September 11, 2001: Lips frozen shut and silent, I am free.
I was 16, almost 17, when Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. I was a senior in high school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and kept a nearly daily diary highlighting the whole whirlwind and chaos that comes at that age as you approach adulthood. I recently found this diary and decided to digitally convert it from its weird hot pink gel pen notebook scribbles. These are unedited excerpts from that diary on that day and following a few months forward, including many thoughts of how those events indirectly shaped me and my views on the world.
September 11, 2001
I have never been scared like this before. I’m almost seventeen years old and today I saw the World Trader Center demolished by terrorists. I was very young, maybe six, when we entered the Gulf War. I understood so very little then about war and the politics governing that region of the world. I still don’t really understand it all. But as I stood there watching live on television… the North Tower of the World Trade Center crumble into a pile of nothing, I realized just how scary this world is.
We have no control over anything that happens to us, and yet we have access to view it as it happens. We can just stand there, our mouths gaping. I was sitting in my government and economics class, when suddenly Mrs. Holley bursts into the room telling Mr. McDowell to turn the TV to the news channel. They just kept showing the same 5 second clip of a plane colliding into a building. Everyone in the class kept getting annoyed every time the news anchor spoke over the video and Travis Dannelly yelled at the TV, “Just shut up and let us be sad!” I find it so weird that no matter how much resilience you have in your heart, sometimes you are just fated… destined… to be the target and the victim. I’m thankful to not be caught in someone’s war. I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful to be spectating only, even though spectating makes me feel sick.
I ran to my AP English class as soon as the bell rang and told Mrs. Warren, who didn’t know at all. Her brother-in-law worked at the Pentagon. She panicked. She’s one of my favorite teachers and I saw fear in her eyes for the first time ever. We spent the whole block watching everything crumble, the 11 of us not really sure what to say but every time you caught eyes with someone else, all you could feel was uncertainty and some sort of internal security in knowing that we were here together.
At 1PM, the news seemed old. And once I came home, I realized it was far from over. Planes will soon no longer be grounded and the pandemonium will continue. Thousands are dead. Planes in American airspace are unaccounted for. When I think of it all and get a grip, I realize how unbelievably sad it all is. These people are never coming back. They’re just gone. And it’s not right. I wanted to cry, but I’m not really sure why. I guess I’m scared, but I don’t understand what exactly I’m scared of. I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured or was even there. Just seeing it all happen was enough. We have experienced tons of attacks at our embassies in other countries in the past, but never so badly … and so… on domestic soil… Suddenly, rumors blow up. I don’t know what is what. I’m in shock. Gas lines being cut off in the states? $5 a gallon? Fuck it. Im supposed to be concerned about doing my homework tomorrow, not whether I’ll be alive tomorrow. It’s impossible to have a logical, predictable foundation because that attack blindsided me and… it feels like anything is possible right now. And that’s so unsettling.
September 12, 2001
Today, a boy in my class fabricated a story about two people from the World Trade Center collapse yesterday. He said that a married couple worked in the buildings, each spouse in a separate tower. And when the first plane hit the south tower, the wife composed an e-mail and sent it to her husband to tell him that she was okay.
They were conversing for a while and then the second plane hit, killing him. And I stopped and thought about that.
Where would you be getting this story from?
I was reading another journal on Diary-X by a guy who works near the remains of the building and said that he watched with his telescope the people who jumped. My classmate also had a story about that–a husband and wife who jumped together. This journalist’s reports were stating that mostly these people were not in any romantic relationship, but you can see with people my age the necessity to romanticize something like this, seeing how they do it in the movies.
Titanic? Ooh, one last fuck in the car before it goes down. Independence Day? Gotta do it and get married to a hot ho. Armageddon? Ooh yeah that bitch is hot for me. We are a country that can glamorize anything as long as 2 naked C-cup breasts are present.
I’m just sad that people died and that death, murder, genocide, and violence is the only platform people feel they have any more to make their voice heard. I don’t know how I feel that this is the future I will be an adult in.
September 13, 2001
There is this hotel I pass every morning on my way to school on 501. It is next to a construction site and on the marquee, it reads, “Ask us about our work zone rooms!” But today, as I passed by, I read, “Ask us about our war zone rooms!”‘
September 14, 2001
I bet for the FBI, finding Osama bin Laden is like playing Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego.
September 15, 2001
I am partially an existentialist, I have realized today. I care about very little other than my own well-being at that very minute. I don’t really think anything matters in the long run.
I knew it would take one little thing or one big thing to trigger these feelings–and it did. I think this is the only way I can let myself feel in reaction to things. It feels better to close my heart and protect it and accept that the world is nothing but absurdity. Because nothing seems rational or right.
