On September 11, 2001, I was at the kitchen table eating breakfast and my dad turned on his God damn Fox morning news only to see replay footage of a plane crashing into a building over and over again while men in suits expressed their ratings-bumping, botoxed-up sympathy for the survivors of the so-called “accident.” I didn’t really care at first-the world was in need of a subtle purge of New Yorkers, anyway-but when the second plane hit, I quit reading the paper and paid attention to the TV.
My father didn’t eat, and stayed a few minutes past his usual departure time for work, and my brother and I would have been late for school if Mom hadn’t pushed us out of the house. Despite his musical elitism and usual insistence on playing his CDs, my brother turned the radio on in the car so we could listen to all of the politicians speculate and argue over who attacked us and why and how we’d retaliate. Suddenly all Americans became “we,” even those who had nothing to do with it. Life in my hometown appeared fine-normal-and if it hadn’t been for modern communication, we wouldn’t even have known about the attack until the next day, or maybe the next week. My home hadn’t been attacked, so I didn’t understand why I had to be labeled along with the rest of “us.”
At school, a bunch of people had gathered around the flagpole for a prayer meeting and shot dirty looks to anyone who passed by without stopping to join them. My friend Libby, who had gone to New York over the summer break, busily worked to tear down all of the skyline pictures she had taken on the trip that were posted in her locker.
“People keep asking me if I know anyone who died,” she explained.
Every TV in the building blared a different channel, all covering the same story, and eventually they began to show footage of various suspected Middle Eastern countries-snot-nosed little kids eating candy in the street, people singing and dancing and praising Allah. We all asked Ms. Burch why the children were giving the cameras the peace sign, and she explained that to them it was the victory sign. One kid, the biggest druggie on campus and a whore to boot, began ranting about supremacy and vengeance, and we didn’t get any work done and had to take it all home.
By the time lunch rolled around, everyone had lost a dear friend in the attack. Everyone was experiencing the ultimate suffering because they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. Everyone needed everyone else’s pity and attention. I didn’t understand why people took it so personally. It happened on the other side of the country.
For the rest of the week, there would be no TV. Every channel covered the same nonsense. This is the ash. This is the rubble. This is Ground Zero. This guy lived. This guy knows someone who died. This guy is the great-great-great nephew of the aunt of the cousin of the great-great-grandfather of the daughter of the ex-husband of the uncle of the second cousin twice removed from a lady who knows the stepmother of the aunt of the sister of the stalker of the son of the pilot of the first plane. And then came the montages. Pictures of the memorials, pictures of the rescues. Song after sappy song written about the firefighters and sung by mediocre musicians to the sound of poorly executed ear-splitting twangy country tunes.
Newscasters lectured us on unity, and before long it really was about us and them. And I had to be one of us. Firefighters suddenly became heroes worthy of our undivided reverence-but only the ones in New York. Anyone lucky enough to be killed in the attack attained a god-like status, and the families-now fabulously rich-never seemed to get enough sympathy and love and unwarranted worship. People lit candles and rang bells and glutted the streets, screaming for a war that they would later claim unnecessary.
Until that day, I didn’t know the Middle East was an issue. I didn’t know that gas prices were an issue. Those fucking planes stole my streetlight hopping teenage years, not because they made me afraid or any junk like that, but because they jacked up the cost of gas to the point that I could not afford more than it took to get me to school and back, and even then, by my senior year, I was hitching nearly everyday. Really, that’s all the attack meant to me.
It didn’t surprise me that they chose us, because we are happy and powerful and who wouldn’t want us dead? It also didn’t surprise me that they encouraged their kids to follow their path, because they’ve all sold their souls to religion. And it certainly didn’t surprise me that they wanted to punish us, because everyone’s in need of punishment. But I guess what did surprise me was how much people pretended to care-how suddenly everybody was intimately affected, how all those dead people became heroes for going to work. Makes death look downright desirable. The only lasting impact 9/11 really had was that pervasive “you-owe-me-some-respect-because-I-have-suffered-more-than-you-have” attitude that runs rampant in America today, and the us/them mentality that could very well get you killed for violating. I do get sad when I see the videos of the crashes, but I’ve moved on, and I wish the rest of the country could just put on its big girl panties and deal with it.
MEG DWYER is a student at St. Martin’s College in Lacey, Washington. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org