On September 11th, 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked two planes and flew them into the World Trade Center. Another plane was flown into the Pentagon. Another tried to reach Washington DC. Well over 2000 people died that day.
On September 11th, 2001, I turned 16.
When I found out, I was in Spanish class. A television was wheeled into the classroom and we watched the news pretty much for the rest of the day. Tension gripped the whole school. The teachers were obviously distressed. Some students cried. I felt terrible myself. It was not because of the attacks or the deaths or the sheer horror of what had happened. I felt terrible because I felt so little. If someone had told me that terrorists had flown planes into the Great Tower of Never Never Land, I wouldn't have felt any different. I wasn't horrifically callous. New York City, the Pentagon, Washington DC...they were so important and so far away to the point where they were almost mythical. And I couldn't get outraged at this blatant attack on America. Where I was at, life still continued on as normal. Patriotic pride was such an abstract concept. I said the Pledge everyday just like everyone else but the human mind can only imagine so much. My world was pretty much localized to a few miles in Peoria, Illinois and the last time I checked, it was still pretty okay.
As I walked home, I thought about my patriotism. I should be mad, really mad or at least sad. I was thinking about this as I passed by a man in his front yard. He had been moved to such extremes where he felt it necessary to make a sign that read, “THE END IS NIGH” and hold it out for all to read. Was he a better citizen than me? I passed by a couple of other guys who were busy fist fighting in their yard. I'm not sure what it was about but surely the events of the day had riled them up to the point of violence. Was this how real patriots acted?
When I got home, I knew I'd be alone. My father worked third shift at a prison so he would be gone by the time I got back from school. I was sad, then, but it was only for myself which made things so much worse. I should be sad for those poor people they showed on TV! Not for me! What was I doing? What was wrong with me?
When I opened the door, I saw that Dad had filled the living room with balloons. I smiled. He was a sweetheart and had done the best he could. I also found a birthday cake he had bought for me. I'm not quite sure why he had put it in the freezer. Maybe he thought it was an ice cream cake. It was so silly and sweet that I couldn't be mad. I took it out to thaw and turned on the TV to watch the news. Nothing new had happened. The reporters just kept going over the same information and showing the same awful footage again and again and again. I started to get mad at myself. I should be much more upset than this.
“2,606 had died in the attack on the World Trade Center,” they reported.
I concentrated. That's a lot of people. I didn't even know 2,606 people. No, there was nothing.
“A plane had been hijacked and set to crash into Washington DC but the passengers rose up against the terrorists. It crashed in Pennsylvania. Everyone died,” the TV said.
Everyone? I sighed. That sucked. That really really sucked. But I still felt nothing.
“The President is declaring war against Terrorism,” the stations announced.
Well crap. That's kind of scary. But it was still far away. So far away.
I half-listened to the reports until I got impatient and brought the cake into the living room. I was intent on chiseling off something, damn it. This birthday was terrible. Wasn't there something about it being a “sweet sixteen'? Well, this wasn't sweet at all! Terrorists are dicks, I decided, and I couldn't even have a stupid cake. And then I had a thought. I had an older distant cousin who had the same birthday as me. She lived far away but I bet she was feeling the same way as me, right now.
Then I started to think about all the people who shared a birthday with me. There had to have been some people in the attacks who were born on September 11th. That was a sentiment I could understand, that I could really get behind. Yeah, and I bet they were having awful days with lunatics all around them spouting craziness and getting into fights.
I bet there were people in NYC who were mad and scared about what happened in their hometown. “We can't go to T.G.I Friday's for your birthday, sweetie. It got trashed by debris from the towers. Maybe next year.”
Or maybe someone had made a birthday cake for someone they loved but they'd never get it because they had been killed in the attacks. That cake would just sit there, uneaten, because everything would never be normal ever again.
Oh thank God, there were tears after all.
That's when I really felt the impact of 9/11. It took a frozen cake and a little time but I got it. I finally got it. Sometimes bad things happen but they're so huge and beyond you that you can't wrap your head around it. Once you start breaking it down though, that's when it finally hits home. That's my 9/11 story. I'm turning 33 today and I just felt like sharing this with whomever wanted to take time out and read this Wall of Text. And thank you for your birthday wishes, everyone. I really thank you.