On a Tuesday, in the 10th grade, I sat twiddling my pencil in home room. I had Mr. H., the geology teacher, who was notoriously known for taking roll call for the first two minutes and then leaving us to our own devices. Twiddling a pencil seemed appropriate for an early September day.
“Do you think _____ will ask me to homecoming?” the chatty blond-haired girl, with the large chest, asked her friend at the table in front of me.
“If he’s smart,” her twig-bodied friend blurted out in between cracks of “illegal” bubble gum pops.
I eavesdropped and flipped through the pages of my trigonometry book, with my left hand, as I glanced over my schedule for the semester. I made a mental note to check in with the guidance counselor later that afternoon; AP European History needed to be nixed.
I let out a big sigh of relief, as the bell finally rang, and I exited out into the hallway. I found my ‘boyfriend’ standing at the intersecting two halls. That’s weird, I thought; he isn’t usually on the same floor at this time. T. sauntered over, in my direction, and whispered in my ear, “something’s happened.”
“What do you mean something’s happened?” I quickly responded.
“Mrs. L. told us in home room. Something’s happened in NY. She turned the TV on. Didn’t you see it?” he asked.
“No; I didn’t see it! Mr H. never turns the TV on!” my sentence trailed off as I peered back towards Mr. H’s closed classroom door. The windows on either side allowed me to see him move from setting the phone down to reaching for the remote control. An image of smoke billowing from the twin towers flickered on the screen.
Experiencing 9/11 in Ohio was different from larger metropolitan areas. I remember sitting on the tennis court, during practice later that day, and listening to the eerie silence of a plane-less sky. I remember eating dinner with my family in front of the TV, and knowing that this was a moment in history, but not truly understanding what that meant. I remember watching news coverage alone in my room later that evening; tears streaming down my face as I watched the firefighters clear the wreckage.
I remember feeling so sad and united to other Americans in the days following those acts of terrorism, but also feeling so removed. It was later reported that Flight 93 briefly flew over Cleveland before crashing down in Pennsylvania. This was the closest my home city came to experiencing real fear in the wake of 9/11. In a matter of weeks, things were close to almost normal.
It wasn’t until I moved to the nation’s capital several years later that I truly understood what it was like to live with a constant fear of terrorism. I feel it as I walk among my fellow D.C.-ers. I know it when I hold my breath a little longer as the metro train stops at the Pentagon station. I hear it when people speak of never flying on September 11th.
On 9/11, in the district, we sip our coffees a little longer in the morning. We hug our loved ones a little tighter before we leave the house. We do these things because the fear here is real.
In lieu of what happened, in this city, less than 24 hours ago, I can’t help but think how this adds another fear to our list; the simple act of going to work. I am deeply pained for the families of the victims, of course. There are not enough words or emotions to explain how saddened I am for their loss and what they must be going through now. But, I’m also upset for their coworkers, the people working near-by, those of us who panicked as we scrolled through our mental log of friends who work for the Navy. Were they at the Navy Yard location? And then, that looming thought of it being the Navy today, but tomorrow – is it the Pentagon, the Senate, my office building in Tyson’s Corner, VA?
When I was younger, I learned that America is the land of the free and home of the brave. I learned that people died fighting so that our country’s patrons can experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, as I say my prayers before work in the morning, as I anticipate feelings of visiting the Navy Yard metro stop in the future, as I squeeze my loved ones a little tighter tonight…
I wonder when the freedom from fear will become real.