A decade on… and the memories still smolder

Ten years – it’s scattered across our computer screens, TVs and newspapers in unrelenting abundance. Everyone has their story about 9/11 – where they were, what they were wearing, thinking and ate for breakfast that morning – and everyone wants to share that story. It’s ok, it never seems to get old – we all have a story – the same desire to share it, over and over again. Our lives changed that morning – everyone’s.

For me, it signals the very beginning of a monumental splintering in my short life. 9/11/2001 – sleeping – past out sleeping from too many Black Cat beers the night before. I was 21 and had just moved to Minnesota from Colorado – was living in a dark and dingy basement apartment with a girl I had just met. I awoke to the shouting of her boyfriend as he slammed his way into the apartment to announce that a plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers, or was it the Sears Tower… nobody knew for sure WHAT was going on at that point. Groggy and confused, we reached for the controller and turned on the television. What we saw… well you know… it was beyond shocking, apocalyptic and unreal. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I plopped down in the dark living room with my roommate to try and make some sort of sense out of what we were waking up to. Unknowing of what to do, everyone went to work, and I was left alone in the apartment, eyes glued to the television. My parents were in London – and way back then, you didn’t travel with your cell phone or computer… there was just no way of me getting a hold of them. My brother was back in Colorado. I spoke to him for hours, although I can’t really remember what we even talked about… probably about how to get in touch with our parents and what sort of symbolism this would in turn represent. I phoned friends in New York – repeatedly plagued by busy signal after busy signal, I watched as the city burned and the mayhem spread. I spent the day this way, like millions of people around the world – unable to peal one’s eyes away from the grueling images on the screen. And day turned to night and I was no longer alone in the apartment. Beers were drank, conversations had, questions raised and left unanswered. I suppose we eventually turned off the television, drunk and exhausted from the day’s events, and had gone to bed. I don’t recollect the days that were to follow – only the incredibly eerie silence in the skies over Minneapolis for the next few days, weeks… I can’t even remember how long it was before planes were allowed to fly again. If you’ve ever been to Minneapolis, you know the presence the airplanes have in your daily life. The airport is extremely close and the planes roar thunderously overhead, day, night. It hadn’t taken me long until I got used to having to apologize to the person I was having a phone conversation with… “Sorry, no, that is not a bomb being dropped outside… just a passing plane”.  Their lacking presence was felt – a constant reminder of the previous day’s world changing events.

But life carried on. Got back to normal…or so it would seem. I moved out of the dark and dingy apartment, got a job, started classes, got a gym membership, made new friends… then two months later, to the day, I experienced a blow a million times greater than the globally debilitating September attacks… the death of my brother. One phone call, and the world had stopped.  My breath was ripped from my body and everything I had ever known came tumbling down… symbolically much like the twin towers. The following days are a bit more vivid than the days which proceeded 9/11, but not unlike 9/11, sounds were meticulously noted: the deafening sound of the television as it spat out morning cartoons to a living room devoid of laughter, the sound of a bird song –  offering peace, and the painful lack of sound – of the other, of  a voice that would never again resonate these walls, and the unbearable silence of a past world, long gone…

But life carried on. Had to. People must move forward, step out of the shadows of the past and into the light. It’s been ten years since that fateful morning on 9/11 – and almost ten years since the phone call that would send my life careening down the current path it is on. I suppose it’s rare to have such defining moments in life where you can directly point to events and say “this is why”, or “my life’s events have been directly affected by THIS”. But then again, perhaps not. As a collective, every generation seems to have them. For my parents’ it was JFK, for my grandparents’, Pearl Harbor. And individually, the same I am sure. Each of us has their schisms – moments that change our lives forever – for better or worse. I have no idea what my life would look like if the events of 2001 had never taken place, nobody can. Sometimes I imagine a dual reality, where the Twin Towers are still standing, where there were no brutally unjust wars created, George W. was never re-elected, the world didn’t hate Americans so veraciously, religious warfare remained at a slow simmer instead of its current boil, there was less fear, more understanding, my brother was 28 instead of perpetually 18…  but as lovely as that world is, it’s a world I can not inhabit long. It’s a world left for moments when I am free to close my eyes and leave the overwhelming reality that is sometimes just too great to stand. Each time I open my eyes, even though it’s to a world I can not predict, where you can be shattered and torn at any given moment, I try and embrace the beauty that surrounds me, the unknown, the joy that is created and the laughter that surrounds us- of the past, present and future.

Ten years on, I am a 31 year old woman living in a small Mediterranean city in the south of Turkey. I have been an expat for over half of these ten years and have changed and shifted in ways that are sometimes too big for me to even fully comprehend. I hover in a constant state of flux, but I am trying to face life honestly and forever retain the optimism that tomorrow will bring a brighter day. I think of all the lives changed, shattered and lost in direct connection to the fall of 2001 and it’s diabolical… and while I am unable to pick up all the pieces that have scattered across the decade, I continue to work hard to sew together the frayed fabric of my own world, keeping life in perspective and not letting a few moments too greatly define my existence – for it must be remembered – that we are a series of billions upon billions of moments – letting one or two completely define us…would be… sacrilegious to all the other moments that build, enrich and propel forward – the individual.

However, no matter how hard I try and fight it – today marks a moment in time for me – when everything changed. The beginning of a new world, a new era, a new life. What I choose to do with that however, is completely up to me. How I reflect, how I place the past in memory, I can control that. And so, I write, I am lost in my thoughts and I will shortly close my computer, slide on a pair of sandals, take the hand of the man I love and see where this September 11, 2011 will take us.