Memories of 9/11: "The Day After"


On September 11, 2001, I was 16 years old, a junior in high school. I remember wearing a long grey skirt and a bright red cotton top. It was a sunny day. It's funny how those inconsequential details are so vivid.

My mother came to pick me up from school. She was silently frantic, swallowing her few words. She hadn't heard from my dad, yet. He worked in the Pentagon. She also couldn't get in touch with my sister, who worked in Manhattan. She needed company, I guess. We drove quickly back home. I reassured her everything would be OK, but then we watched the Twin Towers fall on television, and neither of us were so sure anymore. The local news channels in D.C. showed images of injured people on stretchers rolling out of ambulances. My mother kept looking to see if one of them could be my father. We still didn't get a phone call.

We were lucky. No one we knew was hurt or killed. The phone lines finally re-opened, and both my sister and father were doing just fine, just frazzled.

The next day, I wrote a poem, a free-write, in my journal. It's called, "The Day After." I had forgotten that I wrote it. I discovered it this morning, while rummaging through an old box in my childhood bedroom. I never shared it with anyone until now.

Yesterday, I cried for a stranger.

I woke up this morning, not wanting to get out of bed. My heart is too heavy. It drags me down.

The planes that exploded ignited a part of me, too. Skin melts in fire. So do families, and friends, and colleagues, and communities. Tears can't even put the fire out. I didn't think fire could burn from a distance.

Where I live, the sky is blue. Even the heavens are sad. Yesterday, I cried for a stranger - and my eyes still hurt. All I can see is my own tears. I don't see smoke. I don't see fire. I don't see rubble. I don't see beauty, either. Ugliness dulled my world. Or maybe I really can see beauty. I just can't feel it. I can't feel anything. But I feel everything. I feel everything and nothing. These feelings are almost too much to bear, like the death toll.

We blame a man we don't know, we point fingers at a country we've never been to, And we cry for strangers.

I'm not used to today, And I can't get used to yesterday.

We're united and torn apart at the same time, And I'm disconnected, because I don't want to talk about war, But I can't seem to talk about peace either. Because I forget what it is.

In school, there were five minutes of silence - I remember that peace is silence. I held my head in my hands, dizzy, trying to catch tears And wipe away pain on a white Kleenex. Soft - Not like the hard, black, charred rubble.

Today's setting sun is hot on my black jacket. Black is the color of death and rememberance and evil. I don't want to wear evil. This heat is the devil's, not the sun's. This is Satan's fire. Sun: set. Set. Settle down. Something needs to show me how to settle Down. Maybe it never happened. I feel good now. Is it wrong to feel good?

If I could praise something I would. I can praise hope. Hope is the stuff dreams are made of. Despair is what you find in nightmares. Hope is candlelight vigils, and flags, and smiles, And hopeful seekers, seeking lost loves, Hidden in the belly of a building we can't save. But we can save ourselves And each other.