Other than animals that move without legs (and here I am thinking specifically of large snakes), I am not afraid of much.
It has been just over three months since I packed up my tiny Beetle and drove across America to start a new life in New York City. Always adventurous, I am the girl willing to cannonball into the deep end or ride the coaster that looks like it may not have recently passed an inspection, an attitude not unlike YOLO with a twist of common sense. Although the past 90 days have made me miss the southwest in way I could have never imagined, I love New York and am thrilled that I made the decision to move here. In Oklahoma I played casual games with wild horses and danced in tornadoes, unknowingly building the survival strengths I’d need all the way up north.
Today is September 11th and as it turns out, OKC has prepared me for NYC in more ways than one.
I was in seventh grade and 100 miles away from the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19th, 1995, but that didn’t stop my family in Louisiana from calling to make sure we weren’t hurt in the bombing. I remember clearly the stunned faces of my classmates as teachers rushed to pull in televisions from the audio/visual room downstairs. No one was allowed to switch classes until we could be reasonably sure that nothing in Tulsa was going to explode next, as if being fifteen feet away from point A could save your life if you were currently standing in point B.
That sort of irrational behavior in the immediate wake of terror felt like déjà vu on September 11th, 2001, when I was an 18 year old sophomore at the University of Oklahoma and headed to take a philosophy test for which I definitely had not studied. My initial glee at arriving to Dale Hall only to learn that the test had been postponed was almost immediately canceled as rumors of the tragedy in New York flew around campus. While getting dressed that morning, I’d turned on my always-muted television, saw an airplane in the World Trade Center, and assumed a bad movie was airing on network television exceptionally early.
But just like April 19th, the bad movie was on every station.
As groups of students huddled around the south oval, crying and praying and trying desperately to reach family back in Manhattan, I sat in a daze and wondered how something so awful was happening again. Just like April 19th, administrators wheeled out giant televisions, and my classmates and I drank uninterrupted hours of CNN in a horrified disbelief. By dusk, cell phones were finally working just long enough for me to dial 100 miles back home and reassure my parents that I was fine.
I knew from ’95 that as the years pass, “I’m fine” would turn from a hollow auto-reply for New Yorkers to the truth. When the aftermath was cleared to a location unknown, when the sky returned to the bright blue of 09/10 and the sympathy cards stopped pouring in from every corner of the country, when the memorial had been erected and the teddy bears placed on tiny chairs in memory of the littlest lives lost, I knew that the people of New York would learn to live with 9/11. That every other day of the year would be like any other day of their lives. That everyone would know someone who was supposed to be in the building but wasn’t, and someone who wasn’t supposed to be in the building but was. That everyone would know of someone who survived and would sob for someone who didn’t. That the anniversary would be met with solemn understanding in their offices, that they would talk about it in the way only they truly knew, that privately they would be grounded with the enormity of their tragedy. That they would all be different from that moment forward and would bear with them for the rest of their days the horror of one. That they would never forget, but that anyone who does not march forward is not alive.
I carry with me in Manhattan the pain, and the understanding, of April 19th.