I came up with the worst joke. As I was out driving around Forestbrook tonight, I noticed I was approaching a truck parked on the side of the road with bright flashing lights. It looked like an ambulance. As I got closer, I noticed it was not an ambulance, but the company van for a local radio station. They were covering a Halloween haunted trail that had opened this evening, a bit early.
As I passed it, I said to myself, “Looks like someone had a haunt attack.” No one was in the car with me, but I bet if they were, no one would laugh.
October 2, 2001
I had this terrible fight today with Ben while on our class field trip to the Butterfly Pavilion in Myrtle Beach. I started to cry because I was feeling overwhelmed by it and so many other things and this girl in my class came over and talked to me, Starla. I realize that when I look back on this later, it will mean very little to me but right now it feels gut-wrenching.
The girl who talked to me when I cried, she asked me as we walked through the entrance to get our books at the library if I planned to ever get married and have kids. I lied to her and said no. I don’t need people thinking I have serious plans in life. And I especially didn’t want to hear any weird follow-up questions like, “Do you want to marry Ben?”
I don’t think people should be allowed to ask questions like that when you are in high school.
It’s like asking, “So Aimee, do you plan on finding a cancerous mole on your arm when you’re 42?”
“Do you plan on committing suicide when you’re 25 or 30?”
No, I do not want to marry Ben. And no, I do not want to have kids with him. I want to go to college. And see the world. And get a job. And be awesome. And then I’ll worry about that other stuff later when I’ve figured out who the hell I am and who is right for me.
December 9, 2001
I should be punished for what I did tonight.
But I probably won’t. But I’ll ask.
My dad is out of town. I asked Ben if he wanted to go see a movie (Harry Potter) with me tonight. As we were on our way to the theater, we noticed they had detoured the entire 501 highway and we were forced to turn back around and go all the way back to where he lives in Conway to take an alternate route. So we knew we would never make it to the movie on time. So we decided to catch the 10:15 showing of it.
We went to my house and stayed there for a while, and we left to the movies. Ben called home about 3 times to tell his parents about the new plans, but the line that wasn’t connected to the computer modem was busy. So he tried to IM himself with a big font in hopes that someone would see it on the family computer. Apparently, no one did.
We went to the movie and it got out at about 10 till 1. We decided we were so hungry, that we had to stop somewhere to just get something to eat. There was another road detour on 544 so we had to take another alternate route, come back and drive to McDonalds. They were closed. So we drove next door to Kroger, bought a sandwich, and I drove Ben home.
We pulled into his driveway at 1:45 am. The lights in the house were on. I knew something was wrong because no one’s parents stay up until 2 in the morning like that. We walked in the door and his parents were in their pajamas. His mom had a worried look on her face and I said, “Hey.” His dad was pulling a phone book out.
He was going to call area hospitals to see if Ben was there. It was at that point that I felt the most unbelievable shame, like I was tearing someone’s family apart. I mean, most of it wasn’t my fault. But I did take some responsibility. I should have taken him home for a moment just to tell his parents that we were going to be getting back later. Or I should have reminded him to call his parents right after the movie. But I didn’t. I just didn’t think to. Ben was the one who didn’t think to do that and he should have. It’s things like that that let me know he’s not ready to be an adult.
And his dad said that it was the fact that he hadn’t communicated an important fact to the people who love him.
His dad looked like he could have been crying. I felt so sorry. I apologized twice, but I didn’t feel like that could make up for what I had done.
I got home around 2:30. And I remembered what it felt like to be me. The lights were off. The house was cold. No one was holding a phone book at the kitchen table calling the hospitals for me. They were just sleeping.
And that’s all there was. I went to my room, ate my sandwich, and now here I am. Alone.
On the way home, I tried talking to myself the same way I did to Ben when I was driving him home, but it all sounded kind of rushed and not so carefree anymore. There was so much scary stuff out on the roads that late that the thought of carousing around in a huge hunk of metal didn’t sound so attractive anymore, and all I wanted was to be at home, laying in the soft warmth of my blankets, waiting for the next day to come.
A lot of our friends, they stay out all night and I don’t know how they do it. It feels okay when you have friends by your side, but when you remember everything you’re leaving behind–it kind of makes you feel like you should’t be there… like it’s your bedtime.
December 10, 2001
My dad came home today and I told him what happened last night. He didn’t really seem angry. It wasn’t like telling a parent when you’ve done something bad. It was like telling someone who has no control over you. And can just respond with whatever words they choose, not anger. But just things like, “Ooh, that was a bad call you made there.”
