Never Remember to Never Forget: 9/11 Ten Years Later

It’s better late than never, so goes the expression. But does this sentiment still apply when it comes to appreciating the tragedy of 9/11? The Checkout Girl tells us how she slept through nearly 10 years of tragedy before finally getting on the same page as the rest of us.

It was early in the morning on the West Coast, around 6 a.m., when Husband #3 came rushing into the bedroom.

“Jennifer! Wake up! Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center!”

I was sleepy. I was confused. I opened one eye and mumbled.

“Oh, no. Is everyone okay?”

Then, I went back to sleep.

That’s right, a strong contender for the title of Ms. Worst Person In The Entire World, on September 11, 2001 I heard about the attacks and went back to sleep.

Let me explain.

I was at the tail end of a terrible marriage and suffering from debilitating anxiety attacks. No problem though, because I medicated them away, along with every other emotion. My hipster cred begins and ends with the fact that I was a zombie before zombies were cool.

For weeks after the horrible tragedies of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, I avoided all media. I heard in the pick up and drop off line at the kids’ school that terrorism was quickly suspected. I saw on the front of newspapers, as I walked by the coin operated vending machines, that the death toll was rising. I knew it was a big deal. Big enough that I would fall apart if I tried to process it, so I didn’t.

In my mind, everyone was so upset, but the damage had been done. How was me knowing the gruesome details of what, exactly, happened going to help me in my life? It wasn’t, and I was having enough trouble getting out of bed every day and remembering to feed my children.

So, 9/11 has always been a big blind spot for me. Yes, I know what happened. I’ve caught up on all the statistics and read some of the accounts but not from a place where panicked media reported and fearmongered with “What’s Next?” stories. Instead, I took them in with a rational mind, one that knew what was next and that this wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I heard and read September 11th details much the way we learned about World Wars in school–with a “Wow, that sounds awful for them” feeling, rather than “This is happening to us. Right now.” Objectively. Coldly.

So, I walked around not damaged by this thing that was so completely undoing to other people. The looks in their eyes and the change in their voices as they discussed everything surrounding the attacks, well, I didn’t have those. It felt weird. As if I had slept through an event that no one else on Earth had, leaving me different from everybody else. My own Twilight Zone episode.

That is, until 9/11/11. Ten years later.

I awoke that morning, and flipped on the TV to cartoons–the usual Sunday morning routine for me. I opened my laptop to catch up on emails, status updates, and tweets and saw a ton of people talking about the ceremony marking the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I mistakenly thought all of my twitter friends had gone to NYC for this thing. Again, blind spot. I DM’d one, asking when she had left town. She gently explained that it was on the television.

I turned on the coverage between tasks I had on my to-do list that morning. Or so I thought. Two minutes in, I was finished.

I sat there, as loved ones of those killed in the World Trade Center attack read names of the deceased. I tuned in at the letter “C” and cried until it was finished. It was too much. The tender hearted souls left behind by this unthinkable tragedy paying tribute to people they loved so dearly held me rapt for hours. As the cameras cut to the two reflecting pools, surrounded by the names of those who were lost, that were built where the towers once stood, I felt a sudden connection with the sadness the world has been feeling for ten years. It was powerful, this immediate understanding.

Later that evening, when my list of Things That Must Get Done On Sunday was out of control because of the several hours I had spent watching the ceremony, a graphic flashed on the television. It warned of disturbing footage and language possibly not suitable for some. I went back to folding laundry. Again, in the amount of time it takes to microwave a burrito, I went from semi-productive to staring at the television screen as the documentary, 9/11 was broadcast without commercials and without censorship.

If you haven’t seen it, 9/11 was born from footage shot by brothers Gédéon and Jules Naudet who were filming a documentary about a rookie NYC firefighter. It just so happened that September 11, 2001 was a day they were shooting. Their footage is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They caught both planes, crashing into the World Trade Center towers, from an unbelievably close proximity. They caught footage from inside the towers just after the attacks. They were allowed to follow the firefighters through some of their rescue efforts. They heard bodies crashing onto the roof of the lobby in which they were standing. They were covered in rubble when the towers fell. The fact that CBS, who was broadcasting the documentary, did not edit the language just made it more real. Of course you’d shout “WHAT THE FUCK?!?” when it feels like the sky is falling. Chicken Little got that all wrong. The sights and sounds of what happened that day, as captured by the cameras, are nothing that I can describe to you.

And they are still with me. You know how you felt one week after the tragedy of 9/11? That’s how I feel today. It’s as if it’s just happened, because I’ve just experienced it. I’m anxious. I’m sad. I am raw and exposed and easily brought to tears.

Most of all, I’m with everyone else.

I’m sorry, world. Sorry it took me so long. I really, really didn’t know. But I’m here with you, now. And I promise not to sleep through your sadness ever again.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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