My peers and I are called the post 9-11 generation, because everything shifted but we couldn’t tell—the adults decided to change the world while we were sleeping. Most of us hadn’t even been on a plane before then, and those who had been were looked on with envy. Not anymore.
My mom says that she can remember where she was the day Elvis died. I can remember exactly where I was when the twin towers collapsed. I was asleep, waiting on the shift. By the time I woke up over three thousand people were dead. My parents sat in front of the TV and just stared. My dad had no expression. He was a ghost, ash in the wind. I asked and asked what was wrong, what was happening. No one answered. My child-self took this to mean nothing was happening and this was another “adult thing” that I would have to wait to understand. I went to school and a couple of kids were arguing about whether the planes hit the towers or the towers hit the planes. Towers don’t move, one kid said. Well, they moved that morning. We were gathered and told to watch the news. The teachers tried to explain, but they didn’t have the words. I realised why no one would tell us anything. This was a moment of equalisation, where the lines between us and the grown-ups blurred. None of us knew what was going on.
And none of us knew anyone who had died in the attack. The kids who once were the envy of the class became scared to go on a plane. I still am.
When I went to Disneyland three years later, I got patted down and scanned and my possessions were x-rayed. This was what the adults had to do earlier. We were in the same world now.
In this world of connection, what you don’t tell people speaks louder than what you do. Columbine happened when I was two and a half. I don’t remember any news on it, likely because my parents were sure that if I saw it I would refuse to go to school. I probably would have. None of my classmates would have been old enough to have seen it either, but somehow we all knew. Or thought we did. Josh thought that 50 people were killed, Zoren thought 20. Sarah was pretty sure it was 30. We thought people hid under the tables, between the shelves, in their own minds. We heard stories about the girl who painted a crying rose with thirteen tears falling from it the day before the shootings, and then we finally agreed on a death toll. The adults around us didn’t tell us anything. Maybe if we pretend it didn’t happen, it won’t happen again—holocaust denier logic. What I did understand, in stark contrast to what I understood about 9-11, was that the guys who did it weren’t “bad guys”. They were me, strange and outcast and somewhere between abnormal and completely broken. Undiagnosed mental illness. Sick.
I didn’t think about Columbine until high school, when I considered just how like those boys I really was and wondering if I could avoid the suicide by cops part and just get to the part where everyone saw the scars on my arms and knew.
I started “writing” poetry around that time. It wasn’t so much pen to paper, it was paper as a bandage, wrapping up the bleeding.
When I got around to being diagnosed, my parents dropped a proverbial plane on me. My uncle committed suicide. He was 18. Never diagnosed. This is something, I thought. I am diagnosed, there is hope here. But Uncle Doug never got spoken of much again. I’ve been told that I look like him. Some days I wonder if I am him. I am a writer, I am so many people. I can’t keep track all the time. I was already sick, another tragedy wouldn’t hurt.