When I woke up this morning, my friend Adam was online. We started talking about Ben. It wasn’t long before I realized that everything I was saying was negative and the feelings I had were not really positive. They weren’t things that could not be fixed. They were new things about him that I didn’t like. The way he treats me. I got angry at him the other day when he moved my passenger seat forward and he didn’t take me seriously. He just kept saying things like, “Awww, you’re so cute when you’re angry.”
Sometimes I wish I weren’t so little and tiny, so that people would take me seriously. On the other hand, I like being cute… but I also like people to take me seriously.
But those thoughts expanded and I just felt like this was something I couldn’t confront because it would end on a dead road of denial.
My life feels like it is coming to a bunch of ends. I feel like I won’t be alive much longer. I don’t like that feeling because I like the idea that I can fight whatever comes, but I’m so young and so not ready for death.
Sometimes I wonder how my body puts up with all that I put it through.
I figure that we will know the answer to that if I get older. If I get to be 30 and I look like Mr. Scholl, my old journalism teacher. At 28, he was a very attractive man, I thought. This year, he has a daughter–the bags under his eyes begin to show. He looks like an old man who still has the hair. I’m sure he’s happy with his life, but he looks persistently tired.
I don’t want to be like that. The older I get, the more I am confused for someone older than me rather than younger. I used to be mistaken for a 14-year-old when I was 16. Now I am mistaken for an 18-year-old at 17. Then I feel shitty for the fact that I am 17, and already I am feeling this pressure on me to be unrealistically youthful forever as a woman. The older I get, the angrier I get at every thing about the world I live in.
And I’m scared.
January 17, 2002
I thought this was really stupid and everyone already knew it but I had to say it anyway.
Making someone love you can take a lifetime.
Changes you must go through, the hard-to-come-by emotional intimacy that can take months or years to build up, the acceptance of flaws, the asking yourself if you love the person.
I don’t see love as merely a thing that happens several times in a life.
I see it as a lifelong experience.
Each love you experience stays with you and blossoms and never truly dies.
January 19, 2002
For the first time in my life, the term “making love” actually sounded good.
In snow, little bunnies scampering around, blankets… making love like it wasn’t there… and right now, it sure isn’t… and we need to repopulate the earth with it.
January 31, 2002
I was digging through my newspaper advisor’s trashcan today when I found these tests from her Journalism I class. The context of them seemed mildly tinted with the topic of basic journalistic freedom with heavy undertones of our life on the precipice of a major war.
The students were asked, “If you had to give up one of your first amendment rights, which would it be and why?”
Here were some of the stupid responses:
“The reason why I would give up the freedom to petition the government is because the laws need to stay the way they are so it can be easier on us Americans!”
“I would give up… freedom to petition the government – you can vote in someone who will change the law without having to petition it to be changed. How many laws are actually changed because of petitioning???”
“I would get rid of Freedom to petition the government because it would be easy to get rid of a law by getting a lot of people together”
Sometimes I don’t understand petition. I get it. In numbers, you make a point. But I have so little faith in the people with power and when I see people standing in a pack screaming, I feel like they are only widening that enormous divide between them and the smug oil-rich assholes who call the shots. The worst is being white middle-class and realizing that people I know on a personal level are these smug assholes and having to forge a disconnect between my personal opinion of them and my political opinion of them. I don’t feel anymore like America is a true democracy, where every voice counts. I know this because people who are older than me and significantly dumber discredit me all on the fact that I’m not an adult and that really jades me out. I still would not relinquish my right to petition. The real answer is, “These are my fundamental rights and I don’t have to give up any of them.”
May 15, 2002
I really wanted to dye my hair blue. My dad was going to let me, but he said that I should remember that my teachers may not treat me the same anymore and that it may, as unfair and totally against “the system” it may seem, affect my grades.
And I’m sure you can interpret that to be a very intelligent thing to say or an otherwise prosaic point brought to you by the teeming millions of ignorant conformist Americans. But I’ve learned thousands of things in life, and this is just one of them.
He also wanted to know my reasoning, and I came up with the most elusively ignorant statement. “I am trying to make an egalitarian fashion statement.” I’m still trying to figure out how dying my hair blue would do that. If I had walked into school nude one day, maybe. Otherwise, no.
But I’ve thought about it some more. And I understand it some. I’m angry right now because I live somewhere where it’s no longer safe to be middle eastern or Muslim. If you are either of these, you are an immediate target for hate crimes, judgment, and cruelty. As unfair and totally against “the system” it is, it affects their lives tremendously. They are not safe or free. I want to dye my hair blue because even though I know it will in no way put me anywhere close to the level they feel, I want solidarity in knowing that the thing that makes me different… something beautiful… and distinct… is a fatal flaw to others. I want people to know that their uniqueness is what makes them beautiful and what makes me love them.
