Where Were You?

Where Were You? September 10, 2016

National_Park_Service_9-11_Statue_of_Liberty_and_WTC_fire

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Where were you?

That’s the question people always ask, after there’s been a tragedy or a disaster. Where were you, when you heard? Where were you, when it happened? Where were you when the whole world changed? Where were you when we all changed, from being people who would never imagine such a thing into people who couldn’t think about anything else? Where were you when history was made? Where were you, when you found out that you live in interesting times?

I keep seeing the meme going around the internet: this is the first year, in which there are students entering High School who were not yet born on September 11, 2001. Not just children who have no memory of it; children who were not alive at the time. I don’t know the exact points in time when breaking news becomes old news and old news becomes history, but I think we’re at the point where that day’s news is history now.

I was done with High School, more or less; I was about to turn seventeen. This was the year my mother had said she wasn’t going to buy homeschool high school curricula when I was “smart enough” to do something else, and enrolled me in classes at the Community College despite my social phobia. But the Community College’s autumn quarter didn’t start until the next week, so I was at home, reading. I was always at home, reading. The younger children went with my mother to the homeschooling co-op she founded, and my father was with a client. It was a brilliant, clear day, the last gasp of bright weather before the clouds come and Ohio’s true autumn begins. Sun poured in, almost annoyingly brightly, through the picture windows. It was quiet– there wasn’t a car on the street or a plane in the sky, nothing. I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about my book.

It was then that my father burst into the door. “Did you hear the news?”

His client’s son lived in New York, and called his father during their meeting to assure his father that he was all right. That was when the client and my father heard the news. My father had listened to the news all the way home; he was trying to relate the news to me. He let out a fountain of words that have since become cliche and tacky, things you wouldn’t put in a screenplay for fear of sounding too scripted, but they were all shocking at the time. They were things I just didn’t think about, or words that didn’t have all that much meaning. Terrorist crashed airplanes into buildings. The Pentagon. The Twin Towers. One of them’s already gone. I don’t know how to write those words and make them sound new. A writer is supposed to make things sound new, but I’m not up to the task in this case. Within a few days of those attacks, all of those words would become cliches, political shibboleths, propaganda just like war on terror and mission accomplished, but take my word for it: at the time, they were brand new. They were unbelievable. We couldn’t imagine.

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