I wake up at 7AM with a cough. I turn on my bedside lamp, illuminating my cowboy themed room. I walk to my dresser and find Rainbow, my pet Betta fish, floating belly up in his bowl. His once brilliant blue and green fins are a dull yellow. In my sheriff pajamas I walk to my parents’ room. I cough the entire way. In the walk-in closet, Dad’s getting dressed for work. I tell her that I think Rainbow is dead.
Mom stretches, and then gets out of bed. Accompanied by Annie, the family golden retriever, she walks to my room, and declares that Rainbow is dead. She fetches a thermometer from the bathroom and takes my temperature: 100°F. She instructs me to get back in bed. I comply.
Dad kisses me on the forehead (as he always does when we’re sick, to “keep the germs to ourselves”) and takes off for work. Mom places a glass of icy water at my bedside; instructs me to stay in bed, drink fluids, and get some sleep if I can.
I don’t sleep. I think about Rainbow. Was it my fault his colors began to fade? Should I have done more to take care of him? Did I clean his bowl enough times? Now I feel guilty. I’d always been afraid to take him out of his bowl for cleaning. Maybe that’s why he’s dead.
Mom gets home, returns to her bedroom and resumes watching The Today Show. The time is 8:30 AM.
Fifteen minutes pass. I still can’t force myself to sleep. Did Rainbow go to a better place? Mom says when people die they go to heaven, but do Betta fish? Where do fish go if not Heaven? The unknown terrifies me, and I cry.
From across the house Mom screams, “Oh my God!” I stop crying, sit up, and listen. Unlike my Dad, Mom's never used the Lord’s name in vain. She’s always said, "Oh my gosh." But then I hear her repeat, louder than before: “Oh my God!”
I throw off my sheets and scamper into my parents’ bedroom. Usually my mother lies reclined on her mattress, but not this moment. She stands directly in front of her TV, a hand clasped over her jaw.
On the television is the image of two towers. Instead of the usual, steady camera work typically seen on a news show it looks like a home movie; shaky, low-quality video. Smoke pours from one. The text at the bottom of the screen identifies the buildings as the World Trade Center in New York City.
We leave the bedroom and walk to the living room (which I call the “Big TV Room,” as it’s where we kept the big TV). A concerned Annie keeps close to Mom’s side. I sit down on the couch and watch the continued coverage on our big TV. Fire trucks and police cars fill the streets. A reporter says they have confirmed an airplane has struck the “North Tower” of the World Trade Center. Today Show host Matt Lauer says officials are still trying to determine if it’s an accident or a “terrorist” attack.
Then a second plane hits the South Tower live on-air. A huge ball of fire seems to engulf the screen. People are screaming. Today Show hosts Matt Lauer and Katie Couric maintain calm in their voice as they determine that this is a “coordinated terrorist attack” (I’m learning a lot of new words, today). It doesn’t calm my mom. In the adjoining kitchen she calls friends, asks if she should go and pull my brother from school; asks if he’s going to be safe.
From the top floor of one of the north tower, through the smoke, people hang from the windows, waving for help. Newscasters point to the screen to indicate what they believe to be people leaping from the towers. I don’t understand. I ask mom why people would jump. Her voice trembles, and her response is slow—a lot of thought goes into her words. She tells me that they see no other option; no chance of being saved. I figured that there must be those trampoline carrying firemen you always see in the cartoons, and give it no further thought.
It’s the first time I’ve ever been presented the idea of suicide.
The first tower falls. My mom and I are silent. The second tower falls. Everything becomes a blur. President Bush speaks from a Florida school before being rushed to Air Force One. An additional plane strikes the “Pentagon.” Another plane goes down in Pennsylvania having failed to reach its target.
Through all of it my mom and I sit and watch. I don’t know the how or the why, but I know the world will never be the same.
September 11, 2001 I was a seven year old boy living in Houston, Texas, and I vividly remember these few hours that would come to shape our modern political environment. New York City was just a place on the map to this Texas boy. I’d never even heard of, or seen the Twin Towers before that day (far as I can remember).
I don’t want to dwell too much on my experiences, as they didn’t directly impact me the way it has my friends and colleagues back on the East Coast, but I came to the realization that there’s an entire class of high school students who were too young, or hadn’t even been born to witness that day. Some of them will even be stepping to the voting booth this November; the first voters who will cast their ballots without memories of the September 11th attacks.
These voters have grown up in a time of increasingly partisan politics. I want them to know, in our darkest hours, Americans from all walks of life came together. Democrats still fuming over the contested 2000 election lined up in support of our president; communities North, South, East, West, and every which way in between stood together.
The events of 9/11 revealed to me the depravity of man that my parents had fought so diligently to shield me from, but it also showed me what our country is capable of when we come together. We are one America, and should never lose sight of it. That is why I will Never Forget.
Reading: American Gods
Playing: Metro: Last Light
Drinking: Coke Zero