May 23, 2002
I am a high school graduate.
And being such a thing means being awake at 2:30 in the morning to write how I am feeling.
Here – I sit in this gymnasium and I am shredded by remorse for not doing something to have made the honors students. But before I walked in there, my newspaper adviser, Mrs. Herring, would you believe this, took every little ounce of sadness out of my little body by saying to me, “Aimee. In one week, no one is even going to remember where you sat. They’re going to remember you for who you were those four years.” I don’t know that I want people to remember who I was for those four years… I just hope they remember me for who I am now.
So I graduated. And it didn’t feel like anything really. But I know from here on, nothing will ever be the same again, because I am free.
May 26, 2002
When someone says he agrees with you in principle, that is usually prefatory to his explaining that he disagrees with you in fact.
March 3, 2003
I went to the anti-war demonstration yesterday. There were about 20-30 of us and we lined the perimeter of Chapin Park along Highway 17, holding signs, facing the traffic. It was very effective and people often slowed down to read the signs. Some yelled stuff back at us, sometimes positives, sometimes… very very negative. We got flipped off a lot. Some people formed peace symbols with their fingers, others thumbs up, people yelled, “Right on!” Some people were rude.
It was raining out and it was kind of cold. We all had umbrellas. We stood there for an hour. I remember some of the things I saw, and I’m not sure how I can react to it all, only but say that it was very eye-opening. This is why I think people need to be more politically active, because it really shows you where your place is. I personally am a pacifist. I only defend myself… and only myself… when attacked first. I have been not a pacifist before, or only partially a pacifist, but I am one, I suppose. This is not to say that I don’t believe other people shouldn’t attack if they feel the need to. There are two modes for people – offense and defense. I am just naturally passive and more inclined to play defense.
My intentions in participating in any sort of war-related demonstrations, rallies, or protests are to stir political turmoil in the minds and hearts of those surrounding me. I don’t want to sway anyone’s beliefs. I just want to make sure that they have them. There is nothing more frightening to me than when I am so set on my beliefs without any good reason and someone throws something new at me and I don’t know what to make of it. I think about it forever. I try to work it into my clay mold before it can dry completely to make myself more full.
Some people think they are cool throwing around words like, “propaganda” and “brainwashing” and “anarchy.” I know this because I used to be that way. Because I was a smart girl and I didn’t know how to use my intelligence effectively and modestly so I liked to litter my speech with one-hundred dollar words. People like that have no backing to anything they say. I don’t want other people to be like that. As you lay on your deathbed, you’ll realize you led a life of fakeness.
People are very passionate about war. People in SUVs with American flags smeared across their bumpers… honked at us and flipped us off. People who flip off someone who is anti-war… they aren’t people who think. I can understand why people want to go to war. But these people, flipping us off, all they can think about is themselves.
Here is my whole philosophy on war. It’s been around since the beginning of man. War is often a crusade against evil. War is a religious thing. Sometimes it is a territorial thing. Sometimes it is resource-based. But it’s so often a religious thing. Our nation is a Christian majority. Iraq is an Islamic majority. Christians and Muslims, you know, have widely different ideas on what evil is, mostly because we follow completely different conduct codes. Our president used the word “crusade” in a speech. The point is, for whomever a war is declared on, their opinion is that what they are doing is justified. To those declaring the war, it is evil. One cannot just bring in mediation and expect that the opposing party will suddenly think, “Oh, you’re right… I’m evil. I’ll do what you want.” The problem is that war is fueled over concepts that have no scientific evidence or logical rule to them and it’s just impossible to make sense.
Using force just creates tension though. It just gives the nation being attacked more reason to continue building weapons or planning attacks. So war is inevitable and it will continue and there is nothing we can do to stop it. I think people that are strongly for war should be forced to go into combat, because our nation is lazy. For example… those people that flipped us off. I don’t agree with attacking Iraq at this moment because I feel that millions of Iraqi civilians are innocent people who would not willingly attack the U.S. They may dislike us, but I don’t think they would take any initiative to destroy us.
Well that is my whole take.
I saw children gazing at our signs. And then, their parents would lean across the seat and flip us off. Millions of kids just blindly follow their parents’ opinions and I silently wondered if once upon a time, that was me in that car, riding off into my middle class suburban ways with my back to the conflict and ice cream in my mouth to keep my lips frozen shut and silent.