My cousin Paul said it felt like an earthquake when the first plane hit. The ground shook. My cousin Michael slept at his precinct for three days. Cousin Tommy went in and didn't come out. He's technically not my cousin. He's my cousins' cousin. When I was a child, this concept was beyond me - if this person was my cousin, and that was their cousin, how is it possible that it wasn't my cousin? Same went for aunts, uncles, grandparents. Family was family, and that's what we call each other. "Cousin Joe" isn't my cousin, but it's what I call him and he calls me "Cousin Ariana".
One evening in 1999 I was at my aunt and uncle's house (I lived with them), and there was a story on the news - a firefighter rescuing someone from a burning building, not really anything new or exciting. Except it was Tommy! My cousin Jeanine immediately picked up the phone and called his parents' house and they turned on the news and Tommy got on the phone and we all laughed and laughed about it. Two minutes of a news story, but it's what I remember every time I think of Tommy. I reminded my cousins of this, and they don't even remember this particular evening because it was just Tommy. It's who he was.
I was on my way to class that morning in 2001 on the bus that shuttled me from my apartment to campus. I was 21, a music student at the University of South Florida. They were talking about it on the radio, but it was either being downplayed or they didn't really know what was going on. When I got off the shuttle, that's when I understood something was WRONG. The school of music was silent. If you've ever been to a school of music, you KNOW that's unusual. Dead silence. My friend Derek was on his cell phone, pacing and crying while his girlfriend, Becky watched helplessly. I don't remember how I got back to my apartment. I didn't put on the news. My roommate sat with me while I tried to call my parents, my aunt, my cousins. The lines were jammed or being blocked, I couldn't get through to anyone.
The day blurs together, I don't "remember it vividly" like so many people claim to. Eventually my roommate had to go to work, and a couple of the guys I was in marching band with came to get me. We went to Hooters to eat bad food and watch the president address the nation on a giant television. I know the whole world watched, shocked beyond words, as the second plane slammed into the second tower. I didn't watch that until years later. I find it insulting when movies are made about the tragedy. And last year, when they kept showing the news clips over and over because it was the tenth anniversary, I felt like it was happening all over again.
I saw this today:
There's a veterans memorial on the path that I walk. It made me think. We simply weren't vigilant enough to prevent what happened. Tommy wasn't a veteran - he didn't serve his country as a member of the military. But he certainly died for this country. I was glad to see the flags at half-mast. It seemed respectful.
People say "I'll never forget" but it's a lie. They forget all the time. They'll have forgotten tomorrow. It's only the families torn apart on that day and on the days since we've gone to war over it that remember every day. I don't have anything inspirational or anything like that to say, so I'm sorry if you've been reading along hoping for that. Life goes on, I know it does and it has to. If you're one of those people who says you'll "never forget", I want you to keep this in mind: The next time you're at the airport and you're pissing and moaning about taking off your shoes, remember WHY you're taking off your shoes and taking your laptop out of its case. Take thirty seconds and remember. Be grateful.