I don’t remember waking up that morning, or being brought to school. I don’t remember homeroom or what my first class was. I remember sitting in Spanish–one of my least favorite classes–and suddenly being wracked with the worst stomachache of my life. After excusing myself to go to the bathroom, I came back to a sympathetic look from my teacher and the request to pack my stuff, because I’d been called to the office.
My mother’s eyes were wild. It was an expression I’d very rarely seen on her face; the last time was probably the day I broke my arm and she ran into the ER to see me. That day, I met her in the hallway. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Because the Twin Towers are on the ground.”
That sentence changed my life. I remembered being on top of one of the towers; I don’t know which one, now. The one without the big antenna. I remembered my mom being scared and not letting us go all the way around; I wanted to see the other tower from the top of the first one. She said we could do that next time.
The next time I set foot there, stood in the place where I’d stood years before, staring up at the steel beams that went on forever, the building that was taller than my imagination could ever have made it–the towers would be twisted, blackened wreckage, slowly hauled away by devastated New Yorkers. I’d stand on a bridge, staring at the pit where the towers used to be, where the bodies lay and where memories shouted and screamed, watching them try to heal the wound that scarred New York forever.
I went to the hospital where my mom worked that day, and sat in a small office with the woman who had been my father’s mistress, watching the footage. Watching my world fall apart.
That night was the first night I ever had a panic attack. The first night I sat on the floor, my knees to my chest, struggling to breathe, imagining nuclear warfare. Imagining death and destruction. Imagining what had already happened, and what might have been.
I remember my friends in the Star Wars club where I met LAboy; a topic had been posted in the IRC channel that I was okay. People were worried about me; I’m a New Yorker, after all. And no matter how far away from the city I lived, I would always be a New Yorker; living in that state gives you a feeling of having certain rights to that city. It makes NYC feel yours. Feel like home, even if it wasn’t.
Ten years down the road, I don’t even live in the state anymore. But my heart aches as I remember looking up into forever, as I remember the innocent belief that nothing that big could ever be destroyed.
Forever didn’t last.