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The buildings came down in my third grade year, and I remember it well.
I remember the hush of quiet when the announcement came on over the loudspeakers. I remember my teacher pulling the television set from the wall. I remember her muting the sound, so we couldn’t have to hear.
I remember watching the building crumble.
Looking back on it now, my mind supplies the sounds I hadn’t heard. I hear the frantic reporter, and the slap of feet against pavement as people run, run fast, away. I hear the crash of rock and cement and asphalt, and the shriek of metal breaking blending with the screams.
I hear noise.
I hear panic and I hear murmurs - prayers, shocked sounds, quiet sobs - when terror had stolen away the ability to scream.
I didn’t understand what was happening then, not really. I knew, of course, and I felt the blow as strongly as any even at that age, but I didn’t understand. I knew I was scared. I knew I was scared because I live on a state bordered by the ocean, and I lived near a city large enough to be a target. I heard the words terrorism, and Osama Bin Laden, and death counts and the lost. A fireman died, hit with a falling body.
I remember that very clearly.
I remember thinking, with clarity only shock and horror can give a person, there’s going to be a war.
I didn’t really understand that, either.
But I wanted it, even as I was afraid of it. I wanted it so badly because I remember the fury. I remember feeling like an American for the first time in my short life. I remember the sense of closing ranks. I remember the fury. I remember the kid in class whose father died in the falling.
I remember the call to arms.
Even then, even when I didn’t understand, I didn’t want a war. But I wanted them to hurt. I was in third grade and I wanted them to hurt, for hurting us, for attacking us, for giving my teacher a reason to mute the television so her third grade class didn’t have to listen to the screams in their nightmares that night.
They hurt us. And I understood that. I understood that I didn’t know those people who had died, and I didn’t know everyone who had lost, but that they were apart of us. I, in my eight-year-old fury, wanted to protect them.
Things are different now, of course. Our reasons for still fighting are shady at best, despicable at worst. We shouldn’t be there. I understand now what war means, when my friends are graduating now and disappearing to dangers and I can’t follow, dangers that they might not come back from. I face down recruiters from across the table and I wonder if I should fight too, and I wonder if I will die in this war that needs to end.
And I understand.
I’ve lost to the war. I’ve lost to the economy. I’ve lost to unstable, dark turn this country is taking.
But out of all of that, the only thing I regret about this country is looking out into the streets and seeing signs that read, “I heart New York better without the towers,” and feeling fury sick in my gut. I read signs condemning our soldiers to Hell for doing what they do. The soldiers, not the war. Our own people; our own sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and friends and beloved. I see protestors hassling families at the graves of their freshly dead. I hate them, and for a little I even hate what this country has become, but I know there’s nothing I can do because that is freedom of speech. That is what our soldiers fight for, even when this broken country is the thanks they receive in return. That’s what we fought for, years ago. That’s what we will fight for many years from now. No matter how we may hate it sometimes.
I’m not eight anymore. The world isn’t black and white, and I’m beginning to understand that the world is not good, and that we are not good. Not even close.
But I still remember us.
And I wonder why no one else does.