Everyone always tells me that I should write about the Boston Marathon in 2013. And that I should write about the September 11th attacks. But when I put thought to paper, nothing comes out. I feel as though these topics have been spun around so many times, it just seems redundant now. I know every story is different, but how many stories are we going to listen to before we decide to move on? Why is my story any different from anyone else’s?
Well, here is my attempt.
It’s September 11th, 2001. I’m sitting in my fifth grade classroom. I’m ten. Our only guidance counselor in my teeny tiny school walks in with tears. She is making rounds to all of the classrooms in my school to inform us that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The teachers look panicked, and the students look horrified, except for me. You see, I’ve never been to NYC. I don’t even know what it looks like. What are the World Trade Centers? A plane crash? Okay. Doesn’t that happen from time to time? I just don’t get it.
“I was supposed to have lunch there today!” one girl yells. Her father is a pilot. I quietly roll my eyes at the thought that her father was just casually going to pick her up, and fly her to NYC to have lunch.
Our school dismisses us home early that afternoon and I find my mother glued to the television. She is gripping the phone in her hand, and on occasion it rings. It’s my grandmother. My aunt. Her co-workers. But my mother is waiting to hear from my sisters. I ask her what’s wrong.
“I can’t get a hold of them,” she whimpers. She finally tells me that they are in NYC right at this moment. I forgot they were at a Michael Jackson concert the night before. They are 17 and 20. “They can’t get out of the city.” Panic finally sets in for me, six hours after everything has happened.
“Did they get Michael Jackson out of the city okay?” I ask.
It’s April 15th, 2013. I just turned twenty-two. Sam is running the Boston Marathon unqualified today, and me and his family are driving down from New Hampshire to watch it. Sam told us over and over and over again, “Get as close to the finish line as possible.” So we did. We find the crowd on Boylston Street, at least seven people deep. We find a decent spot in front of the Lord & Taylor store and wait for the line to disperse as their loved ones begin running in towards the yellow and blue finish line. We laugh at the men dressed as cheeseburgers, and the one man with the fishing pole strapped to his body with a Budweiser can dangling in front of him. A couple of hours have passed, and his father calls in to tell us we should be expecting Sam soon. At this point, we are in front, touching the metal gates.
I hear a loud bang to my right, and the whole crowd goes silent. Thousands of onlookers shift their heads to the lefts and rights, to watch white smoke push its way up into the sky. I touch Sam’s ten year old sister’s shoulder covered in a hot pink rain jacket. The man next to me says, “Well that’s not good.”
And then there is another loud bang but it is much closer this time. It feels like it knocks me off my feet just slightly, and I’m a little dazed. I see smoke everywhere this time, and for a moment, I think it’s the building next to me. I find my balance and realize Sam’s little sister is not next to me anymore. I yell out her name and turn around to find his family huddled in a circle. His mother looks at me like we are both trying to find a solution. We see crowds running and screaming towards the side street next to Lord & Taylor and decide to follow. We reach an intersection, and two of Sam’s siblings have made it on the other side without their ten-year-old sister, me, and his mother. We yell at them to wait there for us. His ten-year-old sister tries to run toward them, but I scream and yank her shoulder back onto the sidewalk before a black FBI truck zooms passed, just inches away from her.
It takes hours before we finally find Sam, limping near the Citgo sign. He never got to finish the race. He made it to 25.5 before he was stopped.
Everywhere we walked and drove during those remaining hours was in fear.
Now I tell these two stories for a reason. September 11th didn’t really happen to me. It happened to my sisters. Just like the Boston Marathon didn’t necessarily happen to them, it happened to me. Someone in my family pointed it out that my mother has three daughters, and all three of us were present during a terrorist attack. My poor mother needs a tranquilizer.
The weeks after the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t sleep. I turned to sleeping pills because I woke up in a cold sweat, bolting upright from a loud explosion in my head. I was angry during those months. The weird part is that I wasn’t necessarily angry at what happened, but the reaction afterward. I don’t think Sam was reading or witnessing the same reactions I was. I read comments that said, “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Only three people died.” And, “It’s not like it was 9/11.” What made me angry was that those comments were by people who watched it happen from their TV screens on the couch.
I could never know, or even pretend to know what it was like to be in NYC during 9/11. But the reality is, we are constantly living in fear whether we accept it or not. How scary and unfortunate it is that all three of my mother’s children were nearly killed during terrorist attacks. It’s hard to wrap my brain around it. I understand that countries face harder times than we do. America has been known as the country of prospects, safety, and acceptance. All of that has disappeared now. So when a bombing on a nice spring day for a marathon occurs, it’s a big deal for us. Just like it would be for other countries who do not face devastating violence every single day.
I’ve learned there is no reason to live in fear everyday, but it’s always in the back of my mind everywhere I go.