Punk Writes

20 Years On: Personal Reflections on 9/11 and Its Legacy

Updated: Sep 12, 2021

The summer of 2001 was a happy one. I was 8 years old, and it was our first summer living in New Jersey. My world consisted of beanie babies, art camp, and Harry Potter. Being new to the area, we'd done the tourist things when my aunt Linda and her son Michael had come to visit. We didn't know going to the top of the Statue of Libery would soon be something that didn't happen anymore. Ironically, three years later, my aunt would die in a freak cycling accident on the anniversary.

I don't even know if my memories of 9/11/01 are even real anymore, or just stories I've told myself to have specific memories of that day. I know I had an old school notebook I'd kept for many years that had an entry for that, some math lesson that is actually indecipherable. It was 3rd grade, I tell myself I remember the teachers whispering a lot with each other, and that one girl was picked up early, but it's entirely possible I was unaware of the attacks until I got home that day.

On the 8th anniversary, now my junior year in high school, my english teacher had us write down our memories of the day. Instead, I wrote down my father's, as they were quite the adventure. My dad worked in Manhattan, but he had actually been travelling that day. He was at Reagan National airport right before the Pentagon was hit. I'll leave that to him to tell, though, when he's ready. As I remember, I came home from school that day, the news replaying the towers' destruction on an endless loop of despair. My mom was probably on the phone; she'd been getting calls from family all day, and hadn't been able to get in touch with my dad. She didn't talk to me about the attacks or anything, and I didn't even know what the twin towers were, nor could I grasp the enormity of what had happened.

Over the next 20 years, I learned. 9/11 was the day my world grew beyond myself and my immediate surroundings for the first time. I grew up in a liberal household, my parents were no fans of Bush (before New Jersey, we'd been in Texas for five years), and the first album I spent actual money on was Green Day's American Idiot. The Iraq war's "shock and awe" salvo began two days before my 10th birthday. In middle school, a young veteran (who seemed impossibly old at the time, I believe he was 24) came to speak, and told all of us to never join the army. I became particularly critical of the Patriot Act, easily the single largest piece of government overreach in our history, hastily proposed and passed in the weeks following the attacks.

I ended up getting a BS in criminology and wrote about the Patriot Act first for my policing class, and then again, in greater detail, for my senior capstone. I took an elective on international terrorism from a retired general (? I'm not sure what his rank was or even what branch he was in to be honest, I just know he was military), and that summer was the Snowden leaks reveling the extent of NSA spying. Some of the more egrigious powers of the Patriot Act have since been curtailed by the Freedom Act (properly styilised, these are backronyms: USA PATRIOT Act and USA FREEDOM Act, because our laws need to be the equivalent of two bald eagles fucking during the national anthem at a football game while fighter jets fly overhead). I literally used the Snowden interview with John Oliver where he explains provisions of the Patriot Act via "can they see my dick pic" in my presentation, and losing points for "questionably appropriate video" was mad worth it (still got an A). My first boyfriend had been in the army (I'm 99% sure he never left the country and he was discharged before 9/11), so I ened up reading a lot of war memoirs.

In 2016, I stumbled upon the documentary 9/11: The Falling Man on Hulu (I believe it's now on Amazon Prime) and watched it while my boyfriend wass at work, absolutely transfixed. I honestly can't look away from 9/11 memorial and documentary footage. I remember the local news follwing the babies of 9/11, those kids born after their fathers had died that day, as they grew up. I'm a very nostalgic person in general, and it's the defining moment of my childhood. It's, I assume, the most documented terrorist attacks in history. It has shaped the 21st century and cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, all to leave the Middle East a bigger mess than how we found it.

The lesson of 9/11 is not to remember that it could happen again, it's to examine how it happened in the first place (massive intelligence breakdown) and if our response was appropriate. Terrible things will always happen in the world, what's important is that we do not overreact and end up causing more harm.

A page from my first scrapbook. Top photo: my cousin Michael, my brother Kyle, me, and my other brother Schuyler

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