The terror lasted as long as recess. I sat cross-legged in the field behind my elementary school, with a few girls from my class. We picked the heads off dandelions and talked about what we’d heard from our mothers and homeroom teachers. Those girls — all eyes, freckles, and bubblegum breaths — talked about planes crashing and people dying. And it felt like gossip. Gossip about me. My dad had just gotten on a plane that morning.
I grabbed the grass beneath me, as if the slightest breeze would knock me down. I thought about how I hadn’t said goodbye to him, how he’d kissed me on the forehead before leaving. All of the sudden, I was at the center of the tragedy.
But my dad was okay. He was not on any of those planes. Everything was okay, and there was no tragedy at all. I slipped out of my distress, a sweater too hot to wear.
I know that I am American. Over these ten years, I have decided that New York City is the best city in the world, memorized sections of the Constitution, and planned to become an English major. These are not sufficient indications of my nationality. Maybe tears aren’t either. But I also know that this September 11th, I will not be sad enough.
On September 11, 2001, I had been nine for just two days. I loved my mom, dad, bike, and sometimes my sister. I had no particular feelings about America. What was it to love a country? America was golden retrievers, chocolate chip cookies, and TV shows I didn’t watch. I did not understand what it meant to be American. I did not feel for other Americans.
Nothing feels real when you’re nine. I couldn’t understand how horrifying and permanent that day was for so many. And I hardly understand it now. I wish I had been older when it happened. I might have felt more. I might feel more now. Every year since then, when I see the flags, hear the trumpets, and stand among classmates and friends in a moment of silence, I have no tears. I will not cry this year. I feel like I am missing something. I’m still learning to be an American and to internalize the pain.
But every year, I remember dandelions, warm sun, and a pounding in my heart for just one person.