changed?” is the one question I don’t want to answer because, after all these years, the answer is still: I don’t know.

Yes, I’ve changed a lot in ten years, but how have I changed because of 9-11? Answering that question doesn’t seem that important because, as one of my friends once said, 9-11 changed me in ways I may never really understand. And that’s okay.

But there is a record of how I’ve changed. Every year on 9-11, I re-read my journal entry from 9-12-01 and write another journal entry about how I feel and/or what I’ve done to mark the day. Perhaps re-reading and writing about it every year is a way for me to get closer to figuring out what changed in me. Every year has meant something different, and, in light of my current desire for normalcy, perhaps this is the year I’m ready to move on from examining it a bit. Below I have posted a few lines from each year’s journal entry, moving backwards in time, as I journey back to the day. How have I changed? This year, I continue to figure it out.

9-11-10The Year I Was Not in the City
I was thinking this week, since Rosh Hashana is near 9-11 on the calendar, how Rosh Hashana had a role in helping me through my anxiety and depression after 9-11….. It’s not like coming home for Rosh Hashana cured it, but just being out of the city and in the familiarity of my synagogue, where I had spent my summer as a pre-school camp counselor, greatly consoled me.

9-11-09The Year I Left the City
Each 9-11 is different, and it might be good to get out of the city and see Katy this year, since we were together the moment we found out about it…. I’ve been so busy this year, I’ve barely had a chance to anticipate it. It’s almost like any other day.

9-11-08The Year I Was No Longer Living Downtown
It feels as though 9/11 has dislodged itself from real time and become this ubiquitous moment, happening both yesterday and centuries ago all at once. It’s weird to think that it was in fact on a specific day. Even “9/11” or “September 11th” is less of a date and more of an abstract feeling now. Taking this day to really step back and think about it focuses the abstract jumble of thoughts and feelings, and I remember that, yes, this was a specific moment. A specific day.

9-11-07: The Year It Once Again Fell on a Tuesday
Tonight I remembered just how much television played a role in my 9-11 experience. At first, all I could watch was the news. I became slightly addicted and watched the towers fall maybe a dozen times before I finally willed myself to turn it off. Sometimes I think there is a corner of my subconscious that still has the towers falling on continuous loop.

WTC site. Nearing midnight, 9-11-06.

: 5 Years. The Year I Lived Downtown and Saw the Lights
The blue September 11th lights. I had never seen them before. They were so beautiful. I stopped in my tracks, caught off guard for a moment at the sight of them. The light was so strong and powerful…. Some weird phenomenon (I’m sure it has a name) was making the light curve as it reached higher into the sky so the light seemed to circle Manhattan, almost as though it were saying, “I’ll always be here.”

9-11-05The Year I Started Graduate School and Realized Few People in My Class Had Been Here
I’ve been thinking a lot about September 11th this year as the anniversary approaches. Maybe it’s the whole hurricane that is bringing back the memories of disaster and trauma. Maybe it’s the fact that I might be the only if not one of the few students in my new class that was in New York for it. Of course 9-11 affected people all over the country,
especially in Washington, Boston, and LA, but there was something different about being in New York, even if we were all the way uptown.

Near the WTC site. May, 2003.

Near the WTC site. May, 2003.

9-12-01The Day After
Yesterday feels like a blur. I question if it really happened but then I turn on the tv and I found out that it indeed did…. All I want to do is leave, go home where I feel safe with my family. New York City doesn’t feel like New York City anymore. It looks like it, but I feel we’ve been transported into another dimension in which we all walk around in a daze, bereft of feeling, the way we see the world completely warped…. Everyone is quiet. There is nothing to say. No one knows what to feel.

On September 11, 2001, I was in my second year at Barnard College. I arrived at my second class at 10:35 and was chatting loudly with my friend about classes. Neither of us had any
idea that while I had been in my last class, two domestic airliners had been hijacked and forced to plunge into the World Trade Center, sending the towering structures crumbling to the ground. My professor came in and told us the news. I staggered over to another one of my friends and began to break down. We walked back to our dorm together, shaking.

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