Sunday, September 11, 2011

for September 11th

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog, as it seems I always do. For now, though, I'm going to just do what probably every other blogger in the US is doing today- remembering September 11th, 2001.

I've heard a lot of stuff on NPR recently about the attacks, and people's opinions of them then and now. A lot of testimonials and position pieces. They all seem to say the same thing: that feeling of terror still feels present and immediate, as though ten years haven't passed at all. It's very similar for me, but linked to all sorts of other fears as well.

That summer of 2001 was my last before college. I spent it working at Pacific Primary and then at the Leakey Foundation; at a certain point all my friends went to college and I was left behind, taking the bus to the Presidio every morning, listening to Graceland and generally feeling sorry for myself. All my friends were gone and I didn't know what was awaiting me once Northwestern's quarter system finally started. I was due in Evanston on September 14th.

My dad woke me up on the morning of September 11th by saying something dramatic and confusing along the lines of "Cameron, wake up, New York is under attack and we're driving to Chicago." It made no sense until I stumbled into the TV room where my mom was watching the news coverage. I remember being stunned, and crying when I began to think about all the friends I had in New York, just starting college- were they ok? They were, all of them. One of them IMed me later that day and asked me to let her mom know that she was fine. I don't remember a ton of details of the rest of the day, to be honest. I watched the news. I called Ana and wished her a strained "uh... happy birthday?" I packed up my life in San Francisco, because as Dad said, we were driving to Chicago. The airports were closed and would be for days.

We left the next day for a three day drive across the country. It sounds naive and overly-simplified, but 9/11 and that 3-day drive kind of marked the end of my sheltered childhood. Not that I wouldn't continue to be pretty damn sheltered at Northwestern- it's more that I started to realize then how big the world was, how many people hate us, and how different my life would be from then on. Starting September 12th, I wouldn't live at home anymore, or be monitored 24/7 by my parents. I would make my own decisions and feed myself and get myself to class. I would meet people with points of view that I'd never even fathomed- Republicans! The Midwest was crawling with them. Hell, I even ended up dating a Libertarian that first year in college. Driving through states I'd never seen up close- Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and finally Illinois- peppered with American flags and "united we stand" banners everywhere you turned, I got a sense of the country I'd lived in my whole life. I rode in the back seat listening to the news reports, buying a newspaper at every truck stop, feeling incredibly disconnected yet in awe of what was happening to the country. I had my camera with me (of course) and took some photos that I still love of what we saw on the way:

big sky in Wyoming

Before 9/11 I had a pretty small worldview, no matter how cosmopolitan, worldly and open I thought I was. I had great friends and a wonderful family and the most uncertainty I'd ever dealt with was not knowing where I'd go to college. After 9/11, I found a whole new world. I made new friends who introduced me to the film industry, I dated boys, I explored Chicago, I visited new cities and towns; I lived in a world that was constantly uncertain, constantly thinking that maybe the Sears Tower was next, always a little afraid to board a plane. I still live in that world today. It's a weird feeling, to look back and know that that's the day your life changed, not through any direct involvement with the attacks on the East Coast, but because of what it set in motion. It feels like it's been a lot longer and not very long all at once.

I don't have much that's profound to say about it all, about the sacrifices made and the unspeakable loss of life. I still cry when I see images from that day, and I'm not even always sure why. The bottom line is that on September 10th the world seemed pretty safe, and the next day everything was up in the air. I still have no idea where my life is headed, but I'm glad to be here, and I'm grateful for all the people who are fighting to keep me here.