We always want to remember ourselves in the best of lights when we reflect back on the most terrible moments of our lives. This, I suppose, is human nature, to want to edit our memories so that they become more flattering, when in doing so, we conceal the truth about ourselves.
Eight years ago, I woke up to the words “America is under attack,” and I said “really? Sweet!”
I am not particularly proud of that. But that was who I was, then. I still don’t know quite what I meant by it. I was groggy, wrenched from sleep. Was I trying to sound jaded and beyond it all? Was I genuinely happy? Did I think that America, the America I don’t like, was under attack, and that this was the day when things would start to change? I don’t really know what I thought.
I do remember that it was cold and overcast, and that when I stumbled out into the living room, NPR was on the radio, but nothing very much was being said. I stared blankly at the radio and wondered why there wasn’t more information, wondered what was going on, and wondered about my friends, in far-flung corners of the United States. Were they safe? What were they doing?
“All circuits are busy,” the phone told me, and I remembered that I had a computer, that I could find information, and I turned it on and waited for our slow dialup connection to offer up some scrap of additional information, some piece of the puzzle which would finally click into place and solve the mystery. Something had been amputated, but I didn’t know what it was.
The Internet, of course, was slow, painfully slow, but I logged on in time for us to watch the towers collapsing in real time while hysterical news commentators said nothing at all, while the voices on NPR started to sound increasingly strained, while conflicting information spurted out in all directions. The President is making a statement. The President is not making a statement. They bombed the White House. No one knows where the President is. They didn’t bomb the White House. No one knows who did this. The A-rabs did it. Planes are falling out of the sky. Planes are grounded. 10 planes are hijacked. Three planes are hijacked. They attacked Congress. No, Congress is fine.
Humans seek each other out in times of confusion, and thus it was that we drifted into town. I remember that I didn’t even brush out my hair; I just wrapped it in a black scarf and thrust my feet into boots without socks. We understood, on some level, that there would be no new information for us, but we wanted the comfort of others, so we stood in front of television screens. We stood in worried knots on the street. We played with our food in restaurants. And the quiet warning signs began to manifest; that this epic thing was going to be politicized and used as a tool. A mythology of lions and heroes emerged even as villains and snakes in the grass were revealed.
A butterfly clapped its wings, and all I got was ashes in my mouth.