"Wow, I can't believe it's been 10 years since Dick Cheney orchestrated 9/11! Where does time go?" —conspiracy theorists
Last night I walked the streets of Manhattan, ruminating over this godforsaken bloody decade. (Felt kinda out of place with all the drunken horny people stumbling out of various clubs, but who can blame them?)
I was in D.C. for September 11th, the poisoned letters, the beltway sniper, and a bomb threat against my college dormitory. The threat was called in right after 9/11. We had to evacuate campus for half a day, when campus had just felt like our oasis of safety in a capital under attack. I don't know whether the person was ever caught, whether he was a nutcase or an idiot frat boy, but it became clear: freshman year would not be carefree. Dread was the new normal. We had been robbed of our youth. Not many deep sleepers at American University that night. Some of them would later contract anthrax symptoms from handling USPS mail.
A classmate had one parent who worked at the WTC and another at the Pentagon.
During the sniper attack spree a white van, which police thought the killer drove at the time, followed me for five quiet suburban blocks. My pace grew brisker and brisker as I zigged and zagged; I assumed I was in the cross-hairs, assumed I had seconds to live, assumed I wouldn't get to see graduation. And then it drove away. I had been afraid over nothing. Panic and paranoia. And yet it felt so real, that death was stalking me, that death was stalking us all. At random.
Columbine had been the worst thing imaginable to us. Now Columbine was everywhere.
Panic and paranoia became the national conversation, became the foreign policy, became the consensus reality. It wasn't long before the calls for revenge started. Against who? Nobody knew. But we wanted it, and the politicians took infinite advantage. A decade later you want to remember the tragedy of the day outside the context of what came later: the Iraq disaster, the torture, the witch hunts, the propaganda network, the religious fervor. You want to but you can't.
(We've already had nine anniversaries; ten is just a number to which we ascribe meaning. Why are multiples of five extra somber?)
I can almost remember how scared I was, as an 18-year-old kid, but I can't let myself remember my fear 100% because then I'd remember how easily it turned to blind fury, how easily it was exploited for power and profit. It's easier to joke about those years now—the earnest siege mentality, the WMD-preventing duct tape on windows in perfectly safe rural towns—than revisit the genuine emotions, because you learn to either laugh darkly or shit yourself. And who wants to wear adult diapers forever?
Nevertheless I'll try to think about the day itself, before we absorbed the shock, before it was politicized, before it was made a rhetorical cudgel, before it tore us apart, before America stopped being America. Before we said "9/11." Before we knew the meaning of it.